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AFE: saving lives

Oregon Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez an Aircrew Flight Equipment Specialist assigned to the 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, Ore., performs routine maintenance on a harness used by the F-15 Pilots. Routine maintenance is an important part in the upkeep of flight equipment and insures components stay in good working order, Jan. 21, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel J. Condit/Released)

Oregon Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez an Aircrew Flight Equipment Specialist assigned to the 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, Ore., performs routine maintenance on a harness used by the F-15 Pilots. Routine maintenance is an important part in the upkeep of flight equipment and insures components stay in good working order, Jan. 21, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel J. Condit/Released)

Oregon Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez an Aircrew Flight Equipment Specialist assigned to the 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, Ore., performs routine maintenance on an HGU 55 P Sport Lid helmet with attached night vision goggles. Routine maintenance is an important part in the upkeep of flight equipment and insures components stay in good working order, Jan. 21, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel J. Condit/Released)

Oregon Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez an Aircrew Flight Equipment Specialist assigned to the 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, Ore., performs routine maintenance on an HGU 55 P Sport Lid helmet with attached night vision goggles. Routine maintenance is an important part in the upkeep of flight equipment and insures components stay in good working order, Jan. 21, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel J. Condit/Released)

Oregon Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez an Aircrew Flight Equipment Specialist assigned to the 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, Ore., performs routine maintenance on an HGU 55 P Sport Lid helmet with attached night vision goggles. Routine maintenance is an important part in the upkeep of flight equipment and insures components stay in good working order, Jan. 21, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel J. Condit/Released)

Oregon Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Hernandez an Aircrew Flight Equipment Specialist assigned to the 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, Ore., performs routine maintenance on an HGU 55 P Sport Lid helmet with attached night vision goggles. Routine maintenance is an important part in the upkeep of flight equipment and insures components stay in good working order, Jan. 21, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel J. Condit/Released)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- The mission of the 173rd Fighter Wing is the training and support of Air Force military professionals that can successfully serve our state and nation in times of war and peace. This mission cannot be accomplished without the dedication and skill of its Airmen, such as Staff Sgt.  Christopher Hernandez.

Hernandez is an Aircrew Flight Equipment specialist tasked with the maintenance and quality control of flight equipment. He is responsible for the equipment that sustains a pilot's life both inside and outside the aircraft.

Hernandez's duties range from preventive maintenance, post flight equipment inspection, to fitting of equipment for new pilots--including the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System. JHMCS is a helmet designed to provide the pilot with real-time alerts and weapons information in their visor, similar to the one worn by the Apache helicopter pilots.

Hernandez says he chose to become an AFE specialist because he wanted the challenge and liked the idea of being hands-on.

"I liked the fact there was a lot to take care of, diversity of duties, and providing support for vital systems that keep our pilots alive; it keeps the job interesting and free from monotony," he said.

Hernandez's training extends from technical school to Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) and water survival training. This training provides first-hand knowledge of what a pilot may go through in an emergency. This is also the reason AFE specialist fly in the backseat of the jet whenever they get a chance.

"Attending SERE, water survival, and conducting familiarization rides gives us an opportunity to put ourselves in the pilots boots letting us experience how the equipment functions in a operational environment," he said.

In the span of an hour Hernandez performs a quality control check on a harness, survival kit, and a parachute attachment point.  He ensures a calibration check on the JHMCS helmet, while accessing no less than four separate technical orders.

Hernandez notes that there are numerous pieces of equipment he is responsible for, each one providing a different life-sustaining function for the pilot.

He explains how to perform a functionality check of the waterproof "poopie" suits, and how all the various components he is responsible for work together in the airframe to ensure the pilot is as safe as possible. He continues to explain the functionality of a new g-suit which applies pressure to more points of the body during high-g maneuvers helping the pilot stave off g-force induced loss of consciousness.

Attention to detail is emphasized as he holds up a harness logbook and points out, "this harness comes out of service in less than a month, so I need to be thinking about building a new one right now."

Hernandez never repeats himself and cites regulations, best practices and how important it is to document the work; he works like lives depend on it--they do.