Two Dover Airmen strive to keep deployed fire teams on ‘go’

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • CJTF 101 Public Affairs
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Fire, Fire, Fire! Sirens blare and smoke pours out of a hanger. Bagram-based firefighters quickly don their fire-retardant suits and scurry toward their engines. They jump aboard the engine, ready to go and the driver turns the ignition ... nothing more than an eerie click is heard. The same occurs for two other fire crews.

This fictional situation has not come to pass here, at Forward Operating Base Sharana or FOB Fenty, Afghanistan, thanks in part to two Air Force vehicle equipment mechanics.

Senior Airman Charles Nichols, Jr., and Staff Sgt. Andrew Bishop, 455th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, keep many fire engines and other vehicles on 'go' status throughout Regional Command-East, America's primary area of operations in Afghanistan. Airman Nichols is the only Air Force fire-truck mechanic for the departments on both FOBs and Sergeant Bishop is often tasked to assist the Airman in his duties.

The two Airmen, both deployed from Dover Air Force Base, Del., recently tag-teamed repairs on the entire FOB Sharana fire engine fleet.

The Dover duo had a large tasking on their hands.

"When we got to the FOB, we hit the fire trucks hard with fixing force," said Airman Nichols. "The first truck, which was needed to sustain the flightline, was operational within a matter of days."

With limited resources and manpower, the mechanics had to prepare for a hard run and possibly even failure.

"We were expecting the worst and when we got to Sharana, that is what we got - the worst," said Airman Nichols. "The trucks wouldn't move, wouldn't shoot water and leaked everywhere.

"Still, we got them running," said Airman Nichols, who knew failure was not in his set of core values. "We fixed the air leaks and brakes, fabricated parts and fixed the water leaks, which sustained flightline operations."

The two worked grueling hours on the repairs - a familiar concept for mechanics in Afghanistan.

"There is always something that needs to be fixed here," said Sergeant Bishop. "At Dover, being a mechanic feels somewhat like a job, you work then you go home at the end of the day - not the case here."

Sergeant Bishop and Airman Nichols said they miss their families, but know that their jobs here are vital to the future of the country and region.

"Afghanistan is very beautiful and peaceful, when there is no outgoing or (incoming) fire," said Airman Nichols.

"At night, when it gets dark, there are no lights and the moon doesn't come out for hours," he said. "You literally can't see your hand in front of your face. I have never seen so many stars in my life, or such extreme silence."

Not only is the scenery different, there are also maintenance-related differences between performing vehicle repairs at home station and in the deployed environment.

"I don't get to work on humvees and (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles) at Dover," said Airman Nichols. "Also, tools, parts and equipment are limited here. Sometimes, you have to improvise."

Adapting and overcoming is the key for many Airmen working with or augmenting Soldiers at Bagram Air Field. Still, more than 6,800 miles from home, these Airmen are doing their part to sustain the joint mission here.

"I just do what I can to support the War on Terror," said Airman Nichols.