AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar, –
The 340th and 22nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Units work together around the clock here to inspect, repair, service, launch and recover the fleet of KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling tankers.
Each month, aircraft maintained by the two units complete more than 1,200 sorties, delivering more than 40 million pounds of fuel to more than 3,500 receivers in the Air Force's largest tanker operation, which handles 40 percent of all Air Force aerial refuelings with 10 percent of the KC-135 Stratotanker fleet.
The expeditionary maintenance units' task list evolves constantly to support the daily air tasking order. The ATO lays out how many aircraft are needed for the overall daily mission, which involves the launch and recovery of aircraft seven days a week, 365 days a year.
"It's magic that happens every day," said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adolfo Hernandez, superintendent assigned to the 340th EAMU, referring to is the two units' ability to work together and keep all of the KC-135s here ready to fly safely and on time.
Hernandez often speaks about the diversity of more than 350 airmen from more than two dozen different home bases that make up the two units. More than half of the maintenance airmen are Air National Guard members. The 340th and the 22nd EAMUs, although separate on paper, essentially work as a single unit on the flight line. They are brought together by pure necessity.
"The most impressive thing is the teamwork that goes on here," Hernandez said.
In the last month alone, about 135 new members arrived from at least 17 separate bases. "Finding out who knows what and who is good at doing what is probably the hardest thing to overcome," said Air Force Airman 1st Class Jesse Marquez, electrical environmental systems specialist assigned to the 340th EAMU. Getting to know one another quickly and working as a team is only one of the challenges the EAMUs overcome. The extreme heat and the high work tempo bring their own unique challenges to the job.
While working on the flight line, the airmen take advantage of the shade provided by the aircraft whenever possible, and vehicles are sent around with supplies of water and ice for those who need it. The tempo changes very little, and it's always fast. The new airmen arriving generally have little time to adjust to the temperature and to the high tempo before it's time to get to work.
"They get off the plane and they're pretty much working the next day," Hernandez said. And just as people must adjust to the conditions here, the aircraft do the same thing," he added. The heat provides a specific challenge for the EAMUs, especially when it comes to keeping the electronics on each jet functional. KC-135 Stratotankers are unable to generate air conditioning while parked on the runway, so cool air is piped into each jet via a mobile air conditioning cart to reduce the temperature of the circuit breakers and avionics prior to takeoff.
"It's nice for the aircrew, but it's mainly for the jet, because it's not going to fly without that AC," said Air Force Master Sgt. Ian Catania, production superintendent assigned to the 22nd EAMU.
"Temperatures here are by far -- 100 percent -- the biggest challenge," said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. William Sams, production superintendent assigned to the 340th EAMU.
Like a Jigsaw Puzzle
It's easy to say that what the EAMUs do here is magic, but if you dig a bit deeper, it doesn't take long to realize that the magic on the flight line is just the maintainers doing their jobs skillfully and professionally, around the clock, to keep everything running smooth.
"I just enjoy the jigsaw puzzle aspect of it," Sams said, referring to the job of production superintendent he shares every day with Catania. Sams and Catania share the responsibility of overseeing flight line operations during daytime hours and ensuring all of the maintainers have what they need. Together with the rest of the maintainers, they make sure that all aircraft assigned to fly are ready to fly safely and on time. The mission supported by the 340th and 22nd EAMUs has challenged maintainers for nearly 13 years, and it continues around the clock every day.