AFE Airmen: Unsung heroes

  • Published
  • By Heidi Hunt
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Quick reactions and calm decision-making - both of these necessary piloting skills saved the lives of two Whiteman pilots when they ejected out of the Spirit of Kansas before a mechanical error caused it crashed into the runway at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in 2008.

In addition, though, these pilots partially owe their lives to the work of the professionals at the 509th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment shop.

The Airmen who packed the parachutes and maintained the harnesses and helmets used in the ejection were considered Team Whiteman heroes.

Senior Airman Justin Dunford, 509th Operations Support Squadron AFE technician was at Whiteman the day the B-2 Spirit was lost.

"Being part of a team whose work and attention to detail helped save lives that day really put the importance of my job into perspective, and helped me understand how critical and mission- essential we are to Team Whiteman," Dunford said.

Whether it is packing a parachute or inspecting a flight helmet, lives are literally in the hands of the 509th OSS AFE Airmen. The key to survival and recovery is ensuring 100 percent aircrew safety at all times, at home and abroad.

"Our team consists of dedicated professionals who get the job done," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Cost, 509th OSS AFE section lead. "We bring the utmost customer satisfaction to our pilots. We interact with them on a day-to-day basis, so we have a clear understanding of their needs and ensure they are fulfilled."

The team of more than 28 personnel works year-round, reflecting the Core Values by striving diligently to ensure their daily performance exceeds the standard. When it comes to protecting Airmen, exceeding the standard should not be the exception, but the rule.

The team is responsible for ensuring flight equipment is in perfect operational condition. They work on everything from helmets to harnesses to masks. They also maintain anti-G garments, anti-exposure suits, parachutes, floatation devices, back-style parachutes, nuclear flash blindness goggles, advanced-concept ejection seat survival kits and chutes.

The Airmen operate out of two shops; one supports B-2 Spirit and T-38 Talon operations, while the main shop is responsible for flight training. The main shop also handles packing parachutes, survival kits and life-preserve units, said Tech. Sgt. Damian Bunch, 509th OSS NCOIC.

"We man our section 24 hours, five days a week, and maintain a weekend stand-by schedule," Bunch said.

AFE Airmen must be ready to provide safe and fully functional equipment at any time, however, as Whiteman's pilots can be called upon at a moment's notice.

While the AFEs mission directly supports the overall Air Force mission, the team is unique in that it is a hybrid flight.

"We have to be proficient in 12 other Air Force specialty codes, or job type, to fulfill requirements as AFE members," Bunch said. "Areas of proficiency include medical logistics; supply; hazardous communication; transportation; ground safety; munitions; combat arms training and maintenance (weapons issuing); survival, evasion, resistance and escape; quality assurance; training; precision measurement equipment laboratory; and egress."

The team's vision is to continue maintaining a high standard of performance when it comes to preparing life-sustaining equipment for daily training and real-world demands, said Bunch.

"Being that 2013 is the Year of the B-2, it provides our flight with even more significance and is a key milestone in Whiteman's history," he said.

The dedication and professionalism of the men and women who maintain the B-2 are two key reasons why the Spirit is expected to remain in the active inventory well into the future. Today, as new threats emerge around the world, the B-2 remains the nation's first choice for targeting hardened, deeply buried targets. And as the pilots are locking bombs on target, the crew of the AFE shop at Whiteman can take pride knowing they have helped keep America safe.