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AFSOC historian retires after 50-plus years of service

AFSOC historian retires after 50-plus years of serviceHURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS)

The longest-serving historian in the Air Force retired at Hurlburt Field Jan. 7.

Herb Mason, the Air Force Special Operations Command historian, spent more than 50 years preserving the Air Force story for generations to come.

Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, the AFSOC commander, presided over the ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School (USAFSOS).

“You all know Herb, he’s Mr. AFSOC history,” Heithold told the audience. “He’s been our historian since we stood up our command in 1991.”

The general spoke at great length about Mason and how he’s been a tremendous asset to AFSOC and the Air Force.

“Herb, you’ve done a wonderful job. We’ve been blessed to have you,” Heithold said.

The commander presented Mason the Air Force Outstanding Civilian Career Service Award, which is the highest award a civilian can receive.

According to the citation, Mason led the history office in completing 25 consecutive on-time annual historical reports a feat unmatched by any other Air Force major command.

In fact, the AFSOC history office made history themselves in 2009 when they won the best command-level history report and the best history program in the Air Force. This was the first and only time a history office won both awards simultaneously.

“That says just a little bit about the quality of the person we had running our history shop,” Heithold said. “This isn’t a guy who settles for mediocrity, status quo or second place.

“In AFSOC, we strive for first in everything we do, and Herb did that time and time again with quality history reports,” he added.

Mason’s legacy extends beyond historic documents; he continuously reached out to air commandos, leaving a lasting impact on the future of AFSOC.

“It’s history that makes you smart, and heritage that makes you proud,” Heithold said. “Between giving countless tours in our Air Park and educating young folks at USAFSOS, Herb made people smarter and prouder to be a part of AFSOC.”

During the ceremony, Charlie O’Connell, a representative from the Air Force history office, presented Mason the title page to the first history document that he wrote.

“This history report covered September through December 1965, which means that 50 years ago today, you were probably working on this report,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell also went through history records and discovered that Mason is currently the most published historian in the Air Force.

“As far as I can tell, you are listed as ‘author’ on more Air Force organizational histories than anyone else in our system,” he said to Mason. “On behalf of everyone in the history program, thank you for everything you’ve done.”

Then, a very humbled Mason took the floor to reflect on his career and share three big lessons he has learned.

“Over the years I’ve learned that life is not fair,” he said. “You never make bad decisions, just some are better than others. And, you never have a problem, you have a challenge.”

He also encouraged the audience to seek change.

“Sometimes we get caught up in our daily tasks and just do them for the sake of doing them,” Mason said. “I ask you to keep focus. If whatever you are working on doesn’t help the Airmen in the field, then why are you doing it?

“We need to lean in and truly be a step ahead in a changing world,” he added. “That’s what makes us AFSOC.”

KC-46 refuels fighter jet with hose, drogue system for first time

KC-46 refuels fighter jet with hose, drogue system for first timeEDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS)

An Air Force and Boeing aircrew aboard a KC-46A Pegasus successfully refueled an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet in flight Feb. 10, marking the program’s first using the tanker’s hose and drogue system.

The flight, which took place in the skies over Washington state, lasted more than four hours and the tanker’s air refueling operator transferred fuel to the F/A-18 at 20,000 feet, according to Boeing officials.

The KC-46 will refuel aircraft using both its boom, and hose and drogue systems. The boom allows the tanker to transfer up to 1,200 gallons of fuel per minute, while the plane’s hose and drogue systems, located on both the plane’s wing and centerline, enables the KC-46 to refuel smaller aircraft such as the F/A-18 with up to 400 gallons of fuel per minute, a Boeing news release said.

F/A-18s are flown by both the Navy and Marine Corps.

The KC-46 refueled an F-16C Fighting Falcon from Edwards Air Force Base using its air refueling boom Jan. 24.

The KC-46 is intended to replace the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet, which has been refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. With more refueling capacity and enhanced capabilities, improved efficiency and increased capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation, the KC-46 will provide aerial refueling support to the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as coalition aircraft.

The 412th Test Wing is the lead developmental test organization for the KC-46 tanker program.

