Offutt’s AGE specialists are one of a kind

  • Published
  • By L. Cunningham
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

Within the 55th Maintenance Squadron are nine personnel in the Aerospace Ground Equipment section. They are a special support section that maintains an important mission that is the only one of its kind in the Air Force.

They are part of a program that began in the 1980s when the Air Force’s four E-4Bs were assigned to the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base. The AGE master technicians are a part of the maintenance component specialists that fly a 24/7/365 mission.

Their Air Force Specialty Code is 2A6X2 aerospace ground equipment. They attend a five-month long technical school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, specializing in different AGE systems and graduate with Chlorofluorocarbons/Hydrochlorofluorocarbons refrigerant certifications through the Environmental Protection Agency. Upon graduation, they are assigned to bases around the world.

Only AGE techs assigned to Offutt’s 55th MXS AGE section can be added to the flying program, which allows them to fly with the equipment necessary to support the E-4B mission. They are required to be at least a senior airman, level 5 Journeyman or above, and stationed at Offutt for at least a year to be considered for the program. They must have and maintain a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information clearance and be fully trained and comfortable with the E-4B AGE systems.

The AGE flying leads and flight leadership send up recommendations to the squadron commander, selecting those who meet the qualifications, show the drive, and are trusted to fix and handle any equipment issue on their own.

“You must be added into the flying program,” said Master Sgt. David Teeters, AGE flight chief. “It is a specific job for flying with the E-4B. We are taking our top technicians, people that are certified on all these pieces of equipment that can go and support that mission.”

On alert status, the E-4B requires constant electrical power to operate its systems while on the ground. The Airmen must be subject matter experts and travel with a special kit that contains spare parts, tools, oil and everything necessary to fix any of three pieces of equipment should they break down.

The diesel engine generator provides power to the aircraft when the engines shut down. There is a liquid cooling cart which is used specifically to cool off the electronics on board the aircraft. The third piece is an air conditioning unit used to maintain a comfortable climate on the aircraft so that personnel on board can continue working while the E-4B is on the ground.

 The E-4B serves as the National Airborne Operations Center for the president, secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At least one of these planes is always on alert. It can be used in case of a national emergency or destruction of ground control centers and provides a highly survivable, command, control and communications center to direct U.S. forces, execute emergency war orders, and coordinate actions by civil authorities.

In 1994, the E-4B assumed an additional role to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s request for assistance when a natural disaster occurs. They fly FEMA response teams to the disaster site and become the FEMA command and control center until the emergency team’s own equipment and facilities are set up. With E-4B support, FEMA response is a matter of hours instead of days. 

“Typically, we fly one at a time, although sometimes if we are training it will be two techs flying. We call it coming up on alert,” said Teeters. “When on alert, they are on the aircraft for two weeks at a time and fly from base to base all over the world.”

AGE techs swap out every two weeks. They receive special duty assignment pay and must fly every three months to remain certified. They are responsible for all alert duties and will hold this position for a minimum of three years or permanent change of station orders are issued.

“We are the only AGE personnel in the Air Force that do this,” said Tech. Sgt. Zachary Engbretson, AGE flyer/manager and noncommissioned officer in charge of NAOC support. “It is kind of like a hidden secret. I didn’t even know about this flyer program until I was assigned here.”