MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
When walking through the belly of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., it is easy to notice the little green pouches hanging from each seat against the walls, oxygen tanks on the right-hand side with masks attached and multiple other items secured throughout the aircraft.
Each of those items could be the ticket to survival in the event of an in-flight emergency and the 6th Operations Support Squadron’s Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen are the ones responsible for properly maintaining that lifesaving equipment.
“The life rafts, life vests, body armor, all of that equipment is what makes the mission happen,” explains Airman 1st Class Daunte Morrison, a 6th OSS/AFE apprentice. “We help with that mission by maintaining the equipment we put on the aircraft. If it wasn’t for that equipment, the aircrew members wouldn’t be able to fly.”
Team MacDill is home to 24 KC-135s, which all require safety equipment that is maintained and distributed by the 6th OSS’s AFE team. This team inspects and maintains all the gear aircrew need to fly safely and survive an emergency. For example, if multiple aircraft and crews are leaving for a deployment, AFE works tirelessly and meticulously to verify the gear on those aircraft will be ready for the duration of that event.
“Especially for [events], like the recent 91st Air Refueling Squadron deployment, we were swapping rafts and annual gear to make sure nothing stopped the mission downrange,” boasted Morrison.
AFE members understand that their mission goes far beyond their typical KC-135 Stratotanker gear swaps. They also prepare and maintain equipment for the worst case scenario.
“We support air refueling but a heavy part of our mission is nuclear deterrence,” said Tech. Sgt. Chris Battle, the 6th OSS/AFE NCO in charge of aircraft operations. “We load however many aircraft we’re required to with [nuclear deterrent] equipment, in case of a nuclear flash.”
Aircrew members must not only know what gear will help save or aid them in certain emergency scenarios, but also, how to use that gear properly. By constantly training themselves and aircrew on survival scenarios, AFE plays a direct role in providing the strategic deterrence for both nuclear and non-nuclear scenarios, and are the safeguard behind MacDill AFB’s conventional capabilities.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is the survival aspect of our career field, they think we just clean out masks,” explained Battle. “That’s a very small portion of what we do. We work hand-in-hand with SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape). Our instructors and trainers attend SERE survival courses to better aid in training aircrew on real-life survival situations.”
With regards to survival on an aircraft in an emergency situation, Tech. Sgt. Battle and his fellow NCO’s work diligently to consistently remind their team of their importance.
“I would want people to know that we’re not just the handmaids to the aircrew, that we’re more important than an oxygen mask when things are going wrong,” Battle reiterated. “We are the insurance policy that we hope aircrew don’t have to cash in on. But if they do, we are confident that our equipment is going to work and they’re going to come back home.”
The 6th OSS/AFE team continues to ensure strategic deterrence by providing life-saving equipment for nuclear and non-nuclear events, instilling in their Airmen the understanding of their role in the overall mission – all while aiding in the unmatched air refueling across the globe.