Test team aims at new machine gun for Pave Hawk

Test team aims at new machine gun for Pave HawkEDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS)

Arriving in the rain, an HH-60G Pave Hawk landed Jan. 5 at Edwards Air Force Base to begin testing the ballistic dispersion of a GAU-21 .50-caliber machine gun.

The Pave Hawk will be at Edwards AFB until Jan. 22 where the 412th Test Wing and 418th Flight Test Squadron are providing the facilities, range safety, photographic documentation and maintenance support equipment.

The 96th TW at Eglin AFB, Florida, and the 412th TW partnered up to provide Detachment 1, 413th FLTS from Nellis AFB, Nevada, a location for their test team to accomplish baseline ballistics testing. That location is Edwards AFB’s Gun Harmonizing Range.

The testing is part of the Air Combat Command’s HH-60 defensive weapons system upgrade modification proposal.

The modification proposal requires the new weapon to be an open bolt system, have a longer barrel life, a higher cyclic rate of fire, be lighter weight, and have reduced recoil. The selected weapon must also be used currently by other Defense Department services.

According to James Cooley, the technical director for Det. 1, 413th FLTS, the closed-bolt GAU-18 defensive system, which has been used on the HH-60, has demonstrated a short barrel life (3,000 rounds), relatively low cyclic rate of fire (550 rounds per minute), high recoil, and is vulnerability to unsafe ammunition “cook-offs.”

The FN Herstal M3M, designated the GAU-21, is an open bolt system with a barrel life of 10,000 rounds, a cyclic rate of fire of up to 1100 rounds per minute, and reduced recoil over standard .50-caliber weapons due to the use of a soft mount.

As a proven weapon system, the current test effort is focused on integrating the GAU-21 into the HH-60G weapon platform using the Gun Mount/Ammunition Handling System, which was designed for the Air Force by the Navy.

The objective of this test effort is to evaluate the ballistic dispersion of the GAU-21 .50-caliber machine gun mounted to the HH-60G via the GAU-21 GM/AHS when operated in the fixed forward fire and fixed side fire modes.

The Pave Hawk, a variant of the UH-60 Blackhawk used by the Army, is stationed at Nellis AFB. Its primary objective is combat search and rescue. The combat crew of four includes the pilot, co-pilot and two special mission aviators as well as three Air Force pararescuemen for rescue operations.

The Combat Search and Rescue Combined Test Force, located at Nellis AFB, is comprised of Det. 1, 413th FLTS and the 96th TW, which fall under Air Force Materiel Command, and conducts developmental testing. ACC’s 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron and 53rd TW, also at Nellis AFB, conducts operational testing.

The 823rd Maintenance Squadron is also providing aircraft and weapons maintenance support.

The Pave Hawk differs from the Blackhawk in its auxiliary fuel tanks, aerial refueling probe and forward-looking infrared. It also has a color weather radar, integrated electronic warfare suite, external gun mount, and ammunition handling system as well as an integrated navigation suite.

Avionics technicians provide brains behind brawn

Avionics technicians provide brains behind brawnKADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS)

Air Force avionics technicians provide the brains behind the brawn that keeps the F-15 Eagle flying.

Despite its size, nearly 64 feet from nose to tail and almost 43 feet from wingtip to wingtip, the F-15 is a highly maneuverable mechanical monster in the air.

Capable of reaching speeds in excess of 1,800 mph, this speed demon has been a premiere fighter in the Air Force’s arsenal for more than 40 years, maintaining air superiority over the battlefield with a perfect kill-loss ratio.

However, avionics technicians help ensure these aircraft are always prepared and ready for flight.

“For our pilots to be able to fly, fight and win, they need the best and most reliable aircraft with the most advanced avionics systems,” said Tech. Sgt. Luis Marrero, the 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant specialist section chief. “That’s exactly what we provide.”

Avionics specialists are the experts for practically every electronic system within the jet that provides information on altitude, range or location.

Though the first generations of the C and D model aircraft entered the force in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Air Force has upgraded many of these components to make the aircraft that much more lethal over the battlefield.

