JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Most of the work done by Senior Airman David Texada goes largely unnoticed.
Responsible for the more than 500 mission-support, life-support and survival items onboard every Globemaster III operated by the 249th and 517th airlift squadrons, the aircrew flight equipment journeyman's efforts often don't get noticed unless there is a crisis.
In the case of a crash or a crew bailout, however, Texada's attention to detail and long hours spent packing and inspecting equipment pays off in a big way.
“We maintain survival equipment for our pilots,” Texada (pronounced Tay-Hada) said. “We make sure that anything that is used in an event of a bailout or ejection is good to go before the plane takes off, so that it can sustain life.”
The catalog of items and the volumes of information that goes with each one is daunting and covers everything from oxygen systems and crew helmets to chemical-protective equipment and night-vision goggles.
When asked about any particular piece of gear, Texada instantly rattles off its component parts.
“High-impedance mic, lip-light, NVG mounting bracket,” Texada recited before continuing the list of component parts for a basic C-17 crew helmet. “Ear cups, the bayonet receiver that holds the [gas mask] ...”
Because the crew helmets are shipped in a relatively generic fashion appropriate for a variety of aircraft types and missions, Texada is responsible for customizing each helmet to the needs of the crewman. He drills holes for NVG mounts, microphones and other accessories appropriate to the airlift mission in Alaska.
“Attention to detail is key in our job, because if someone needs to use this equipment, it needs to work,” said Texada, a native of South Padre Island, Texas.
Attention to detail – an almost obsessive-compulsive focus on getting everything absolutely right, big and small – is a catchphrase throughout the 517th Airlift Squadron aircrew flight equipment shop.
The shop noncommissioned officer in charge, Tech. Sgt. Jim Silvernail, echoed Texada's sentiments.
“Attention to detail 100 percent hands down is the most important part of this job, because we can't have a bad day,” the Richmond, Ohio, native said. “If I'm packing your chute, and I'm having a bad day, and I make a mistake, I could have just cost you your life.”
Silvernail said Airmen in the 517th AFE Shop don't leave room for mistakes. During a routine inspection and packing of a BA-22 Back Parachute, Texada adheres strictly to the checklist. At periodic points in the process, Silvernail closely checks his work.
The BA-22 fits in a pack about the size of a slim brief case. Despite being compact, the bail-out parachute contains a lot of items that can help a crewman survive on the ground.
The canopy of the parachute is alternately green, orange, brown and white colored to aid in camouflage or in signaling friendly forces. A device, called the Scot Release, automatically deploys the canopy around 14,000 feet even if the crewman is unconscious.
The parachute includes an oxygen bottle that interfaces with the crewman's mask, allowing comfortable breathing at high altitudes. The URT-44 radio beacon aids search and rescue elements in finding crewmen. A small survival kit includes items such as line and fishhooks.
Texada ensures every one these components functions when needed, avoiding the bad-day scenario Silvernail talked about.
Another critical aspect of AFE for C-17 crews is chemical-protective gear. Because the Globemaster's airlift mission often requires it to support ground units, there is always the potential for exposure to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack.
Silvernail said his shop is responsible for maintaining the protective suits and breathing devices necessary to operate in a CBRN environment. In the case of a CBRN attack, AFE Airmen are trained to decontaminate crewmen and equipment to ensure they fight another day.
Because more than 500 pieces of survival gear are a lot to learn how to use, Silvernail said he provides periodic training to aircrew to keep them up to speed. Since it is such an involved subject, he teaches a separate class for CBRN operations.
From ensuring life rafts are ready to float on the ocean surface to making certain M9 pistols are serviced for duty, Texada said he has one mission.
“We're in the business of saving lives,” he said. “We want to make sure everyone makes it home to their families at the end of the day. Even though our equipment isn't used all the time, when it does get used, we need it to work because we need that person to survive.”