AFREP maintainers: 'We can fix anything'

This inoperational HH-60 helicopter weapons control unit was categorized irreparable and placed in bin of items to be shipped to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office. When AFREP supply technician Todd Zickel found out the $27,000 part was about to be scrapped, he brought it to the AFREP maintainers. They promptly fixed it -- with components that cost $1.50. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond)

This inoperational HH-60 helicopter weapons control unit was categorized irreparable and placed in bin of items to be shipped to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office. When AFREP supply technician Todd Zickel found out the $27,000 part was about to be scrapped, he brought it to the AFREP maintainers. They promptly fixed it -- with components that cost $1.50. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond)

Senior Airman Torry Murray, an AFREP technician here, aligns a malfunctioning circuit card assembly into a troubleshooting card reader. Using a database that includes specifications for various circuit cards in use throughout the military, the machine runs diagnostic tests and reveals the cards’ problems to the maintainers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond)

Senior Airman Torry Murray, an AFREP technician here, aligns a malfunctioning circuit card assembly into a troubleshooting card reader. Using a database that includes specifications for various circuit cards in use throughout the military, the machine runs diagnostic tests and reveals the cards’ problems to the maintainers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond)

Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Raaberg, the director of air and space operations at Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va., holds up a power cord for the Blue Force airborne tracking system and talks with Staff Sgt. Robert Brutto, an AFREP technician here, about how it was repaired. General Raaberg stopped by the AFREP shop during his visit to D-M this week. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond)

Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Raaberg, the director of air and space operations at Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va., holds up a power cord for the Blue Force airborne tracking system and talks with Staff Sgt. Robert Brutto, an AFREP technician here, about how it was repaired. General Raaberg stopped by the AFREP shop during his visit to D-M this week. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond)

Col. Kent Laughbaum (far right), 355th Fighter Wing Commander, and Karen Halstead, president of the Air Force Association’s local chapter, pose with members of D-M’s Air Force Repair Enhancement Program office and their AFA Workcenter of the Month award. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Mary J. Pekas)

Col. Kent Laughbaum (far right), 355th Fighter Wing Commander, and Karen Halstead, president of the Air Force Association’s local chapter, pose with members of D-M’s Air Force Repair Enhancement Program office and their AFA Workcenter of the Month award. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Mary J. Pekas)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- An A-10 aircraft is made up of thousands of unique components and parts, most of which are essential for the jet to take flight. When one of them breaks, the aircraft is grounded until it gets repaired.

For that aircraft, the mission stops. The part often can't be fixed on the spot, which means sorties are missed, flying hours are lost and schedules are changed. Everybody from the commander to the crew chief starts getting anxious.

When will the part be fixed? When can this plane get back in the air?

Like a superhero with a tool belt, D-M's Air Force Repair Enhancement Program shop comes to the rescue.

"We can fix anything," said Tech. Sgt. Jarrett May, an AFREP technician here.

Part of the 355th Maintenance Group's maintenance operations section, the six-person AFREP office is manned by five Air Force maintainers and a civilian supply technician. The shop exists to quickly repair difficult parts and, generally, to fix anything that's old, unrecognizable, and otherwise deemed unfixable.

The maintainers hail from various Air Force job specialties, but they have one thing in common. They were hand-picked for AFREP, and then they had to attend a rigorous six-week training course here on base. The training features precise repair methods foreign to most maintainers, including work with circuit cards, microscopes and micro-soldering equipment.

Many of the components they're taught to fix fall into the Mission-Capable category, "MICAP" for short, which are those parts an A-10 absolutely needs in order to fly. So far this fiscal year, D-M's AFREP shop sustained a 100 percent repair rate on 51 MICAP requests.

The only other alternative method to repair such parts is to ship them to a regional supply depot, like the one at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and then...wait. The part will either be fixed or replaced and then shipped back.

"Even with a MICAP rush, that whole process routinely takes two or three days," said Staff Sgt. Robert Brutto, an AFREP technician here. "Here, our office MICAP policy is that we don't leave until the part is fixed. We've gotten every MICAP part fixed the same day we got it."

Of course, their workload isn't exclusively MICAP requests.

"In addition to aircraft parts, we've fixed radar guns, treadmills, televisions, laptop computers, cameras and even coffee machines," said Todd Zickel, the AFREP supply technician here.

Because of the variety of items AFREP can repair and its quicker fix time, the office saves the Air Force enormous amounts of money. In fiscal year 2006, the D-M shop alone saved more than $5 million. Every year, the Air Force allows all those savings to be allocated directly to the wing's budget, to be spent at the discretion of the wing commander.

Some of the base-wide benefits made possible last year by AFREP savings include the construction of the Personnel Development Center and the skate park, more than 800 new computers, cardiovascular fitness equipment, and renovations for the 355th MXG building.

For their recent efforts, the D-M AFREP shop was named Workcenter of the Month by the local chapter of the Air Force Association.

"AFREP is one of the greatest logistics success stories in Air Force history," said 355th MXG Commander Col. Dennis W. Shumaker. "It is a critical resource that keeps A-10s flying here at D-M and across the Air Force."

Despite AFREP's numerous attributes, discussions of budget realignments at the major-command level have engendered fears that the program won't see funding beyond the next fiscal year.

Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Raaberg, the director of air and space operations at Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va., visited the base this week and made time to stop and talk to D-M's AFREP technicians.

After nearly an hour spent discussing AFREP's value to ACC and the combat Air Force, General Raaberg seemed impressed.

"I get the picture," he said, "and I'm convinced."

Have military equipment you can't fix? Before you scrap it, call the AFREP shop at 228-2411, and see if they can help.