"You really have to be a generalist," explained Staff Sgt. Michael Shoff, who has worked on aerospace ground equipment - or AGE - for the past 13 years, first as a member of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and, for the past seven years, in the Michigan Air National Guard. "We're working on roughly 20 different types of systems - electronics, pneumatics, generators, heating & cooling, turbo and diesel engines. You need to be able to work on each one and troubleshoot how those systems work together."
AGE Airmen are most commonly seen transporting a variety of different types of large, wheel-mounted pieces of equipment that support aircraft operations. These carts, featuring power generator, heaters, lights and other equipment, are used on Air Force flight lines to assist with engine-start up and a wide variety of other tasks on aircraft. And while AGE Airmen transport those various types of carts to aircraft parking areas, they really earn their keep back in their shop, where they are tasked with maintaining, repairing and trouble-shooting all those different types of systems.
"It takes a well-rounded mechanic to do well in the AGE career field," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Badalow, superintendent of the 191st Maintenance Squadron's AGE shop, which is made up of 13 Airmen. "We have 144 different pieces of equipment and our Airmen need to be able to work on any one of them."
The 191st MXS supports the KC-135 Stratotanker mission at Selfridge. To the outside observer, it may appear that the AGE equipment in use for the tanker mission and in use for another aircraft type - the A-10 Thunderbolt II mission at Selfridge, for example - are the same, Badalow noted that there are a number of variations in the equipment.
"Different aircraft require different types of support, depending on their types of engines and onboard systems," he said.
Currently a priority in the 191st AGE shop at Selfridge is ensuring that all of the mobile NGH units - new generation heaters - are in perfect working order. The NGHs are essentially unused in the summer months and then are pressed into heavy duty during the winter. The 35,000 BTU heaters are used to warm up the aircraft and its systems prior to launching during cold weather.
During last year's colder than normal winter, each of the 191st's NGHs were in use for well over 500 hours of operation, Shoff said.
A Michigan native who attended high school just a few miles away from Selfridge, Shoff initially enlisted in the Air National Guard with the 193rd Special Operations Wing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he served in the same wing as his father. After six years in Pennsylvania, he decided to return to Michigan and was able to transfer into Michigan's 127th Wing, which is the parent unit of the 191st.
"I don't know what I would do if I wasn't in the Air National Guard," said Shoff, who works in the AGE unit on a full-time basis. "I can't really think of anything else I would rather do."
Shoff said he enjoys the variety in his daily job.
"One day you're working on a circuit board, the next day it's a nitrogen delivery system. It's always different, always a good challenge," he said. "I like coming in and just seeing what the day is going to bring."
About the 127th Wing
Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.