Attention to detail: From BMT to AFE

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Diana Quijada, left, and Airman 1st Class Ashley Walton, both aircrew flight equipment (AFE) technicians assigned to the 509th Operations Support Squadron, pose with the equipment they maintain at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Dec. 12, 2017. Walton and Quijada inspect the equipment on a regular basis to ensure it functions correctly for the pilots.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Diana Quijada, an aircrew flight equipment (AFE) technician assigned to the 509th Operations Support Squadron, inspects the helmets at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Dec. 12, 2017. The technicians use pliers and screwdrivers to disassemble, inspect and reassemble parts of the helmets to ensure they function correctly.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Diana Quijada, an aircrew flight equipment (AFE) technician assigned to the 509th Operations Support Squadron, inspects the helmets at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Dec. 12, 2017. The technicians use pliers and screwdrivers to disassemble, inspect and reassemble parts of the helmets to ensure they function correctly.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ashley Walton, an aircrew flight equipment (AFE) technician assigned to the 509th Operations Support Squadron, returns equipment to its assigned locker at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Dec. 12, 2017. Walton and the other AFE technicians must be proficient in their training and inspect the equipment on a regular basis to ensure it functions correctly for the pilots.

Helmets sit on top of pilot's lockers at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Dec. 12, 2017. The aircrew flight equipment technicians assigned to the 509th Operations Squadron must be proficient in their training and inspect the equipment on a regular basis to ensure it functions correctly for the pilots.

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- She recalls being full of nerves, holding her breath in order to stand still. Although it may sound unimportant, passing this wall locker inspection was the difference between graduating basic military training (BMT) or having to repeat the training. Everything had to be perfect, which meant no dust or lint anywhere, socks and shirts properly folded, towels with flushed edges, and uniforms hung correctly on evenly spaced hangers. She stood completely still as the military training instructors (MTIs) inspected her locker.

“In basic training, whenever we had locker inspections attention to detail was key,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Diana Quijada, an aircrew flight equipment (AFE) technician assigned to the 509th Operations Support Squadron (OSS). “When the MTI pulled out a strand of hair that I didn’t see in my locker, it taught me a lot which has transferred over to my job now.”

In BMT, one of the main lessons taught to the incoming Airmen is paying attention to the small details in everything in order to create discipline and instill a good work ethic. While it may have seemed pointless or confusing to put so much emphasis on rolling socks, Quijada and her fellow Airmen now understand the importance of it all, as their meticulous work is essential to mission success.

“There are a lot of little pieces to the equipment we work on,” said Airman 1st Class Ashley Walton, an AFE technician assigned to the 509th OSS. “Some pieces might seem insignificant to those who don’t know it, but if there’s even the slightest thing wrong with the equipment it could lead to a much bigger issue.”

The aircrew flight equipment technicians are placed in one of two shops when stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. One on the flightline, which handles survival equipment such as parachutes, life preservers and rafts. The other shop, where both Quijada and Walton work, handles life support equipment such as helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses and G-suits.

“Some might think this job would cause a lot of pressure,” said Quijada. “While at times this is true, I think the more you work with the equipment, the more you know what you’re looking for and the more confidence you get with your work.”

During the four months that Quijada has been stationed at Whiteman she has learned and experienced a lot.

“My favorite part of the job is having some interaction with the pilots,” said Quijada. “We are more of the customer service side of the career field which is great. You get to have conversations with the pilots and hear some amazing stories.”

Coming into a male-dominant career field, Quijada and Walton are currently the only two active-duty females out of 30 Airmen in the unit to work in the life support section of AFE. They continue to advance in their training every day while staying motivated and positive.

While it is imperative that these Airmen look at every little thing when they work on the gear, since a missing or incorrect part could have an impact on how the equipment works, it is the family feeling that makes it all worth it.

“I’ve had jobs prior to being in the Air Force and the people I worked with in those jobs were nothing more than my co-workers,” said Walton. “This shop is different, it was unexpected but it really does feel like a family here, and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”