Graf Ignatievo Air Base – Bulgaria --
Pilots from the 555th Fighter Squadron rush into the locker room, preparing for another day of flying during NATO enhanced Air Policing. Music is blasting from a portable speaker as they laugh, smile and throw on their gear before heading out. As the pilots prepare to focus on the flight ahead, Airmen from the 31st Operations Support Squadron are busy ensuring the aircrew is walking out the door with serviceable equipment.
“The best part of my job is having the opportunity to ensure aircrew have the necessary equipment to complete the mission,” said Airman 1st Class Matthew Giordano, 31st OSS AFE technician. “Knowing that my job can be life-saving means I have to give it all I got, no matter the day of the week. I am in charge of someone’s life and that is a big responsibility.”
Approximately 140 personnel and six F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 555th FS deployed in support of the NATO eAP in Bulgaria, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 23, 2020, along with various units from Aviano Air Base, Italy.
NATO eAP is a specific assurance measure to demonstrate NATO’s solidarity, collective resolve and its ability to adapt and scale its defensive missions and deterrence posture in response to the evolving security situation.
During NATO eAP AFE Airmen are responsible for inspecting and maintaining life-saving equipment to include oxygen masks, life preservers, survival masks, anti-exposure suits, radios and recovery kits.
Equipment such as oxygen masks pump oxygen to the pilot at high altitude which is vital to the pilot's safety.
“Each day during NATO eAP I do pre-flight inspections to every piece of gear that is being used for the flying day,” said Giordano. “When the gear comes back from the flight, we do a post flight inspection, where we check the gear and make sure nothing is condemnable and see if the pilots had any issues.”
Aircrew flight equipment Airmen used various types of test equipment such as oxygen testers, leakage testers, radio testers, and other types of testers to conduct reliability testing of aircrew equipment during eAP.
“We use testers every day,” said Beland. “Before each pilot steps to the aircraft they test their helmet and mask for leaks.”
During this mission AFE Airmen pay close attention to the fine details and pride themselves in habitually giving products of the highest caliber, realizing that a sense of trust is integral in their relationship with the pilots.
“We take pride in our work,” said Beland. “Our job is a no fail job. In the event of an emergency the pilots depend on us to know what we are doing, and we take that seriously. We work hard to keep the trust of the pilots, so if it comes down to it, our gear will save their life.”