FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
Frigid air sweeps across a snow laden flightline as ground support Airmen hustle to prepare a KC-135 Stratotanker for take-off. Suddenly a problem arises and the preparations are halted; the huge snow sweeper vehicle that’s used to clear the runways has broken down, efficiently trapping the plane in the snow. Like a well-oiled machine, a crew of Airmen from the 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance shop roll-out to fix the sweeper and put the mission back on track.
The 92nd LRS is the go-to shop for all of Team Fairchild’s ground vehicle maintenance and repairs, keeping the fleet of passenger cars, fire trucks, snow clearing machines and specialty cargo loading vehicles operational. They are essential to keeping the ground operations that support the base’s refueling mission running smoothly.
“Our mission is to get planes off the ground,” said Tech. Sgt. Ray Solis, 92nd LRS vehicle maintenance technician. “We make sure our snow vehicles have been checked for electrical and mechanical failure and are prepared to clear the flightline.”
Vehicle maintenance Airmen improved their repair process for 2019, cutting down the time needed for the off-season refurbishing of the base’s 39 snow removal machines in addition to saving the Air Force up to $150,000 by making planned repairs and upgrades, rather than acquiring new equipment.
“We had two aircraft deicers with broken heaters that would have cost around $150,000 to replace, but we had the parts fabricated downtown and it cost $1,000,” said Master Sgt. David Fernandez, 92nd LRS superintendent.
Airmen worked fast on their summer rebuild program, making a point to match their civilian counterparts in efficiency improvements because time is money.
“Our summer rebuild program was shortened by two months allowing for more energy to be put toward other tasks,” said Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Figueroa, 92nd LRS vehicle fleet manager. “We were able to use that surplus and shifted focus to the Mobility Guardian 2019 Exercise, now completed, helping the base prepare for the exercise.”
LRS and Vehicle Maintenance Airmen received an additional 74 temporary cars, trucks and vans for the exercise along with managing 534 rental cars for all the guests and deploying military members to the base. They performed check-ins, maintenance and safe check outs for the hundreds of additional machines before returning them in good shape at the end of the exercise.
These productive Airmen had another trick up their sleeve, being innovators, entering Team Fairchild’s Spark Tank competition in June, 2019, for an oil analyzer process improvement concept for their shop that could in turn help the whole base.
“The oil analyzer provides us cost savings because it extends the service interval based off the computer results, and with those results we can predict equipment failures,” Fernandez said. “For example, if there are traces of metal found by the oil analyzer, we can use that feedback to determine other issues the vehicles may have.”
The idea didn’t win the competition, however, with an idea this good, base leadership couldn’t pass it up. Col. Derek Salmi, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander and a judge for the Spark Tank competition, wanted to implement it regardless of the results.
“Col. Salmi really liked the idea for our oil analyzer and wanted the improvement for the base,” Figueroa said. “He granted $114,000, leftover funding from the contest, to enable us to purchase the device, which will improve our shop and the base’s operation as a result. As a shop we try to match our civilian counterparts in productivity and efficiency, and this new oil analyzer will help us get there.”
LRS leadership knows that taking care of their Airmen and sustaining a positive work place is just as important to fixing vehicles as turning wrenches.
“The number one priority here is taking care of people,” Figueroa said. “Morale is high here because people like what they do and we’ve given everyone a purpose. We are flexible and inclusive unit and put Airmen and their families first, because we realize that having a good environment keeps the shop working more harmoniously and productively.”
Whether it’s the maintainers working to repair snow removal vehicles or the fleet managers getting the parts and supplies for the maintainers, all of the Airmen are essential to the LRS team and Fairchild’s mission.