ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE — Airmen wielding screwdrivers and voltage testers tinker with radios. Each individual wears anti-static bracelets to discharge their static buildup safely in order to protect the sensitive components of the hardware in front of them. They flick switches on to read current, wattage and voltage as they troubleshoot issues.
The radio-maintenance shop repairs almost all of the radio equipment on base. They maintain and fix land mobile radios, handheld radios, and the mass-communication system. The airmen also support community-engagement events by setting up and operating public-address equipment. They’ve learned all these skills via the various communication-related career fields that radio-frequency transmission systems has merged with during the past decade.
“The two main jobs we have merged with are satellite communications, which provides the Department of Defense with information-network services to our people who are deployed; we also merged with instrumentation and telemetry,” said Master Sgt. Ser Gonzalez, the 28th CS radio maintenance-shop section chief.
Gonzalez spoke of his excitement over the career opportunities now available to him and his fellow airmen, adding that he’s interested to see what radio troops will be doing in the future as technology advances.
“It’s so cool that our airmen have the chance to do all these things,” Gonzalez said.
In the radio-maintenance shop, safety is paramount to day-to-day operations. If they fail to execute the proper safety procedures, the consequences could result in damage to person or property. Kitchens explained that the airmen in his shop use several different devices to keep from getting shocked while working on electric components.
“We use a static bench, which discharges all static electricity,” he said. “We use anti-static wrist straps, and we also do things as simple as keeping one hand in our pockets so we don’t complete a circuit and shock ourselves.”
One of the shop’s main tasks is to service land mobile radios. These are used by first responders on base, such as security forces, the fire department and emergency medical technicians. The radios are useful to these individuals because they allow for point-to-point communications. With much of the base using radios, the majority the shop’s work is conducting routine maintenance to prevent future equipment issues.
“We do a lot of preventive maintenance inspections here,” said Airman 1st Class Mason Kitchens, a 28th CS radio-frequency technician. “We do this to ensure airmen on base have reliable radios that can be used at a moment’s notice and possibly keep themselves and others out of harm’s way.”
The LMRs are not a typical type of walkie-talkie radio. The radios used by airmen on base are more advanced because of the nature of the mission.
“We could use these LMRs to talk to other bases if we needed to,” Gonzalez said. “We need this because if there was ever an in-flight emergency with one of our jets at another base, we could get ahold of [them]. This is a big deal because, if a B-1 had to make an emergency landing because of something like an engine fire, our people could tell them how to handle the issue effectively and safely.”
Along with the LMRs and handheld radios, the radio-maintenance shop also provides communications support to major events, such as changes of command, commanders’ calls and community-leader luncheons on base. They set up and operate all the speakers and communications systems, such as microphones.
“This is a small part of our job, but nonetheless very important,” Gonzalez said. “It helps with community interaction and allows our base leadership to reach out to audiences wherever they are.”