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News | Feb. 25, 2016

JBER's dirtiest jobs: fleet services

By Airman Valerie Monroy JBER Public Affairs

Walking down the spotless hallways of the 732nd Air Mobility Squadron Fleet Services building, you wouldn't guess they have one of the dirtiest jobs in the Air Force.

Fleet services ensure all aircraft that come through Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are clean and serviceable for aircrew and passengers.

Fleet services is comprised of two sections: clean and dirty, and both are vital to complete the mission. The services provided by clean fleet depend on the needs of the aircraft. They can stock aircraft with water coolers, toiletries, pillows, blankets, supply coffee, ice and meals or anything else the passengers might need.

Dirty fleet is responsible for disposing of any waste or trash of military and civilian passenger or cargo aircraft that arrive at JBER.

"The first thing we do is take care of the international garbage," said Jeffrey Zook, 732nd Air Mobility Squadron vehicle operator for Fleet Services.

All garbage coming from overseas is considered international garbage or regulated garbage, and must be taken care of first because of the possible contamination it could pose to agriculture here at home, Zook said. Dirty fleet removes the garbage from the aircraft and incinerates it within 72 hours.

Depending on the aircraft and their needs, dirty fleet might also need to service the lavatory.

When that call comes in - regardless of time or temperature - they quickly don their personal protective equipment and head out to the flight line with one of the latrine servicing trucks.

Always working in teams, they back the truck in next to the aircraft and prepare to open the lavatory servicing panel, or the "hatch".

"Once the hatch is opened, we hook up and drain the hose with all of the lavatory's waste; then refill it with 'blue juice'," Zook said.

Blue juice is a mixed solution of deodorizer, water, and an anti-ice solution which is used in the sanitation of the latrines.

The entire process is clean and efficient; within a few minutes it's over and done with.

"Everybody has a perception of us as just the guys cleaning the toilets and it being a messy job, but the chances of it actually getting messy are slim to none," Zook said. "It's all fairly clean and we take pride in our equipment and maintain a very high standard of cleanliness."

Each time they service an aircraft, a specific technical order is followed to ensure the process is done correctly and to minimize the chances of accidents happening. Unfortunately, not all accidents can be prevented.

Lewis Come, 732nd AMS Fleet Services supervisor, was a victim in one of these accidents.

"There was an issue with the [lavatory], and I went over to assess it but when [the hatch] opened it popped out and I got dumped on," Come said.

"It was like Niagara Falls out there," Zook said.

Zook and Come joke about it now, but the potential health risks are serious.

If anyone gets 'dumped on', the health precautions involve washing their eyes out, showering to remove all the waste, and a trip to the hospital for the necessary immunizations, Come explained.

"Depending on the severity of the situation, they might go straight to the hospital," Come said. "The main concern at that point is inhalation or absorption into the skin."

The members of the Fleet Services are continuously on the frontlines against diseases. During the Ebola outbreak, they were responsible for providing Ebola decontamination kits to all aircraft transiting areas where the Ebola infection was most common. Unfortunately, none of the kits existed at the time.

"Knowing that these planes had to fly, we took it upon ourselves to do the research, and find the required items for the kit," Zook said. "After that, we started the process of putting the package together and sent it to Air Mobility Command."

Their Ebola kit was taken and used as a benchmark for all Ebola decontamination kits within the 515th Air Mobility Wing, Zook said.

This job may be dirty, difficult or dangerous to some, but to the members of the 732nd AMS fleet services, the family-like atmosphere makes it all worth it.

"My team is great. We all get along really well and we pick on each other to make it fun," Zook said. "We make the best of the situation."

It might not be the most glamorous, or the most noticed work, but it is vital to daily missions arriving and departing from JBER.

"We're not just the people who empty the toilets; there is so much more to it," Zook said. "A lot of people don't pay attention to us and for some reason people don't really want to talk to you when you're in this suit."

"I think this is an unsung job," Come said. "People don't realize what goes on behind the scenes, before they board the plane."

They might not be the most-known, but when aboard a JBER aircraft- either as aircrew members or passengers - remember the vital role fleet services played in making the trip just a little more comfortable.