IPE: Equipping warfighters, saving lives

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- (Editor's note: This is part two of a three-part series about sections of the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron Material Management Flight)

When Airmen deploy they rely on training they have received to survive all kinds of hazardous threats.

Without the right equipment, however, that training may prove useless, as that equipment, whether weapons, chemical gear or protection from the elements, has the potential to be the pivotal difference between life and death.

With a mission to outfit warfighter Airmen who deploy to the frontlines, members of the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron individual protective equipment shop provide these assets to protect and train Team Whiteman's "steely-eyed warriors."

The shop currently houses more than 211,000 total IPE items valued at $9 million. They also have a weapons cache containing approximately 2,800 weapons, including M16 assault rifles, M4 carbines and M9 pistols valued at $1.6 million.

The IPE shop's mission is to support members of the 509th Bomb Wing, 442nd Fighter Wing, and 131st Bomb Wing with any gear they need to perform their mission, said Staff Sgt. Patrick First, 509th LRS IPE supervisor.

"We especially have a huge responsibility to our security forces because they use our equipment on a daily basis," he said.

Members of IPE provide numerous vital services to Whiteman's warriors. One of the most important of these is maintaining the shelf life of chemical gear, which includes joint service lightweight integrated technology (JLIST) suits, gas masks, protective gloves, boots, web belts, canteens, helmets and armor.

One major task associated with maintaining the IPE shelf life includes cleaning gear - mainly gas masks. IPE members sometimes spend four to six hours cleaning gas masks each day.

"Our goal is for everyone to have sanitized gas masks to deploy and train with," said Airman 1st Class Jonathan Merry, 509th LRS IPE journeyman. "We have to ensure the masks have no leaks, that they are sealed properly and that they are serviceable and ready for anyone on base who needs them."

Along with cleaning gas masks, IPE members also spend enormous amounts of time cleaning JLIST suits as new customers process in and out of the warehouse to meet deployment and training requirements.

Without the support of the IPE shop, accomplishing Team Whiteman's mission would not be possible.

"There would be no Whiteman mission if we didn't perform our job because our base has major assets we all help protect," said Master Sgt. Horace Dozier, 509th LRS NCO in charge of IPE. "Part of protecting those assets means providing weapons and equipment for the operations and training of every wing and tenant unit on the base."

In addition to providing equipment, the shop also provides gas masks, canteens, web belts, helmets and other gear to individuals who deploy downrange.

"The gas mask is critical downrange because if there is an attack, you have that as a first line of protection," Dozier said. "We ensure the items they get are saving lives. Every deployer here is protected by equipment that we store and manage."

Keeping deployers safe is always the focus for IPE members. One slip in attention to detail could mean the difference between an Airman returning home alive or becoming a casualty.
"Sending Airmen to the deployed theater without the proper equipment directly hurts the Air Force," First said. "If we don't give people the right equipment, we're failing to protect them when they are put in harm's way."

Providing IPE equipment to deployers and trainees can be a challenge, especially when individuals come to the shop without appointments to meet short-notice training or deployment requirements, First said.

"Our deployers could be sent to any contingency on Earth," Dozier said. "It could be a black ops operation, a short notice tasking or a deployment to Southwest Asia. Anyone who deploys comes through us to receive their gear before departing."

Whether equipping deployers before they fly out or preparing Airmen for mission-essential training, the 509th LRS IPE shop is prepared 24/7 to tackle each challenge.

"Working as an IPE journeyman, I feel that we have a responsibility to carry out our mission everyday with excellence," said Airman 1st Class David Reddoch, 509th LRS IPE technician. "Our people need to be safe, and prepared while supporting the most feared weapon system on the planet."