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New maintenance team focuses on launch control centers

Airmen 1st Class Joseph Hall and Austin Bridges practice replacing a cracked seat pan on a missile combat crew operator’s chair Oct. 31, 2014, in their new Survivable Systems Team work center at Malstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Before SST was formed, repairs at launch control centers were scheduled around maintenance tasks at launch facilities and often considered low priority jobs. The SST is a new team created through Air Force Global Strike Command’s Force Improvement Program to focus primarily on LCC maintenance. Hall and Bridges are 341st Maintenance Group SST members. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Turner)

Airmen 1st Class Joseph Hall and Austin Bridges practice replacing a cracked seat pan on a missile combat crew operator’s chair Oct. 31, 2014, in their new Survivable Systems Team work center at Malstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Before SST was formed, repairs at launch control centers were scheduled around maintenance tasks at launch facilities and often considered low priority jobs. The SST is a new team created through Air Force Global Strike Command’s Force Improvement Program to focus primarily on LCC maintenance. Hall and Bridges are 341st Maintenance Group SST members. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Turner)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. (AFNS) -- Repairs at the 341st Missile Wing's 15 launch control centers (LCCs) are being attended to more expediently and thoroughly now, thanks to a specialized team recently created within the 341st Maintenance Group.

Designated as the Survivable Systems Team (SST), this small section of maintainers was assembled to dispatch rapidly to the missile field and perform work in the underground launch centers. This ensures tasks like blast door maintenance, hydraulic and pneumatic systems upkeep, and operator chair replacements are prioritized separately from missile and launch facility (LF) maintenance.

"Our sole job is to work on capsule maintenance," said Tech. Sgt. Sheldon Mason, the NCO in charge of the SST. "This team is predominantly set up to go out on a moment's notice for LCC maintenance."

The team's first solo dispatch was Oct. 16. In the course of a 14-hour workday the four-man SST visited two missile alert facilities (MAFs). The team repaired two crew member seat pans, identified an air leak in a system, performed an unscheduled shoring of the suspended floor in A-01's LCC, and repaired C-01's LCC blast door. The team also advised missile combat crews and MAF facility managers on LCC equipment and periodic maintenance procedures.

"Both sets of crews treated SST like kings, especially when they began working on the (missile combat crew commander) chairs," said Col. Ken Speidel, the 341st MXG commander, who accompanied the team to observe the historic first dispatch.

"By the end of the day, the SST guys were pretty excited about their new work center and the impact they were having on capsule crews, as well as the appreciation shown in return by the crew members," Speidel said.

The SST is one of several initiatives this year that have resulted from Air Force Global Strike Command's Force Improvement Program. FIP is an aggressive, grass-roots feedback program designed to quickly provide senior Air Force leaders with actionable recommendations for improvement by conducting one-on-one interviews and surveys with Airmen.

The three intercontinental ballistic missile wings at Malmstrom AFB, Minot AFB, and F.E. Warren AFB were approved to each stand up an SST -- effective immediately -- in response to FIP. Each wing has been authorized six personnel. Additionally, AFGSC has designated $300,000 for tools and equipment for these new sections.

The SST shop was culled from the 341st Maintenance Operations Squadron's mechanical and pneudraulics section (MAPS) and is aligned under the 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron's facilities flight, the section responsible for maintenance at MAFs. This creates a unique situation as MAPS technicians are from the Missile and Space Systems Maintenance career field, Air Force Specialty Code 2M0X2, and as missile maintainers have always reported to the 341st MMXS generation flight. Meanwhile, the facilities flight has traditionally been the realm of the missile and space facilities career field, or Air Force specialty code 2M0X3.

"We're the first X2s to work under the facilities flight," Mason said. "It was kind of a big deal as far as the Air Force was concerned."

In addition to SST's primary task of LCC maintenance, the shop continues to support missile maintenance teams by performing periodic inspections on self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA). Maintenance teams dispatching to LFs are required to have two SCBA units in their trucks when dispatching to missile launch facilities.

Malmstrom AFB's SST currently has five members including Mason. Tech. Sgt. Robert Jovin is the team's trainer and is currently the sole qualified team chief. Senior Airman Joe Gonzalez, an already experienced and qualified technician, will eventually be qualified as a team chief. Airmen 1st Class Joseph Hall and Austin Bridges, both fresh to the career field, complete the shop's roster for now. The final manning authorization is projected to be filled in the near future.

Jovin said that having a small team specializing in LCC maintenance has benefits.

"Because we have so few people in the shop, this allows us to build a stronger team," he said. "We're dispatching with the same group every day. Everyone is receiving the same training and you have the same communications, so the job is being done the same way every time."

Although the team is a new entity, operations have gone smoothly because Mason, Jovin and Gonzalez are familiar with each other from MAPS, Jovin said. Mason was the assistant NCO in charge of that section.

"I'm used to the way he works," Jovin said. "We're on the same page on how we want to do maintenance and how we want to set up the shop. We have the same vision. That allows me to train in the field and team chief from the field without worrying about what's going on in the shop."

Just as the team was assembled from scratch, SST's permanent work center is also being built from the ground up. Mason and his team have been busy remodeling a bay in Bldg. 1439 that has been inactive for years. There was a learning curve as the team scrambled to collect equipment and install computers borrowed from other shops.

"It's kind of a new thing for everybody because we're a completely new section," Mason said. "Standing up a new section isn't something that comes along very often."

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