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Warming things up around Manas

by Staff Sgt. Chuck Marsh
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/28/2004 - MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan (AFPN)  -- Everyone know that the song says, "Oh, the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful," but fires are not allowed in tents here; thankfully heaters are.

The 10 Airmen assigned to the 376th Civil Engineer Squadron's heating, ventilation and air conditioning shop work to keep that frightful weather outside while temperatures indoors remain comfortable.

"Our main business is the ash heaters," said Master Sgt. Michael Nelson, the shop's chief. "They are very maintenance intensive, and we find ourselves rebuilding them on a daily basis. Each week we switch out between 40 (and) 50."

Keeping Manas Airmen warm is a big job. The HVAC Airmen ensure the 366 ash heaters, 395 window air conditioning units and 59 international heaters remain in top form and protect everyone from the cold.

"While we try to fix what we can on location, normally we end up switching (out the faulty heaters) with working ones. (Then we) bring them back to the shop, clean them, assess any problem and rebuild them," Sergeant Nelson said.

Besides the normal preventative maintenance schedule, the Airmen have logged more than 880 calls from people with heater problems.

"On average, we get anywhere between 40 (and) 70 calls per day from people with heat problems. Each is handled as an emergency," Sergeant Nelson said. "If you look to the figures, not counting projects, the 10 of us in this shop account for about 48 percent of all (the squadron's) scheduled work."

Because of the constant rebuilding and the preventative maintenance they do, the HVAC Airmen have decreased their potential workload.

Sergeant Nelson said during the rotation last winter HVAC Airmen responded to about 1,100 heater service calls in three months.

"They had a fairly mild winter last year though, and by the way this winter is going, we're looking at exceeding that 1,100 service-call number before we leave," he said.

The ash heaters are not a part of the HVAC Airmen's daily life at home station. In fact, Manas is the first cold-weather deployed location for each of the Airmen.

"This deployment is the first time we have ever worked on ash heaters," Sergeant Nelson said. "The guys here are fantastic mechanics though and have done a great job."

One of the factors leading to their success is their synergy, he said. They are all deployed from the same squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

"It's good being here and working with people from back home," said Trevis Boaz, midnight-shift supervisor. "Because of that good continuity, we can better focus on getting the work done."

That synergy goes a long way in repairing the heaters, but what goes even further is the responsibility of tent occupants to use the heater correctly.

"The tent occupants are the biggest problem when it comes to the heaters," Sergeant Nelson said. "People need to pay attention to what they put in front of the heaters' returns and to keep the thermostat set at a reasonable temperature -- around 70 or 75 degrees is good. It's the occupants who are the key to keeping the ash heaters working properly."

The current HVAC Airmen will soon be replaced as they prepare to head home. When the swap is complete, the next rotation will have an additional five Airmen and less of a workload.

The one thing the next rotation will not have to worry about is a lack of parts, said the Airman who orders the supplies.

"So far, I've spent well over $50,000 on parts, and there's more to go," said Tech. Sgt. Reid Blackwell. "Currently, we're trying to stock up on parts for the next rotation so they will be a little more prepared than we were when we got here.

"We're doing our best to leave the next rotation in the best shape we can, and right now, we're in good shape. They will have plenty of spare parts and built heaters so the transition will be as smooth as it can be," Sergeant Blackwell said.

The HVAC Airmen's work is not finished yet, even though the deployment is for some. Until dormitories are complete, they will continue to work to keep Manas Airmen warm.

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