SOUTHWEST ASIA — In a region where temperatures can get above 100 degrees every day during the summer, the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing looks to its heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialists to keep people and equipment cool.
In some cases, HVAC specialists are relied upon to keep mission essential assets from overheating.
“One month ago, a building housing mission essential communications equipment lost its air conditioning system,” said said Senior Airman Joseph Cohen, 380th ECES HVAC journeyman, deployed from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and a Detroit native. “Within a matter of minutes, the temperature in the room went from 80 degrees to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Specialists from the 380th ECES HVAC section were immediately dispatched to the scene to troubleshoot the building’s built-in system, according to Cohen. To fix the problem, they worked with 380th ECES structures shop to remove a door and build a wall. Later, HVAC specialists brought in two field-deployable air conditioning units and punched two holes in the new wall to connect the new system, eventually cooling the room and possibly saving millions of dollars of equipment.
Emergency scenarios are just a small portion of the HVAC mission here, which encompasses work on thousands of HVAC systems, such as air conditioners and ice machines.
The HVAC team is operational 24/7, according to Tech. Sgt. Marcelo Arellano, 380th ECES HVAC NCO-in-charge. His teams spend little time in the office because they are always responding to work orders or doing preventive maintenance.
“We field about 230 to 265 work orders per week,” Arellano said, who is deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan, and a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native. “The bulk of those calls are small air conditioning units, but we have some large units with intricate systems as well.”
The small units cooling most of the buildings on base are designed to last three years, but the environment the 380th AEW operates in, none of them last the designed life span, Arellano said.
Some common problems with AC units are dust buildup inside the system and extreme heat causing pressure issues. When this happens, HVAC specialists can either spray water on the system to cool it, or replace some parts, which typically takes 20 to 30 minutes.
The larger, or more intricate, cooling systems take longer to repair, Arellano said. They have many more moving parts including a large amount of plumbing and difficult electrical systems.
Because of the high temperature, the day shift consistently repairs systems in urgent or emergency status, while the night shift performs routine and preventive maintenance.
A lot of the preventive maintenance is done on the war-ready material assets, which are used where no commercial power is available. These systems are typically very reliable and can be used anywhere, Arellano said. However, working preventive maintenance on these units and others requires working with almost every other civil engineer craft including plumbing and electrical.
“My Airmen are able to fix almost anything,” Arellano said. “From providing unique solutions to emergency issues to knocking out thousands of work orders a week, they accomplish great tasks.”