MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Imagine one of the most critical machines being down in the hospital, a problem so severe that patients have to be diverted off base to Tokyo and Hawaii to receive treatment.
The 35th Medical Group's surgical washer cleans all the instruments primarily used in surgery and dental procedures. Surgeons and dentists hand wash the dirty instruments used on patients and sometimes, for some of the more dirty utensils, the tools are then tossed in the ultrasonic cleaner that transmits high frequency waves into a fluid-filled container to remove any residue. The tools are then sterilized to kill any germs left behind.
“The washer is an essential part of the sterilization process,” said Tech. Sgt. William Lodge, the 35th dental squadron support flight chief. “It's the only way to ensure safe, quality care to tools."
Thus, when the washer broke, several patients had to be transported off base for care, simply because the 35th Medical Group couldn't clean the tools.
And that’s where Staff Sgt. Jeremy LeBlanc, a 35th Medical Support Squadron biomedical equipment technician, comes in. His job was to fix a washer that seemed like it was done for. While some might cringe at taking on such a project, LeBlanc had a slightly different attitude.
“Troubleshooting is my favorite part of my job,” said LeBlanc. “Having people come to me with something broken and having the knowledge to be able to take it apart and find exactly what’s wrong and then fix it back up so it can be used safely on patients is rewarding.”
After two weeks of running tests 10 to 12 hours every day, tearing the technologies apart and putting them back together, just to run even more trials to check if the surgical washer would work, LeBlanc's patience paid off. The surgical washer finally turned on.
“It was a huge relief to see the machine finally turn on,” LeBlanc expressed. “There was a lot of pressure to get the machine back up and running.”
The verification tests found the incorrect application of detergent and enzymatic cleaner caused the breakdown.
Five years ago, though, LeBlanc wasn't inspecting, maintaining, calibrating and repairing any and all medical equipment found in the hospital as a biomedical equipment technician. He was smashing objects apart, separating metals in a junkyard and building and milling submarine hatches for the U.S. Navy and domes for rockets. Leblanc noted how his civilian technical classes laid the groundwork for his current job.
“Going to a school where they taught mechanical engineering helped me plenty in U.S. Air Force technical school,” he explained. “I got a better understanding of how machines should and shouldn’t sound mechanically.”
Now, that education is paying off.
For his efforts in fixing the surgical washer, Col. R. Scott. Jobe, the 35th Fighter Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Frizzel, the 35th FW command chief, presented LeBlanc with the Wild Weasel of the Week award.
This recognition comes as no surprise to Leblanc’s leadership.
“LeBlanc’s ability to overcome adversity in a positive, effective manner has been demonstrated to me on multiple occasions since he arrived at Misawa,” said Staff Sgt. Tanner Watson, the 35th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of facility management. “His dedication selflessly pushes him past normal duty hours often, ensuring his customers receive a timely, quality product."
Because even when a critical piece like the washer breaks, LeBlanc comes through and the 35th Medical Group mission carries on.
"He is always the first choice to lead in my stead," said Watson. "I trust he can handle whatever curve balls our ever-changing career might throw at him.”