No substitute for experience

By Staff Sgt. Chad Warren 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Across the Air Force, aircraft maintenance and communications Airmen are expected to correct some of the most technically advanced issues faced in today's military. Although they attend in-depth technical training, sometimes experience really is the best teacher.

Air Force Engineering and Technical Services is a program that employs several hundred civilian employees to work alongside Airmen at bases around the world. The AFETS program is broken down into two sections, aircraft maintenance and communications; Barksdale has both.

On the maintenance side, they train and assist maintenance personnel on all areas including aircraft repair, weapons loading and fabrication. Communications AFETS are experts on issues relating to network and computer infrastructure.

People skills and a desire to mentor are essential to be a part of this team of experts. For nearly five decades, the AFETS program has contributed to the mission, giving experts the opportunity to serve after hanging up their uniform for good.

"AFETS advise, assist and instruct in all of the maintenance areas," said Steven Reneau, AFETS aircraft maintenance team lead. "We are the unit focal point for all maintenance issues."

Authorized by Congress in the mid 1960s, the program provides units with experts who have a wealth of knowledge and years of experience in their craft. These technicians, often referred to simply as AFETS, provide their host units with a degree of continuity that is hard to achieve within the active duty force.

"AFETS are considered trainers, technicians, subject matter experts and mentors," said Benjamin Rosales, AFETS communications team lead. "We try to take young airmen and lieutenants and mentor them."

The goal is to share as much knowledge with the active duty Airmen as possible, essentially training them to be able to do every task without assistance, said Rosales. If an issue arises that is not covered in the technical orders, the AFETS are there to instruct and lend a hand.

"When the maintainers come across something they can't fix or isn't covered in the tech data, they come to us," said Reneau.

Even if a problem arises that the local AFETS can't fix, they can consult with other AFETS from around the globe to come up with a solution.

Unlike most civilian employees, the AFETS mission is not confined to their home station. They are emergency essential personnel and can deploy just like their active duty counterparts, said Reneau.

This close working relationship with the Airmen plays heavily into the recruiting process. According to Reneau, all of the AFETS at Barksdale are prior military which gives them an advantage over candidates who have not served. Of the approximate 450 AFETS worldwide, only a handful are not prior military.

Rosales agreed, adding that by recruiting Airmen who are separating or retiring from the communications or maintenance career fields, they are hiring ready-to-go technicians who already understand the inner workings of the military.

"If you were a good Airman or NCO, you would make a great AFET," said Rosales. "The technical knowledge is important, but we look at the whole person. We want AFETS who will network with military members and share their knowledge."