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AF trash, AFREP treasure

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Mark Lazane
  • 1 Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Somewhere deep in the Canadian foothills, Angus MacGyver is weeping manly tears.

A select group of maintainers stationed at Hurlburt Field act as MacGyver, the fictional television jack-of-all-trades, on a daily basis as they take items judged to be of little value by others and rehabilitate them into working condition. The procedure saves immense amounts of both time and money for not only Hurlburt Field, but the entire Air Force.

The skilled maintainers are part of the Air Force Repair Enhancement Program and their expertise is truly unique.

AFREP's goals are far more modest. Their aim is to optimize Air Force resources by increasing the wing-level repair capability in an effort to save other units the hassle and cost of purchasing brand new items as older parts wear out.

"We can, quite honestly, fix almost anything," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Schultz, one of the elite maintainers in the unit. "With the various skill sets in this office, we have a really good brainstorming crew."

The different expertises in the shop include electricians, hydraulic engineers, air ground equipment maintainers and program managers, along with several other specialties.

Their scope of practice leads them to help generate new life for a variety of aircraft components.

For instance, on certain planes and helicopters, there is a special light used during landing that sometimes stops working. A new light assembly may cost up to $3,000 and also usually requires significant downtime for the light to be shipped to Hurlburt Field and installed on the airframe.

AFREP, however, can usually fix the broken light for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time. The parts to fix most light malfunctions usually cost around $40 and the installation can take as little as two hours to finish. Account for all the planes in the inventory, the AFREP repair equates to a total savings of $108,000.

The AFREP unit's motto, "It ain't broke unless we can't fix it," sums up their wealth of expertise.

"There are many different items that are commonly disposed that could actually be fixed for reuse," Staff Sergeant Elwood Wooden said.

The amount of money saved base-wide is tremendous. For the fiscal year 2008, AFREP technicians have helped Hurlburt Field and the Air Force save more than $1.2 million. The savings are then passed on to other units who may buy other equipment they need.

"It's great to save money for the wing," Staff Sgt. Archie Johnson said. "We also save the base time and enhance mission capability."

The unit goes to great lengths to find products to rehabilitate.

For starters, each maintenance unit has a recycling box with an AFREP label on it. Maintainers and suppliers are encouraged to put things in the box that are otherwise destined for disposal.

"We tell them 'let us throw it away if it cannot be fixed,' but we'd at least like to take a shot at it," Tech. Sergeant Stephen Proud said.

AFREP also relies heavily on word-of-mouth to find projects.

"We go to the aircraft maintenance meetings each day and try to pick up on problems that may need our help," Sergeant Schultz said. "Sometimes they have a particular issue with a part that we recognize and we offer our services to try to fix it."

Members of the unit will even occasionally rummage through recycle bins looking for thrown away items.

Though the unit focuses heavily on aircraft maintenance, they are not limited to that domain.

"If the military owns it and it has no other avenue for repair (such as a warranty or contract for maintenance), then we will fix it," Sergeant Johnson said.

"AFREP works very well when it has wing wide visibility," Master Sgt. Kenneth Chamberlain said. "Right now we have maintenance group visibility. This means the program is not being utilized to its fullest potential. The potential of AFREP's reach when a wing buys into the program is unlimited."

"Basically, anything you would take to the Defense Reutilization Marketing Office that is defective or not working, bring it to us," Sergeant Dominick said. "Let us have a crack at it to see if we can get it working again."

AFREP's technical knowledge and broad expertise has proven to be extremely beneficial to the base on numerous occasions.

On one such occasion, the entire runway was shut down because there were not enough fire trucks in operation to support the mission. AFREP was quickly called upon to repair a circuit card for one of the trucks.

Circuit cards are a particular specialty for the unit, so the card was fixed in an extremely short amount of time. The renewed card put the fire truck in an operational status, which allowed the base to resume normal flightline operations.

AFREP is a special career field. Individuals in the unit are all trained maintainers. Through an application process, the maintainers are selected and sent to a special technical school where they participate in eighteen months of intricate electronic component training, specializing heavily in miniature and micro miniature electronic components and intensive soldering training.

"The training is one of hardiest technical schools in the Air Force," Sergeant Chamberlain, the AFREP program manager, said. "The miniature and micro miniature program is based upon a NASA level 2 soldering standard, well above the normal standard soldering level to which most maintainers are held. This is what makes us elite. The standards are high."

However, even with all the training they receive, there is still an important factor that an individual must possess to be successful.

"You have to have common sense," Tech. Sgt. Aaron Dominick said. "It actually states in our Air Force Instructions, 'Use common sense.' It is the most important aspect of our job."

Hopefully, individuals on the base will use the same amount of common sense before throwing away electronic parts before seeing if the part can be fixed.

AFREP also works with many off-the-shelf items such as computers, monitors, and other office equipment. They are routinely called upon by other units to work on equipment that surpasses that unit's maintenance capabilities, or even to fix products in which there are no trained technicians available.

Examples include karaoke microphones, car stereo equipment, cell phones, beepers and even a bugle music system used by the Honor Guard.

If there was one message that AFREP could convey to the public in which they serve, it would be to not throw away things.

AFREP is a sophisticated group of people on base that would love one unit's trash. Or, more specifically, they would love to be the deciding factor as to whether or not what a unit has is truly worthy of throw-away status. MacGyver would definitely not be able to compete with that.