Maintenance Airmen: Heart of MAFB mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
The mission of Malmstrom Air Force base is supported by a strong maintenance group, which includes many different maintenance Air Force Specialty Codes, or teams; three of which are the Electromechanical Team, the Missile Maintenance Team and the Facilities Maintenance Team.

Just as a human heart needs all four chambers to function properly together while focusing on each respective one's job to keep a body healthy, each maintenance team requires specific attention to their tasks as well as teamwork to keep Malmstrom's mission successful.

"Without [all three maintenance teams] - some of our core jobs - the missile wouldn't launch at all and that's the same with all of the shops," said Staff Sgt. Nate Patton, 341st Maintenance Operations Squadron EMT trainer. "Without FMT the air conditioning and the standby power for the sites would go down and if that happens, the racks would burn up and the missile wouldn't launch; MMT obviously deals with the missile itself, so that's self-explanatory, and then [EMT] puts the missiles on alert and makes them actually able to launch. All of us together are definitely a nice, sturdy team."

One way Airmen within the EMT, MMT and FMT sections remain proficient in their jobs is by proper and specific training both before and during their work in the missile field. There are a small number of knowledgeable instructors in charge of training all of the maintenance Airmen to be qualified to keep all missiles in the field functioning properly.

Within the 341st MOS, Patton and four other trainers teach the ins and outs of EMT tasks, MMT tasks are taught by Staff Sgt. Kris Jamieson and six other trainers, and Staff Sgt. Kyle Babbert and four of his fellow instructors train the FMT Airmen.

"Guys who train into those instructor positions are hand-picked and a lot of our best performers," said Lt. Col. Brian Young, 341st MOS commander. "We're trusting them to be able to train the next generation of maintainers and one of the things I always challenge them with is we're either going to pay the price or reap the rewards of their instruction for the next 15 years because you only get one chance to teach the young technicians the right way. Each one of these instructors is very passionate about what they do and take their jobs very seriously."

EMT maintainers are responsible for maintaining the security, cooling and access systems of the missiles across the missile complex. These Airmen also load the missile with launch and enable codes, which allow them to operate if called upon on a moment's notice.

"We help the missile survive, so to speak," Patton said. "There are a lot of our tasks that deal extensively with bringing the missile on alert so it's actually able to launch, so I would say EMT is very important."

There are 60 Airmen currently trained in the EMT shop, each with the responsibility of knowing and being proficient in 212 technical tasks. Before they are able to work in the field, they must complete a four-month training course and meet the standards set for them by Patton and the other trainers, as well as Quality Assurance officials.

There are 54 Airmen assigned to MMT, and each are responsible for 236 technical tasks. The MMT shop is smaller, but in no way less important. After only four months of training, these Airmen post to the missile field with the responsibility of maintaining most aspects of the missiles themselves.

"We are responsible for pretty much anything that involves the missile itself," Jamieson said. "So if any inner stages die down or if the actual asset itself needs to be cycled out because of shelf life we go out there and replace them. Anything that directly involves the missile and supports the missile, that's pretty much our responsibility."

The third unit of maintenance, FMT, has the longest training course - a course that lasts five months. During this training, FMT Airmen, in teams of four, learn to become proficient in 290 technical tasks. There are currently 47 Airmen qualified to do FMT maintenance in the field.

"Facility Maintenance is responsible for taking care of the environmental control system as well as the power distribution system on-site," Babbert said. "This includes the air conditioner, launch tube heater and the diesel generator. The diesel generator supplies secondary, or back-up, power in case the site loses commercial power so the site can continue running at all times. We also maintain some of the actual facility. There are sump pumps in there for the rainy seasons like spring; if water gets down in there our sump pumps will get it out so the missiles don't get wet and we don't damage any of our equipment."

All three maintenance teams spend more than 95 percent of their training in training simulators doing hands-on work with replicas of specific missile components. The trainers they use on a daily basis are the three on-base trainers and the off-base training Launch Facility, I-10. The three on-base trainers include the T-9, which replicates a Launcher Equipment Room; the T-22 trainer, which is a simulated Launch Support Building; and the T-41 trainer, which is half of a launch tube and LER with a Payload Transporter. The hands-on work is important to build muscle memory of the work they will be doing in the missile complex.

"When perfection is the minimum, you want to show them exactly what they're going to be doing because people will interpret it 1,000 different ways unless you show them exactly what it is," Jamieson said.

Before maintenance technicians are able to start their work in the missile complex, their trainers must feel comfortable enough to sign them off on all tasks associated with their jobs. With the careers of their students in their hands, maintenance trainers often will keep a student as long as they see fit to ensure they've received the proper training. Once their trainer has given them the "okay" to work in the field, students must be evaluated by QA personnel on the penetration and back out of a site as well as their specific maintenance tasks.

After passing their evaluations by QA, maintenance Airmen begin work in the missile complex; a job that can sometimes become overwhelming because of an immediately large responsibility and long hours. In the missile complex, these Airmen can spend anywhere from two to 16 hours on a maintenance job, and in rare cases, they may stay overnight at a Missile Alert Facility.

"All of our maintenance is done on the Launch Facilities and the MAFs as well," Babbert said. "We don't have a set schedule. You never know starting the day how long you're going to be out there. That's the hardest part."

According to Young, in many instances, the fault indication reported to maintenance technicians requires specific troubleshooting procedures to determine the exact cause of the fault. These troubleshooting procedures require a great deal of weapon system knowledge as well as strict Technical Order compliance.

While all maintainers may have long hours in the field, they rarely cross each other's paths. With different AFSCs and technical tasks, each maintenance team is responsible for different areas of maintenance. However, each team recognizes and embraces the importance of each other's work - even if it means a little shop competition.

"We have in-shop rivalries just to be fun, but for the most part, when it comes down to doing the job, there really isn't any animosity whatsoever," Jamieson said. "That's a good thing, too because if you notice someone isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing you're not afraid to correct that on the spot. It keeps everybody trying to do the best they can, learn as much as they can and do 110 percent at all times. The camaraderie is high."

It's important to recognize the hard work these maintenance technicians are doing to keep the missiles in the missile complex functioning properly. The work of EMT, MMT and FMT Airmen could easily be the heart of this base's mission; without them, the body of the mission, or the missiles, wouldn't be able to survive.

"It's easy to lose sight of exactly what you're doing because you're just told 'here's the job; go do it,'" Jamieson said. "But most maintainers don't really understand how important that actually is."

The hard and, most times, long work associated with EMT, MMT and FMT demands a high level of dedication to the mission and a strong belief in providing deterrence for the United States and its allies.

"Rest assured, Patton, Jamieson and Babbert work hard every day to ensure this and future generations of maintainers are able to meet the high standards of maintaining the Minuteman III weapon system," Young said.