KADENA AIR BASE, Japan –
Nearly a year ago, Kadena Air Base, Japan, opened a cryogenic production plant as part of the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron. As a new plant – the only operational one in the Air Force – many may be unaware of not only its successfulness, but also its purpose.
Providing the base and various other units on island with cryogenic products – whether it be in a liquid or gaseous form – is the plant’s main priority.
“We produce the liquid oxygen and the liquid nitrogen here for our organizations across the island to make sure they get the product they need to make the mission happen,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Pannell, 18th LRS assistant NCO-in-charge of cryogenic productions.
The production plant provides services for a range of reasons, whether it be for pilots or patients, the plant handles it all and can also be the difference in life or death in some instances.
“We manufacture liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen for various organizations to use … Breathable oxygen at high altitudes for aircraft, liquid nitrogen to fill tires for the aircraft so they don’t explode if they hit the ground too hard and the hospital has various uses for oxygen and nitrogen as you could imagine … It’s important.” explained Senior Airman Christopher Tallan, 18th LRS cryogenic production operator.
While other bases have to purchase their liquid oxygen and nitrogen from external providers, Kadena is able to support the mission directly as well as save money.
“I don’t like to solely rely on other people because I know if we do it ourselves, it’s going to be done the right way and I think this is really valuable for the Air Force because we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to save money,” Pannell said. “We should really strive to be innovative and this is something I push down to my Airmen – to be innovative and think of new ways to do things.”
With innovation comes plenty of learning opportunities – and growing pains.
“It’s been challenging at times because everyone is learning a new plant,” Pannell explained. “We have to learn the ins and outs; everyone here is growing.”
Providing these services can prove to rather complex. From separation of atmospheric air to expansion and cooling, the job is chemically impossible to without machines.
The machine – production plant – typically runs one week at a time for 24 hours a day and enables the production of about 50 gallons an hour.
While the machine is doing its job, the rest of the team is ensuring it works properly.
“We have to do hourly checks to make sure nothing is malfunctioning,” Tallan said. “We’re responsible for knowing what’s supposed to be going on.
With such a big plant and so many pipes, we have to make sure that nothing is in a pipe that shouldn’t be in it, and make sure things are at the right temperature in the pipes they’re supposed to be in.”
With such a unique and vital mission role, working at the only operational cryogenic production plant in the Air Force seems to be a great source of pride and inspiration for those in the career field.
“I love my job; I love coming to work. I work in a cryogenic facility – it’s insane,” Tallan laughed. “I always thought about the cryo guys and how badly I wanted to go for one day and see … It’s different when every single day you’re holding a sample of liquid oxygen and you can feel it boil inside the beaker … I love it.”
Along with the job being cool – literally and figuratively – it also demonstrates the importance of smart investment and innovation with promises of bettering the success of the Air Force mission as a whole.
“I take it as a personal challenge to myself and my team to do our best and actually show higher leadership that this is a legitimate plant and it could benefit not just Pacific Air Force, but other areas – especially overseas,” Pannell said.
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Kadena Air Base website.