AFE keeps aircrew, operators safe in East Africa

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Allison Payne
  • 406th Air Expeditionary Wing

Precision missile strikes, extended logistical support and combat search and rescue missions – these are the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s advanced air superiority and a foundation to modern warfighting around the world. At Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, where combat rescue helicopters and cargo aircraft take to the skies to enable these missions, two teams of Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) Airmen work around the clock and behind the scenes to ensure their aircrew are ready for anything. Without them, the mission wouldn’t happen.

These specially trained AFE Airmen from the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron and 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron are responsible for managing, performing and scheduling inspections, maintenance and adjustments of their assigned equipment. The equipment can range from helmets and life preservers to night vision goggles and aircrew weapons.

“AFE enables the mission by providing top quality safety equipment to ensure our aircrews and operators at the front lines can conduct their missions safely and return home to their families every day,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Katie Powell, 82nd EQRS Special Warfare Mission Support superintendent. “We have the saying of ‘your life is our business’, as we take 100% responsibility for keeping our operators safe.”

By enabling the flying missions, each AFE team directly contributes to Camp Lemonnier’s mission, which is to provide, operate and sustain service in support of combat readiness and security of aircraft, ships, detachments and personnel for regional and combatant command requirements.

“Our job as AFE riggers is a huge responsibility,” said Staff Sgt. Christy Anzur, 82nd ERQS AFE craftsman. “Every time they use one of our parachutes, our operators trust in our packing abilities. They put their full trust and lives into our hands, and that’s not something we at AFE take lightly. As our riggers’ pledge says, we pack our parachutes as if we are using them ourselves.”

The AFE field encompasses functions which enhance aircrew performance through the proper equipment integration of the service member and aircraft. They issue, fit, repair and maintain flight equipment such as parachutes, helmets, oxygen equipment, anti-exposure suits, survival kits, life preservers and more.

“If AFE wasn’t around, missions would not be safe or possible,” said Tech. Sgt. Cody Knepp, 75th EAS AFE craftsman. “We work on most aspects of survival. Not only do we inspect the survival equipment, but we also instruct courses. We work on aircrews’ everyday equipment used to operate and communicate during flights, such as night vision devices, headsets, helmets, and emergency oxygen equipment.”

While both the 82nd ERQS and 75th EAS work to maintain safety within their teams, their AFE missions vary slightly. At the 82nd ERQS, AFE primarily focuses on packing parachutes and providing their operators with the gear necessary to perform rescue missions and conduct training.

“AFE technicians that work in a Guardian Angel squadron like the 82nd ERQS provide equipment to pararescuemen and Combat Rescue Officers they anticipate they will need to conduct a specific rescue or recovery mission,” said Powell.

The 75th EAS AFE team, on the other hand, ensures pilots and aircrew have the required gear needed to conduct flying operations.

“Similar to how the 82nd ERQS mission is built around the operators and what they’re doing, we are built around whatever the mission of the airlift squadron is,” said Knepp. “Our mission is different from theirs because our mission requirements are completely different, in the same way that a bomber squadron’s mission would be different because it’s a different aircraft. Our job is to support the East African Response Force, air mobility airlift, and to move people and cargo across East Africa.”

Both Powell and Knepp expressed gratitude for their deployed teams, as well as their professions.

“I am so proud of my team and the work they have accomplished during this deployment,” said Powell. “I am always in awe of their efforts to provide the highest standards of equipment to our teams.”

Though they don’t don a flight suit or command an aircraft, AFE technicians play a large role in the flying missions. For Knepp, the responsibility is profound and humbling.

“Knowing that I contribute directly to the safety and preparedness of aircrews, ensuring they have the necessary equipment for their missions, and potentially their survival brings a great sense of purpose and pride,” said Knepp. “It’s fulfilling to know that my work directly supports those who take to the skies, safeguarding their lives and enabling their missions to succeed.”