Team heats things up while deployed

  • Published
  • By Airman Nicole Spence
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
They work around the clock, seven days a week, in subzero temperatures, with hundreds of people's lives in their hands. Members of the 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning team at Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, will call this life for at least the next three months.

They are responsible for 350 tent heaters, shower boilers, kitchen heaters, refrigerators, washers and dryers, plus some hospital and communication equipment.

The 12 servicemembers who deployed here from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Kadena Air Base, Japan, make up the entire HVAC team here supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. The 376th Air Expeditionary Wing provides combat air support and airlift for forces in Afghanistan as well as aerial refueling of coalition aircraft.

"The winter will be tough, but we'll make it; HVAC has some of the most motivated people on base," said Chief Master Sgt. Gary Gentz, 376th ECES superintendent.

With the cold weather, there are plenty hardships everyone has to overcome and endure.

"The heaters used for the tents are very temperamental and require a lot of man-hours to maintain," said Master Sgt. Lloyd Owens, noncommissioned officer in charge of the HVAC team. "We go out in the middle of the night fixing heaters to keep people from freezing to death. Everyone comes back dirty and exhausted."

When temperatures fall below zero, the heating fuel clogs, causing massive heater failures. With around-the-clock manpower, the problem was fixed leaving the HVAC team as saviors of the base.

"My hat's off to HVAC; they have really worked themselves to the bone," said Brig. Gen. Jared Kennish, 376th AEW commander. "Those HVAC guys are my heroes."

Their skills are so in demand and their mission so critical that they barely have time for a bathroom or dinner break when out on the job, said Staff Sgt. Joe Sutterfield, a HVAC technician.

"HVAC won Wing Team of the Month, but no one was there to pick up the award since they were all out working," said Master Sgt. Dean Toth, 376th ECES first sergeant.

The team may receive up to 100 service calls in a single day, leaving them just enough time to get up, work, eat and go back to bed.

"It makes the time go by quickly with us being so busy," said Sutterfield. "We've all become good friends; no one gets down or stops until the jobs done."

The spare parts they use to repair broken heaters are running slim, and they often have to improvise to do the best fix for the time.

"We'll only be stronger when we get back to Ramstein," said Sutterfield. "There is nothing harder than this place." (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)