‘Mechanics of All Trades’ Maintain Equipment

I must admit I have a soft spot for women who break through societal barriers to accomplish great things. Staff Sgt. Michele Calton is one of those woman, and she is beautiful to boot.

U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz
U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

ALI BASE, Iraq, Aug. 26, 2005 — When Staff Sgt. Michele Calton spotted a stranded elderly woman whose car had broken down with smoke streaming from under the hood, her first instinct was not to call someone else for help.

She calmly got out of her car in her 4-inch heels and skirt that she wore for a girls’ night out a few months ago, lifted up the hood of the steaming vehicle and reconnected a loose radiator hose.

Then she handed the woman her cell phone so she could call home before she drove the woman to purchase more antifreeze.

It is all simple stuff to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment airman, who picked up her mechanical skills in the Air Force.

“I credit the military for all my gained knowledge,” Sergeant Calton said. “I probably would have never attempted to close that gap (and learn how to fix machinery) because of the perception this career field carries.”

Sergeant Calton said she sometimes thinks women feel it is too difficult to understand all the moving parts inside engines and how they all tie together. After all, she said before technical school she classified herself as “mechanically challenged.”

“Once you learn the fundamentals of an engine, it’s actually quite simple,” Sergeant Calton said. “The ‘big metal mess’ under the hood starts to take the form of a starter, alternator, radiator, etc.”

Referring to themselves as “mechanics of all trades,” Sergeant Calton and her colleagues have to learn a little bit about everything, because not only do they deliver the equipment to their customers, they maintain it as well.

They quickly figure out how to fix light carts, ground diesel generators, mobile air-conditioning units, air compressors, hydraulic test stands and an assortment of small machinery that support aircraft operations.

Even though they fix some specialized equipment, AGE Airmen consider themselves maintainers foremost.

“I’m a mechanic; I can work on a truck right along side my fiancé,” Sergeant Calton said.

She realizes that her presence in a mostly male-dominated career field is often shocking.

“When people see me, it’s not expected,” said Sergeant Calton, who is from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. “However, I like the fact I get to know all this information. It’s pretty awesome to be able to work on these things.

“I have a (better) understanding how they actually work individually and how they come together to achieve the end result of starting your car or applying power to an aircraft,” she said.

For another AGE airman, it is important to learn the basics so he can apply them to fix just about anything.

“When it boils down to it, it’s all about remembering the basics — where’s the source power, air, hydraulic pressure, etc.,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Barraza, noncommissioned officer in charge of the AGE shop, who is also deployed from Luke.

“AGE is all about problem and solution solving,” he said.

Although AGE craftsman spend a lot of time elbow-deep in grease and wires, they also get out from “under the hood” to talk with their customers.

During her visits, Sergeant Calton said aircrews often show her pictures on their digital cameras of the people and places they see when the C-130 Hercules leaves here.

“When you see the pictures of where the aircraft has been, whether it dropped off humanitarian supplies or troops going home, it’s a great feeling knowing you helped it get there,” she said.

AGE is often a secondary thought in mission success, but without their equipment, transportation could not fix the Humvees security forces use to patrol the base and outside area to keep more than 8,000 U.S. servicemembers and coalition forces safe in this area.

“I rely heavily on AGE (light carts) to provide our lighting for the 24/7 maintenance operations here,” said Senior Master Sgt. Konrad Delger, 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s vehicle management flight chief from the Nevada Air National Guard. “Also, without their support (of an air compressor) the entire Air Force vehicle fleet here would have been driving around on flat tires.”

Even though AGE Airmen are more than happy to help out people in other units who occasionally need their equipment, their primary mission is supporting aircraft maintainers.

Without their generators the aircraft would have to burn through precious fuel to produce electricity.

“Our main piece of equipment is the (-86) diesel generator set,” Sergeant Barraza said. “That’s our prized possession for AGE out here. It allows aircraft mechanics to maintain and run system checks on aircraft.”

AGE craftsmen provide around-the-clock service, 365 days a year.

“Without AGE, we could not fly the mission or do proper maintenance on aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Jeff Wiedeman, 777th EAMXS production superintendent, who is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

“We use the power units (air/electrical) to power the aircraft, so we can use the different systems (like the) interior lighting (and for) trouble shooting all maintenance problems from hydraulics (that lift the aircraft’s flaps), engines and all electrical systems,” he said

Realizing other agencies depend on the equipment to get their job done is a source of satisfaction for Sergeant Calton, who said she was happy to deploy here to have a closer effect on the war on terrorism.

“When I see the aircraft take off and come back, I know that’s a result of our equipment working properly,” she said.

Knowing she can fix equipment, which powers up million-dollar aircraft, has given her the confidence to fix other mechanical items.

Since her training, she seems to have a soft spot for stopping to help those in broken-down vehicles. Before she deployed here, she pulled over to help a 16-year-old girl with a flat tire.

“I pulled out my tool box from my car along with my coveralls (once again I was dressed up, heels and all). Then I showed her how to change a tire,” Sergeant Calton said.

Sergeant Calton said she loves her job because she likes being thrown into a situation where she has to figure out a solution.

“This job is great if you love to attack a challenge,” Sergeant Calton said. “Units come in broke, and you have to figure out what’s wrong with them, fix them and send them back out on their way to take care of the mission.

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