Maintainers turn packing into profession
Senior Airman Jomar Rivera, 389th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crewchief, pulls off a cargo net from a pallet of equipment Feb. 19, 2013, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Rivera unloaded all of the equipment previously packed during a base-wide operational readiness exercise, Sharpshooter 13-2. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Brittany Chase)
by Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton
366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
2/26/2013 - MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (AFNS) -- Regardless of where you go throughout your military career, your equipment will follow.
An elite group of Airmen are charged with ensuring that same equipment reaches its destination safely.
"Packing aircraft and vehicles safely and sensibly is extremely important and sometimes a bit time consuming," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Westcott, 366th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technician for the Bold Tigers. "I am just one of many people who ensure our avenues of transportation are done correctly."
The purpose of this kind of detailed packing is to ensure the squadron has all the necessary items to complete the mission when going on temporary duty assignments, preparing for an exercise or open house, and in preparation for deployments.
"The idea is to pack in such an efficient way that items arrive in one piece whether by road or air," said Westcott. "When packing the pallets we always start with the heaviest objects first and place them in the center while working our way out to ensure each pallet is balanced on every side."
All cargo must be properly packed and loaded while adhering to the U.S. Department of Transportation's guidelines because vehicles and aircraft are loaded in different ways due to their individual characteristics.
"Vehicles and aircraft all have different sizes and shapes causing them to have similarly different centers of balance," said Westcott. "We have a kit which helps us determine the weight and center of balance for each aircraft when we begin the loading process."
Airmen are even trained on handling hazardous materials and the safest, most effective way to ship them.
"We often have to pack hazardous materials such as oils and other flammable liquids," said Westcott. "In those cases we have specialized training to ensure the safety of people and cargo."
Maintainers also plan for the worst case scenarios such as a damaged aircraft where all the equipment inside has to be unloaded and reloaded onto ground transportation.
"In cases where the equipment must be put onto a vehicle from an aircraft, there needs to be nets and straps packed in order to tie the equipment down for ground travel," said Westcott. "This means we are packing a few hundred extra pounds every time and most of the time we don't even use them."
These items help fill in gaps ensuring the pallets are packed properly in order to avoid destroying the contents within.
"If you pack a pallet with heavy items on one side and lighter ones on the opposite side it will tip over when you lift it with the forklift," said Westcott. "Our mission is to get these jets off the ground safely and to do that ground crew personnel must ensure everything is done correctly."
All personnel who work as support technicians are experienced flight line personnel specifically assigned to this job because of their experience and knowledge.
"You cannot work on jets without the correct tools and electronic equipment so keeping all that in proper working order by safely packaging and storing things is vital to the mission," said Staff Sgt. Justin Brooks, 366th AMXS support technician for the Bold Tigers. "I have only been doing this job for a short time and the most difficult part for me is finding the equipment that needs to be packed.
"There is just a lot of stuff back here to find and ensure it is loaded correctly," he continued.
By loading aircraft and vehicles correctly, Airmen ensure the mission continues and Gunfighters are able to provide combat airpower worldwide.
"Getting the jets in the air is every maintainer's job," said Westcott. "We are determined to ensure they have every resource they need to complete the mission."