Commentary Search

"There I was...: A test of my mettle"

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson
  • 6th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technology
Deployments have become a regular part of life for most active duty Air Force members. There are many locations in our area of responsibility to which members can potentially be deployed at a moment's notice.

My most recent experience took place in 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia. Adjusting to life in this location was both physically and mentally challenging, but not impossible to overcome.

Compared to most areas stateside, our area of responsibility has what some would consider a hostile climate. With temperatures at around 130 degrees during the day to near freezing temperatures at night, jobs that may have seemed simple back home suddenly became quite difficult.

Maintaining a high level of hydration is critical to sustaining readiness no matter what job you do. For maintainers, however, the importance is multiplied significantly due to the many hours we spend outdoors and in the elements. As a metals technology craftsman, I had a unique opportunity to experience both the indoor and outdoor climates while deployed.

One of the most crucial and mentally demanding areas of the metals technology career field takes place indoors and is known as computer numeric control operations. Without CNC milling and turning centers, we simply could not manufacture the many complex parts needed to ensure continuous contingency aircraft support. Instead, we would have to order parts from outside the country, causing excessive downtime for mission critical aircraft. Keeping these CNC machines up and running in the AOR was made more difficult due to high amounts of sand, dust, and in some cases high levels of humidity. As a result, we had to take additional measures to prevent damage to these important pieces of equipment, to include increasing inspection intervals to ensure personnel were not being adversely affected by the elements.

Another demanding metals technology operation is welding. Welding aircraft parts in itself is not overly complicated. The main challenges I experienced while welding included wearing heavy leather personal protective equipment in hot weather and high winds, difficulties getting parts through customs.

Welding in PPE at most any location, even while indoors, can be very hot, and the temperature is amplified by the welding process itself. Add that to the extremely high temperatures of the AOR and welding became a very labor intensive process.

Furthermore, high winds also made this process difficult by altering what is intended to be an inert process by removing protective gas coverage which caused contamination within the weld, weakening the repair. The only way to combat this issue was to completely isolate winds from the equation.

Still, the greatest hindrance I experienced with repairing aircraft parts was with customs. Frequent agreement issues between the United States and the AOR made it nearly impossible to transport parts from the flightline to the welding shop. This resulted in our shop having to build makeshift welding areas outside on the flightline, which added to the difficulty of completing tasks.

My experience while deployed can be described as a roller coaster ride. It had its highs and lows, as any work environment would. The important thing is the metals technology shop as a whole worked together to overcome unforeseeable obstacles resulting in successful, on-time sorties. Through long hours and perseverance, we received high ratings and praise after a successful Logistics Standardization Evaluation Program inspection.

If you are leaving for a deployment in the near future, whether it is your first deployment or your tenth, remember to keep hydrated, stay positive, and no matter how low the roller coaster might dip, there will always be a high point on the other side.