Airmen take illumination to new heights

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
After climbing more than 100 feet in the air, he leans out with half of his body over the edge of the railing. With heavy winds blowing, a single strap attached keeps him from plummeting to the ground. A steady hand reaches out to replace a damaged light bulb.

Approximately 200 lights shine down onto the flightline where the Air Force's largest combat F-16CM Fighting Falcon fleet sits, creating a safe and secure environment for each of the 82 war planes here.

The mission of keeping the lights operational is a vast one and takes a special type of Airman to perform the maintenance needed to keep the flightline illuminated.

Looking up at the towering ramp lights overhead, it is not uncommon to see Senior Airman Anthony Pierce and Airman 1st Class Ernest Kuma, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems technicians, as they have both made the climb several times to perform maintenance.

"The first time it was really scary," said Kuma. "I was told what to do and I had to do it, so I just did it."

Although fear may have once been perceived, climbing each of the 10 flightline ramp towers several times can ease the mind.

"I don't think about it as being scared," said Pierce. "I think about it as getting the job done, the mission completed."

After gripping more than 90 pegs to make their way up, they clip their static safety lines onto the tower cage, and release their climbing safety.

"Once we get up, we have two or three people down on the ground, they go and turn the lights on, they stand on the flightline road and they look up at the lights," said Pierce. Then they call us up on the radio and tell us which lights are out."

After learning which lights are out, it is the Airmen's job to determine the cause of the broken light.

"If it's a bulb we just replace the bulb," said Pierce. Sometimes it could be a socket that the bulb goes into that could be burned out and sometimes it could be the ballast."

To ensure a smooth working environment while up on the tower, the Airman with the most experience and higher skill-level is designated as the crew lead.

"I listen to what my crew lead needs and I try to learn as much as I can from him," said Kuma. "I try to support him as much as I can. I learn from what he is doing because I know that within the next few months I will be a crew lead."

Bulb after bulb, the Airmen work for several hours depending on the workload.

"My favorite part is the end," said Pierce. "It's toward the end of the day so there's a lot of people that are out, they're looking up. Some people clap or give us respect for going up there because they know there's no way in the world they would go up and do it. It's a great feeling when you can say that you climbed up and finished those lights."

With bright lights shining on the F-16s, the multi-million dollar assets of the 20th Fighter Wing is safe and secure.