Airfield, aircrew safety after dark

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dennis Sloan
  • Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs
As the sun sets and the street lights come on, many service members and civilians from Joint Base Charleston head home after a long day of work.

Meanwhile, some base members are just clocking in.

Airmen from the 437th Operation Support Squadron work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing flying operations support to the 437th and 315th Airlift Wings.

Two units that provide support well into the night are aircrew flight equipment (AFE) and base operations.

"One of the most important parts of our job can only be accomplished at night, "said Senior Airman Kathryn Raethel, a 437th OSS airfield management technician. "With several military and civilian aircraft landing and taking off from here, there are thousands of lights that guide them and my job is to make sure they're all on."

Raethel drives the entire length of the flightline during her night shifts, looking for any damaged or burnt out runway lights as well as directional signs used by aircraft.

"I enjoy the versatility of our mission," Raethal said. "I spend half my days out on the flightline and the other half in the office. I get the best of both worlds."

Whenever an in-flight emergency occurs, base operations is notified and begins informing several different agencies to handle the delicate situation.

"We interface with just about every agency on base," Raethal said. "When we get an in-flight emergency call, it's my job to immediately notify the fire department, medical personnel and many others to make sure the situation is handled as quick as possible."

While base operations Airmen ensure the safety of the airfield after hours, their teammates in AFE focus their efforts on the safety of the crewmembers themselves. Their mission is to maintain and supply all aircrew members with safe and reliable equipment. AFE Airmen handle and maintain night vision goggles, helmets, masks and even parachutes.

AFE Airmen go through extensive training to learn about every piece of equipment they maintain and earn certifications to accomplish certain aspects of their job. One job in particular which requires certification is parachute packing.

"There is no room for error in my job and I take pride in that," said Senior Airman Robert McCoy, a 437th OSS AFE technician. "We handle several items of equipment which need to work perfectly to assist aircrew members during emergencies and daily operations."

Even after dark when the C-17 Globemaster III's are only lit by the moonlight, AFE Airmen make their way to the aircraft and perform their inspections. Using available lights within the aircraft as well as flashlights, the Airmen go around and inspect the seats, masks and other equipment used by the aircrew.

"I enjoy working the night shifts," said Senior Airman Justin Turner, a 4437th OSS AFE technician. "I find it is a bit easier to focus solely on the immediate task at hand; whereas, during the day there can be several distractions. It is an honor to do this mission and I'll gladly work day or night to make sure aircrew members have safe and reliable equipment at all times."