By By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 05, 2013
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- (Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series about the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron Heavy Repair section.)
As Mother Nature's resources naturally break down with time, so does the infrastructure on base. Buildings age, pipes wear down and other vital assets require replacement.
This creates a balancing act for unit facility managers as they try to perform their primary duties and juggle the multiple issues that make buildings seem as if they are constantly falling apart, said Staff Sgt. Adam Boyd, 509th CES structural supervisor.
"Everything you see on base is constantly aging," Boyd said. "Part of our job is to fight the aging process, to keep the buildings looking as new as possible."
Without the structures shop, the entire base would decay, said Boyd.
He works with a team of 33 Airmen and civilians who construct, remodel, repair and maintain over 4.8 million square feet of facilities across Whiteman, whose total value exceeds $1 billion.
"We provide service for every facility, from the gym to the docks on the flightline," said Senior Airman Michael Rafael, 509th CES structural journeyman. "Everything that stands up is our responsibility, except housing."
Ensuring the B-2 Spirit can provide global response to world emergencies 24/7 is the flight's number one job, said Boyd.
"One example of how we ensure global response is by making sure that when maintainers press the 'open' button on the hangar, the door opens," Boyd said. "If it doesn't open, we'll get out there as fast as possible for that aircraft to launch and get where it needs to go."
A large part of the structures mission is maintaining buildings that are mission-essential.
"By maintaining facilities where mechanics work on the B-2 Spirit and its weapons systems, we play a part in keeping the planes flying so we can get the bombs where they need to be," Rafael said.
On top of the mission-essential aspect of the job, the flight also provides support for base functions and snow removal.
"Our shop was also responsible for putting up security fences at the 2012 Wings over Whiteman air show, which had more than 40,000 spectators from all over the world in attendance," Rafael said.
When the shop is not providing snow-removal support, they are performing various jobs requested by facility managers across the base, said Rafael.
"If there is a garage door that isn't opening correctly, or if an entry control gate goes down, we'll come fix it," he said.
Sometimes, after a full work day of keeping buildings on base in one piece, the saga will continue. Structures Airmen can be called at any time to respond to emergencies after duty hours.
Whether the work is being done during duty hours or not, however, maintaining structures is not cheap, Rafael said.
"During some fiscal years, we have to stretch things and make them happen on a limited budget," Boyd said. "Other years, we can afford to renovate office spaces that are a little run-down and could use some sprucing up to boost morale. If we have the money, we do it."
Instead of purchasing parts online, the members of the flight fabricate their own resources to provide timely maintenance.
"Paying a company to make materials could be quite expensive," Boyd said. "It saves a lot of money if we make resources ourselves."
One major project the flight recently completed was the add-on of a garage door to a facility used by B-2 mechanics. They were tasked to perform the project because it is too cold for the mechanics to complete their mission in the snow, said Boyd.
"It was just too cold for the human body to function properly in that kind of element," he said. "Now that we've closed the building, those mechanics can get components into the aircraft in a faster, more reliable manner."
Since the tasks flight members perform affect every shop on base, they maintain knowledge and proficiency in tasks that include, but are not limited to, metal fabrication, welding, woodwork, carpentry, brazing and masonry.
"Our skills are very important because when we go out on a job, the work we might have to do could be completely different than what is said on the work order," Rafael said. "You can go to a location thinking, 'Oh I just have to fix a door,' but when you arrive to the location you'll notice that there is a brick wall around the door that's causing the issue. So that's where the knowledge of masonry and other skills come[s] in."
Structural Airmen need to be well-rounded because the wide range of tasks they perform keeps them on their toes, said Boyd.
"We have to be ready for anything and everything," he said.
Traveling to locations all over the base on a daily basis to provide facility maintenance also allows Airmen to see the final products they have created, which Boyd said is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
"There are a lot of jobs where you'll file papers and when you walk away, you don't get that visual impact of what you did for the mission," he said. "When I'm working on jobs, I'll drive away from the base and think to myself, 'Man, that building wasn't there when I first drove on base and I did that.' There aren't a lot of career fields in the Air Force that give you that."
From the repair of ceiling tiles, to the maintenance of various vault doors where mission planning occurs, everything structural Airmen are responsible for is critical to Team Whiteman's mission and morale, said Boyd.
"We're ready to go and tackle anything Whiteman Air Force Base needs," Boyd said. "You could probably get by without us for a little while, but eventually time will make your door snap off or make your tiles peel up. And that's where we come in."