HVAC 'airmen' provide more than summer comfort

Matt McKee, 97th Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, uses a digital gauge to check the status of a chiller.

The Altus AFB Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning shop is responsible for regulating the temperature throughout all base facilities, maintaining workable and livable environments and ensuring mission success.

The HVAC shop is tasked with providing fully functional HVAC and refrigeration equipment through technically competent mechanics while maintaining the highest levels of customer satisfaction.

The services provided by the HVAC shop are not only essential for the comfort levels of base personnel; they also play a crucial role in keeping vital pieces of equipment in working order, such as the flight simulators and network centers.

“The mission of the HVAC shop is to make sure the mission of Altus AFB doesn’t stop because of us,” said Jerimy Colson, 97th Civil Engineer Squadron industrial controls mechanic. “Air conditioning is especially important for simulator training to keep the machines and computers cool.”

Since Altus AFB is the primary formal training unit for all U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft, U.S. Air Force KC-135 refueling aircraft, and the addition of the U.S. Air Force KC-46 Pegasus refueling aircraft in the near future, proper maintenance of flight simulators is essential for Altus AFB to carry out its mission of training and deploying Airmen warriors.

“If it gets above a certain temperature, the simulator bays actually have to be shut down,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Cameron Young, 97th CES HVAC technician. “If we don’t regulate the temperature, the students wouldn’t be able to train and the mission as a whole could come to a halt.”

The HVAC team is also responsible for maintaining appropriate heating and cooling capabilities in all base facilities such as offices and dorm rooms.

“Maintaining the Airman’s living quarters in the dorms is a top priority,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kristopher Elliott, 97th CES NCO in charge of the HVAC shop. “Personnel can work in other rooms temporarily if their facility has heating or cooling issues, but the dorm residents can only go to their room or the day room. There’s nowhere else they can go if their room is without air conditioning.”

Some of the civilians working in the HVAC shop have been in the career field for years, and help to train the Airmen assigned to Altus AFB.

“To get really comfortable in this job takes at least three to five years. I’ve been in the HVAC field for 20 years and I still learn something every day,” said Colson. “We train our guys to be as good as they can be so when they leave here and go to another place, or if they’re sent to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world, they know their job and know what to do.”

Recently, HVAC Airmen had to work after duty hours on two-hour shifts to monitor a chiller unit for the simulators that was having complications. Airmen stood out there and kept an eye on the unit until 2:30 a.m., ready to restart it if it shut off so that it could maintain the necessary temperature to keep the simulators running.

Though being part of the HVAC shop often means working long hours in uncomfortable circumstances, the Airmen and civilians who make up the team expressed nothing but pride in their work.

“This job is challenging. It’s physically demanding a lot of the time, and it also challenges you mentally. It’s a challenge every day to be able to fix anything, and that’s what drives us. That’s what people who are good at this job like to do. We are people who like to be challenged,” said Colson. “The most rewarding part of the job is working a complex problem, figuring it out, and seeing the smile on the customer’s face. If that doesn’t reward you enough, you’re in the wrong business.”

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