“For the F-15, it’s all integrated, everything from communication to navigation and radar,” said Senior Airman Caleb Stephens, a 67th AMU avionics specialist. “We don’t put the upgrades in, but once they come out, they’re 100 percent our responsibility. So far, the upgrades are very maintenance friendly; they’re durable and reliable.”

For seemingly countless hours, the avionics systems maintainers troubleshoot and correct bugs in the systems.

Frequently, the problems are small and quick to fix, but some days bring about new puzzles to challenge the technicians, often leading to extensive troubleshooting, part replacement and a lot of head-scratching.

“There’s a lot going on with the jets, so you have to know how things work together so that if something isn’t working correctly, you know where to start looking to try and fix the problem,” Stephens said.

Despite its complexities, Marrero said getting the job done makes it worthwhile.

“I love to see the satisfaction on the faces of my technicians when they return an aircraft to service and it accomplishes its mission,” Marrero said. “It feels great when you know you provided the best aircraft for our pilots to be able to complete the mission.”

Eglin medical group first to find bacteria unseen in humans

Eglin medical group first to find bacteria unseen in humansEGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS)

The 96th Medical Group’s laboratory provided the first human blood sample of a spirochete bacteria, known to cause tick-borne relapsing fever, to be cultured at the Centers for Disease Control.

The bacteria, Borrelia turicatae, had previously only been cultured in animals, according to Maj. (Dr.) Benjamin Stermole, Eglin Air Force Base’s infectiologist.

The rare spirally twisted bacteria was found after a primary care doctor ordered a malaria smear sample for a sick Soldier. After review of the patient’s blood sample, Dolli Lane, a 96th MDG laboratory technician, realized she had something unusual and alerted others.

What she noticed, when scanning a red blood cell sample looking for malaria, was one spirochete was outside the red blood cells. At first, Lane said she wasn’t sure what she was looking at.

She found a few more spirochetes and decided to pull reference materials and bring in another lab technician to verify what she was seeing.

“It was unusual because you wouldn’t see this bacteria in the blood we were reading,” Lane said.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Boyd, the 96th MDG hematology lab section chief, said the spirochete bacteria could have easily been overlooked. It is not typically spotted using the particular slide stain used.

In addition, spirochetes are only visible if the blood sample is drawn during a patient’s fever spike. The fever is brought on due to increased bacteria volume in the body, according to Stermole.

“I thought, ‘maybe what she (Lane) saw was caused by one of the substances used to make the slide,'” Boyd said. “When I saw the spirochete slide, it was consistent with that type of bacteria. That’s what tipped us off to look into this further.”

To find a definitive answer about the bacteria, the hospital’s head microbiologist, pathologist and infectious disease doctors evaluated the sample. It was decided that the base’s lab technicians would send the samples to the CDC to test the bacteria’s DNA.

“We don’t have the equipment needed to identify the bacteria here and neither do our reference labs. It had to be sent to a research lab and CDC is generally the place for anything not available at commercial reference labs,” Stermole said.

Boyd immediately contacted the CDC to explain the case and emailed photos of what was found under the microscope. As a result, the CDC accepted the samples for review.

“This infection doesn’t happen very often. The ability to culture this bacteria allows us to study it on a level we haven’t been able to before,” Stermole said. “The cultures can be tested against different antibiotics to learn which ones are effective.

“We can also use this human isolate in animal models to see if it acts the same way as previous isolates, which may be found to be different subspecies,” he continued. “Essentially, we can prove the animal models can adequately represent human infections. There is a lot of information to be gathered after a bacteria DNA is cultured.”

Within days, the CDC contacted the patient’s doctor, the pathologist and the infectious disease doctor. Soon after, they learned the bacteria was Borrelia turicatae.

The affected Soldier contracted the bacteria from a tick bite while living in an old stable during a field exercise in West Texas.

After the infection identification, the patient was given the correct antibiotic and showed almost 100 percent improvement within 24 hours.

Ellsworth first CONUS base to run indoor K-9 facility

Ellsworth first CONUS base to run indoor K-9 facilityELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. (AFNS)

Ellsworth Air Force Base became the first Air Force base in the continental U.S. to have an indoor training facility for its four-legged defenders when it became operational last fall.

