CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti –
Whether it is a tanker truck fueling aircraft or a forklift transporting cargo, vehicles are a key component to any Air Force mission. In East Africa, harsh weather conditions, rugged terrain and consistent use takes a toll on these vehicles, and when issues arise, it is time to call the mechanics.
The 726th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron Vehicle Maintenance mechanics service and repair more than 140 Air Force vehicles in the Horn of Africa area of responsibility.
Just two Airmen and three contractors sustain a fleet of passenger vehicles, forklifts, ambulances, cranes and many other types of equipment.
The 726th EABS Vehicle Maintenance’s primary shop is located at Camp Lemonnier, but they maintain vehicles in multiple locations including Chabelley Airfield located roughly 30 minutes away.
At the airfield, the team services critical assets such as fuel trucks and emergency vehicles that could slow or stop the mission if a breakdown occurs.
“Right now we’re sitting at around 90 percent for mission critical vehicles,” said Tech. Sgt. James Hopper, 726th EABS Vehicle Maintenance flight chief deployed from the 7th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. “We’ve really worked hard to get the fleet where it needs to be, and we still have plenty of time to do some more work. I would love to get it up to 100 percent.”
Hopper’s right-hand Airman, Staff Sgt. Jared Agey deployed as the 726th EABS Vehicle Maintenance NCO in-charge from the 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron at Cannon AFB, New Mexico.
As a general purpose mechanic at his home station, Agey had never worked on some of the vehicles he does while deployed. Equipment like the R11 refueling truck and the P19 Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicle typically require a specialty mechanic because of the complex systems onboard.
“Learning about those vehicles has been the best part of the job,” said Agey. “I really like the trouble-shooting aspect. We diagnose our problem, find the root cause and then figure out how to fix it.”
While these Airmen have proved they are capable of keeping these vehicles rolling, the need for more manpower has been noticed, and during the next deployment rotation the two Airmen mechanic positions will increase to six.
“It’s going to be great,” said Hopper. “More personnel will mean two mechanics can be at Chabelley at all times, which will significantly cut down on response time for emergency maintenance.”
More Airmen in the shop will also allow the mechanics to focus more on preventive rather than reactionary maintenance, reducing the amount of potential breakages.
Entrusted with the maintenance of a fleet worth 15 million dollars and improving the capability rate of critical equipment to more than 90 percent, the 726th EABS Vehicle Maintenance shop proves their ability to keep the mission rolling, despite the grueling conditions the vehicles under their care are exposed to every day.
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing website.