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Guardsmen tackle challenges of keeping their cool

by Master Sgt. Rich Romero
40th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

5/31/2005 - OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (AFPN) -- People wanting to find out just how hot it can get inside their tent only need mess with the environmental control unit, and they will find out soon enough.

Instead, it is probably advisable just to take Master Sgt. Alex Gonzalez’s word for it, and leave the things alone.

“It can easily get to 120 degrees in a tent within 30 minutes when (a unit) goes out,” said the 40th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration flight superintendent. Sergeant Gonzalez is deployed from Muniz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico.

For that very reason, the guardsmen in his four-person shop treat every call they receive concerning environmental control units as an emergency. It is also why he said they swap out units to be repaired in their shop if the fix even hints to take more than 30 minutes.

“We have to get there fast,” said Staff Sgt. Napoleon Stanley, who is deployed from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.

The team averages better than a 10-minute response time on calls concerning control unit problems, which includes the time it takes for the word to get to them from the civil engineer help desk.

With 275 of the units spread throughout the camp and the flightline, they keep busy averaging seven to eight unit swap outs and 15 calls a week. They primarily support Air Force operations at this forward-deployed location, and mostly work on 3-ton environmental control units, but also a few ice machines and refrigerators. They typically work an eight-hour day shift, with one person on call at all times.

Yet, at any one time, three of the four carry pagers “so we can always be reached,” said Staff Sgt. Randy Kendall, also from McConnell.

Mother Nature, location and even people create a variety of challenges for maintaining the environmental units here.

“We’re tasking the ECUs to the max,” Sergeant Kendall said. “They’re designed for an open bay, not tents with wooden partitions. They’re also designed for a more temperate environment, not one with such high humidity.”

While the environmental havoc on the units cannot be controlled, the biggest menace to their operation -- people -- can be.

“Sometimes they think they may be doing us a favor by trying to correct what appears to be a simple problem, but that ‘simple’ tampering typically causes a major problem,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Concepcion, who is deployed from Muniz.

They all agree the best resolution to any problem with the units, regardless of the nature, is for people to call upon their collective 39 years of experience with the equipment. Equally important is not to mess with the thermostat or block the outlets to control the temperature, Sergeant Stanley said.

“Those are two sure ways to freeze up the evaporator,” Sergeant Concepcion said.

Additionally, the mere nature of the location creates a logistics nightmare, Sergeant Gonzalez said.

“Getting material in and out is our biggest frustration,” he said. “Parts and supplies, such as refrigerant and bearings, literally take months. We’re waiting for bearings right now and are told not to expect them before October.”

Even with the challenges they face, the Airmen said they strongly believe they have the “coolest” job here.

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