Deployed life support shop vital to OEF missions

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marc Barnes
  • 321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The people in the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron life support shop work hard to maintain their equipment, but they will be content if customers never have the chance to use most of it.

That is because most of the equipment they maintain, including body armor, global positioning system instruments, life support vests, flares, parachutes and life rafts, would only be used in "worst-case scenarios," such as a crash at sea or in hostile territory.

Other equipment the shop maintains is used by aircrews flying missions here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom every day, according to Capt. Karl Boehle, chief of 777th EAS life support. That equipment is vital to airlift aircrews here that keep the supply pipeline moving to other forward-deployed locations in the Arabian Gulf region.

"We're using equipment much more frequently here (than we do at home)," Boehle said. "For example, every mission we fly, daytime or nighttime, we're required to carry night-vision goggles, and they're being used every day."

The captain said heavy use of the goggles and other life support equipment they issue, coupled with the high heat and desert environment here, has led to some challenges. For example, he and his four-person team cannot simply go to the nearest town and purchase supplies.

Staff Sgt. Jimmy Anderson, noncommissioned officer in charge of the life support shop, stepped up to the challenge.

He said the team had anticipated the problem and prepared before departing their home unit at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, two months ago. The team hit the ground running, but ran into a roadblock when their pallet of supplies did not make it here until 12 days after they arrived.

Boehle said that when their supplies finally arrived, the team was well prepared to face the supply challenges, thanks to a little preparation, their home unit and the experience of their predecessors in the 777th EAS.

"We brought more equipment than we would normally bring," the captain said. "(To receive supplies here), we use the supply system at Dyess. We also took advantage of the expertise of Wyoming Air National Guardsmen who were here before us. They showed us a few 'loopholes' in the supply system that we might not have known about otherwise."

The team's efforts are working, Boehle said. The 777th EAS has not cancelled a mission yet because of life support equipment that was not inspected or maintained properly. According to Boehle, mission accomplishment by aircrews that return here safely each day is what this deployment is all about.

"I can tell you, both as the chief of life support and as a pilot, that we are flying in harm's way every day. The threats that are out there are very real," Boehle said. "The possibility of an aircrew finding themselves in an evasion and survival situation is very real. From a life support standpoint, we take that very seriously."

Taking their job seriously helps the team stay focused on the important job they do here, even as they continue hoping that most of the equipment they maintain will never be used.

"Our job is one of those where, if our equipment is not being used for the purpose it was designed for, that is a good thing," Boehle said. "(But that) doesn't give us the luxury of saying, 'The aircrew won't really need that equipment for this flight today,' as we're sometimes forced to do at home. They will need it, and it has to be ready."