Braving the heat, breaking records

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel
  • Air Forces Central Public Affairs
Even with the doors open, temperatures inside the KC-135 Stratotanker can rise high enough to safely cook meat. Sweat pours down Airman 1st Class Joseph Swartz's face as he triple checks the work his team just completed on the equally hot metal outside.

Airmen who perform maintenance on the flightline here endure stifling heat, sand and wind to keep air refueling aircraft and a multitude of other airframes constantly taking off and landing, day and night.

"We're here to get a job done so other Airmen can get their job done," said Swartz, a KC-135 crew chief from the 340th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit. "It's definitely hot out here, but it's all worth it every time you see one of these jets take off and you know you were part of the bigger picture."

Swartz and his coworkers often leave work with minor burns on their exposed skin from touching scorching metal, and after a day's work their Airman battle uniforms are stiff with sweat, grease and dust. They have an unwritten recipe to stay hydrated and beat the heat.

"I wake up, drink two bottles of water, go to breakfast and drink two more, then down between 12 and 16 more throughout the day," the New Castle, Pennsylvania, native said.

Another key to beating the heat is attitude. Swartz's supervisors refer to him as goofy. The well over 6-foot Airman celebrates the small maintenance victories by dancing like a hero pro athlete in the end zone. His subtle New England accent also cools the mood with jokes as the work pours in after sorties are flown all over the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility.

Their work has been put to the test and proven. In July, they broke a previous all-time record by enabling the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron to fly 1,108 missions, delivering 57 million pounds of fuel, mostly in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"These Airmen deploy here from all walks of Air Force life," said Senior Master Sgt. Ernie Goethe, a 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron tanker senior. "We have more than 400 active-duty, Air National Guard, and Reserve Airmen out here and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference either way -- they all hit the ground running when they got here and are all here to work."

Goethe brags about this accomplishment, but leaves all the credit to his team, which often works more than 12-hour shifts to keep the flights moving. He said the Airmen proudly perform the work needed with few complaints.

"Overall, these Airmen are overcoming massive obstacles when it comes to weather, especially heat, to make sure the pilots and boom operators can fuel the fight, so other airframes can complete their missions," Goethe said. "When it comes down to it, you have to be amazed by the discipline and professionalism. Every single Airman (in EAMXS) should be proud of our accomplishments and abilities to contribute to decisive airpower."