MAY 16, 2017, MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (AFNS) – The smartphone you’ve had for a while just died. You’ve tried everything in the user manual, and it’s just not working. As you walk it to the trash can, defeated, wondering where you’re going to get $300 for another phone, someone stops you, and asks to take a look before you throw it away.
After a few minutes, the good Samaritan pulls a paperclip from their pocket, inserts it into the phone, puts the phone back together, powers it on and hands it back. It works perfectly again. Astonished, you ask what you owe, and they reply, “$4 should cover my time and the paper clip.”
This might sound too good to be true, but the Air Force Repair Enhancement Program at Mountain Home Air Force Base performs marvels like this all the time. Recently, the four-person shop repaired a $20,000 power supply headed for the trash by replacing a $5 resistor, the equivalent of fixing a $300 phone with an 8-cent paper clip.
“We’ve got a really cool and unique mission,” said Master Sgt. Mark Bergmann, the AFREP manager. “Basically, our job is to save the Air Force money by supporting the flying mission, but we’re also getting parts back to the unit a little bit quicker.”
Last year, the small shop saved the 366th Fighter Wing approximately $1.3 million combined between cost savings and cost avoidance, and Bergmann said his team is on-track to save an estimated $2.5 million this year.
Staff Sgt. Zachary Dowd, an AFREP circuit card repair technician, replaced the resistor on the power supply. The replacement only took a few minutes but finding out what was wrong and how to fix it took a bit longer.
Dowd had to look up the schematics for the power supply, some of which were hand-drawn, inspecting and testing each part to find where the problem was. This isn’t uncommon; the team frequently works on decades-old, custom-made equipment, some of which only had a single manufacturing run.
Once the problem was found, Dowd used the general maintenance technical order used by AFREP and consulted the manufacturer to determine how to repair the part. AFREP has to get maintenance proposals approved by engineers before the repair can be made and the part returned to the customer.
And what do AFREP’s customers think about this program?
“We’ve got a countless number of parts that we cannot fix because we’re not coded to, so having AFREP as a valuable resource on base to be able to take that burden rather than throwing a part in the trash is a big deal,” said Tech. Sgt. Aaron Steinberg, a 266th Range Squadron ground radar technician. “Saves us money, saves the Air Force money as a whole and allows everybody to run more efficiently.”
To be cost-effective, AFREP focuses on high-value items, usually from aircraft, but the team has repaired everything from the fitness center’s running clock to security forces’ sirens. In each case, AFREP saved the units downtime, money or both.
“If there’s … something in within your work center that you think is a high-value asset and it’s going to take you a lot of pain to try to get a replacement, or it’s going to cost your unit quite a bit of money, might as well let us have a shot at it,” Bergmann said. “What we really need is the units to be aware of us.”
The important role played by the AFREP team members isn’t lost on them. When Dowd was asked how he feels when he fixes something, his coworker, Senior Airman Joshua Vance, held up a printed internet meme of a dirty child holding his arms out in triumph.
“Honestly, I’ll have a hard time going back to my career field not being able to fix something that isn’t in the [manual],” said Dowd, whose Air Force specialty code is in avionics. “It’s really nice to be able to know that you’re legally able to fix something that would otherwise have been thrown in the trash.”
By Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs