EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS)
Driving through the mountains in the beautiful, sunshine of summer; braving the harsh, cold winters; and ensuring the light-filled airfield is always lit is something Senior Airman Travis Bothast and Airman 1st Class Anthony Cooper know all too well as electrical systems Airmen.
Bothast, a 354th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems journeyman, works with exterior high-voltage overhead lines while Cooper, a 354th CES electrical systems apprentice, handles airfield lighting.
Both Airmen maintain high-voltage equipment. Bothast works on utility poles that conduct 12,470 volts, while Cooper works on airfield lighting systems that push out a maximum of 5,000 volts.
“Anything over 600 volts is considered high voltage,” Bothast said.
The electrical systems career field is broken down into three categories: interior, exterior and airfield. Both Airmen are trained in all three areas making them versatile, although they are generally assigned to one section.
Bothast’s section maintains all the streetlights, parking lot lights and overhead lines on the base. He is also responsible for maintaining the utility poles on the Yukon Training Range, which spans more than 25 miles in the Alaska wilderness.
“Being outside, we don’t get stuck at a desk,” Bothast said. “We get out and see the base, the mountains, the beautiful views and get some fresh air.”
Cooper’s section maintains all the lights and signs on the airfield.
“We conduct light inspections,” Cooper said. “There’s about 1,200 lights and 81 signs.”
Bothast and Cooper both said they enjoy the hands-on work and agreed the weather is a challenge in Alaska.
“We always wear gloves for safety, but sometimes you need to take them off to get a better grip on things,” Cooper said. “When it’s 20 below, it can get hard to concentrate.”
Bothast said finding access to certain utility poles on the range can be very difficult in the winter months and climbing up them can be nerve-racking.
“We have to figure it out,” Bothast said. “We can’t put things aside to work on when the weather is nicer.”
Bothast also explained they have new fall restraint equipment to use when climbing poles.
“No more free climbing,” Bothast said. “The belt squeezes you to the pole so you won’t fall off.”
Bothast and Cooper’s career field is extremely important to the mission at Eielson AFB.
“If the power goes out, we will be there fixing it until it’s restored,” Bothast said. “We keep the mission going.”
Cooper’s section is critical to control the lights on the airfield.
“The power source for the airfield lights starts and ends in the vault,” Cooper said. “If there’s something wrong with the electric, nothing will work on the airfield. It’s always our number one priority; if something is down, we go out immediately and fix it.”
One of Cooper’s priorities in airfield lighting is taking edge lights down when a B-52 Stratofortress aircraft lands.
“The edge lights at the bottleneck are cut in closer than the rest of the runway,” Cooper said. “When the B-52 is scheduled to land, we go out and remove the set of edge lights so it can land safely. We then quickly put them back so the F-16 Fighting Falcons can use them for their landing.”
Without the expertise of the electrical systems Airmen, Eielson AFB could potentially be even more dark than normal for the cold, Alaskan winters.
“It’s a rewarding job,” Bothast said. “People rely on us to get the power back up. At the end of the day, it’s nice to sit back and know we have everything back up and running. Everything is good and people are happy.”