U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Jacie Coplin and Kyle Duhon, both 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS) mission generating vehicle equipment maintenance journeymen, work on the underbody of a snowplow Dec. 6, 2017, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. These Airmen are part of the 354th LRS heavy shop, which spends the majority of the winter season repairing snow fleet vehicles to ensure the Eielson flight line is always ready to go. (Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cassie Whitman)
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- When thinking about flight line operations and how to keep a resilient airfield, most people think about the snow equipment clearing the flight line, the maintainers aiding each aircraft in taking-off or the pilots flying the aircraft.
What most people fail to recognize is without the expertise of the 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance Airmen, none of that would happen.
While their usual day-to-day operations include fixing broken construction equipment, the 354th LRS heavy shop gears up all year to prepare for snow fleet maintenance in the harsh Alaskan winter.
“In the spring, we bring every piece of snow equipment into the shop and they go through summer rebuild,” said Staff Sgt. Zack Ingram, a 354th LRS mission generating vehicle equipment maintenance craftsman. “We conduct the yearly scheduled maintenance and fix any problems that may have come up throughout the year.”
In the summer, the heavy shop Airmen switch to 12-hour work days to ensure they complete their summer rebuilds, which also gives them an opportunity to perform preventative maintenance on the snow fleet.
Once winter arrives, the heavy shop has a night shift, ensuring they have 18 hours of full coverage for equipment that may break at night. They also have 24-hour stand-by, which safeguards maintenance coverage in case of an emergency break.
“If there are no vehicles, the base can’t function,” said Airman 1st Class Jacie Coplin, a 354th LRS mission generating vehicle equipment maintenance journeyman. “If there is no snow fleet, you can’t clear the snow, planes can’t take off and the roads won’t be cleared for people to drive to work.”
The Airmen use this knowledge as self-motivation to always get the job done, and Ingram said most of the Airmen in the shop are intrinsically motivated and seek to do good work all the time.
“We have a job to do and if we don’t get it done, then no one else can do their job,” said Coplin. “We have people relying on us and that’s what makes me want to push as many vehicles out as I can and continue doing preventative maintenance.”
Even with the skills to fix every type of vehicle from a law-enforcement car to a bulldozer, the biggest challenge these Airmen face is time. It takes time to diagnose the problem of each piece of equipment brought in. If there isn’t something physically falling off of the vehicle, there is a troubleshooting process that takes place.
“Diagnosing a problem really depends on each vehicle itself and who manufactured it,” said Ingram. “It can be as simple as a burned out light bulb all the way to a broken ball bearing in a transmission.”
Whether they know what’s broken or have to troubleshoot the problem, whether they are working at 8 a.m. or 10 p.m., or if they have to face the snow head-on for a mobile call on the flight line at 3 a.m., the 354th LRS heavy shop Airmen are an integral part in maintaining a resilient airfield and base.
Without their core values of service before self and excellence in all we do, air operations would come to a halt in the dead of winter in the Last Frontier.