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Civil engineers keep Sather Air Base utilities operational

447th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

3/15/2006 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- When the power is on and the toilets are flowing, no one bothers the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Operations Flight Airmen here. But they don’t mind anonymity; when no one complains, they know their customers are happy.

Airmen in the flight can be compared to a city public works department. They maintain the electricity, utilities, roads, heating and air conditioning and they also build roads.

The engineers in the flight sometimes joke that they know they are doing their job right when business is slow.

“(People) wouldn’t even realize we were here unless there was a power outage,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Gilliland, a 447th ECES power production technician.

The Airman work to provide uninterrupted power to the base. They monitor gauges that display the power produced by generators.

From generator to lightbulb, the CES electricians monitor the electricity. Running through a series of secondary distribution centers and power cables, they face a myriad of challenges, including frequent flooding in the winter.

“Our main goal is to make sure all the secondary cable is pre-flood ready,” said Master Sgt. Richard Tatro, the electrical section superintendent. They try to gauge where low-lying areas are on base and raise the cables with sand bags.

“Imagine yourself without electricity,” he said. “It’s a big morale factor. Everybody uses electricity for morale things such as televisions and computers.”

Keeping morale high is also a concern to the utilities Airmen. If the showers are cold or the toilets clogged, they dive in to the waterworks to fix the problem.

A less-glamorous task they face is keeping the toilet sewage lines open. The toilet water gravity flows into a “lift station” that pushes the waste to a “black water” storage tank. They check the station daily and spray water to remove “solid” matter including feminine items and baby wipes that cling to the pump.

“It gets backed up and wet packed with solids, which causes the pump to overflow,” said Master Sgt. Jon Lundgren, the utilities superintendent.

Keeping the toilets flowing is only part of the water works. They also receive and store water into 20,000-gallon bladders and maintain pressurized lines that move it to the showers and washing machines.

“Probably the single biggest use of water is the showers,” said Sergeant Lundgren. If more than the average 30,000 gallons is used per day, due to longer showers or half-empty washers, the base could run out of water.

Airmen in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning section help the utilities Airmen provide warm showers by maintaining boilers that heat water for the shower tents. Additionally, as their name implies, they maintain the base’s heaters and air conditioners.

Although most of the operations flight Airmen focus on maintaining utilities, two sections have “handymen.” Known as the “Dirt Boyz,” pavements and equipment Airmen, build and maintain roads and airfields.

“Anything that is horizontal -- streets, parking lots, gutters, fences -- we are responsible for,” said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Clay, a Dirt Boyz operator.

They are building a road to prepare for a dining facility planned for later this year. They also plan to build a permanent road at the entry control point. With all the new trailer facilities going up, they’ve also been busy pouring concrete pads.

With the volume of work they have, they rely on the help of other CES teammates.

“Our commander said there are no union cards in CES,” Sergeant Clay said.

This philosophy is epitomized by the liquid fuels maintenance Airmen. Although their primary job is to maintain fixed fuel systems, the systems here consist of bladders and fuels mobility equipment. LFM technician Senior Airman Shakib Rahman said his team has poured 10 concrete pads.

“I had never done concrete before. We are professionals at concrete now,” he said.

When things need to be built, the structures shop builds from the ground up. Although they are trained to build things, at most home bases they fix things rather than build.

“We finally get to do what we are trained to do here,” said Master Sgt. Gerald Aguiar, structures NCOIC. “Everything we need, we make.”

So, although they like to work behind the scenes, the success of the CES mission affects nearly everything.

“Our goal is to be one of those things people don’t have to think about,” Sergeant Lundgren said.

Keeping all the work orders prioritized that come into this diverse department can be challenging. This is where the flight’s officer in charge puts her organizational skills to work.

“They all have a lot of resources and talent,” said Capt. Teresa Sobolewski, CES operations flight chief. “All I have to do is prioritize the work that comes in.”

The operations flight chief said although she is responsible for the diverse team, their dynamic skills and motivation makes her job easy.

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