The new facility, located in Dock 32, provides an array of features and amenities for 28th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handlers to train their partners and helps reduce the loss of training time due to austere weather.

After seven months of planning and approval, a $100,000 contract was awarded to a local business to complete the renovations that included removing aircraft parts and installing turf, barriers and obstacles to transform the aircraft hangar into a training facility for military working dogs.

Tech. Sgt. Abraham Wheeler, a 28th SFS kennel master, said the new facility provides MWDs and their handlers the ability to train year-round, regardless of weather conditions.

“Being at Ellsworth, there is a good chance we can be covered in snow for five months out of the year,” Wheeler said. “The indoor facility allows us to train every day of the year rain, snow or shine.”

He added that the new facility allows teams to train on a variety of topics ranging from basic obedience training to realistic patrol scenarios.

“The facility minimizes training time lost due to inclement weather,” said Wheeler, who has been a handler for eight years. “It also gives an isolated area for the dogs to work on issues they may have with minimum distractions.”

While the new facility may be slightly smaller than the outdoor area, it still includes the obstacle course, patrol work field and detection training environments.

“My favorite part is how versatile it is,” Wheeler said. “We can do so many things and not worry about hurting one of the dogs due to cold weather.”

Wheeler said he hopes other bases will follow suit, especially northern bases, where freezing temperatures and fierce winds hinder training.

Enclosed and heated, the facility also helps the dogs stay healthy and train in a safe environment, Wheeler said.

“We are extremely grateful to be the first base to have an indoor military working dog training facility,” he continued. “(The ability to train inside) benefits the dogs, handlers, and most importantly, the Air Force.”

Blowing up the competition

Blowing up the competitionMOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (AFNS)

The 366th Operations Support Squadron won the Defense Logistics Agency Range of the Year award. Although there isn’t a trophy or plaque presented, the range personnel have earned bragging rights for their use of excess property.

The competition was created by the DLA to heighten ranges’ interest in using excess equipment for target practice. With a goal of simplifying processes and saving taxpayer dollars, the competition allows ranges to creatively accomplish both.

“Generally, the ranges have to buy soft targets that are made of plywood and cardboard,” said Curtis Viall, a 366th OSS range operations officer. “An alternative to these soft targets is to use a vehicle that has been deemed excess or unserviceable.”

The reused vehicles become hard targets, he explained. Unlike the soft targets, they’re sturdier and can withstand multiple hits from weapons systems. Not only are the targets durable, but they offer other benefits as well.

“Finding valuable ways to utilize excess property, vehicles (and) equipment on the range provides our aircrews realistic tactical targets and saves a significant amount of money,” Viall said. “Last year, over a thousand vehicles were reutilized (on) ranges, saving thousands of dollars.”

The categories of the competition look at layout, overall range capabilities, reutilization totals, cleanliness of the facility, overall appearance, and what’s been accomplished using DLA equipment.

“We typically acquire tanks, self-propelled and towed artillery, armored personnel carriers, (shipping) containers, (Humvees) and construction equipment,” Viall said. “Once at the range the vehicles are prepped to go on range as target(s).”

Preparation can include removing shiny surfaces and glass in order to reduce laser reflection, he explained, as well as removing hazardous waste such as oil and transmission fluid.

“In some cases targets require no modification and can (go) directly onto the range to be used, but quite often we will make modifications to make them look more realistic,” Viall said.

Examples of their creative targets include building villages out of shipping containers, using modified satellite dishes to simulate enemy communication infrastructure, simulated tunnel entrances, modifying trailers to pull by remote control vehicles for laser guided bombs, and many other realistic targets.

The contract maintenance personnel from Environmental Management Incorporated services used a lot of imagination and skill to get these systems looking more like enemy targets, Viall explained.

“We’re proud of our OSS range team and the recognition this award highlights,” said Lt. Col. Sean Lowe, the 366th OSS commander. “Mr. Viall and his team have built a culture of innovation while developing a world-class training environment. The team’s ability to react to dynamic F-15E (Strike Eagle) operational requirements by organically developing full scale tactical targets and threats prepares gunfighters for combat challenges they may face in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.”

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