Audio Posts and Shared Links Audio Sources - Full Text Articles

I’m an Air Force mechanic. It’s a very stressful job, but I love it — here are the best and worst parts.

Man laying on airplane fuselage in flightsuideRaymond Pendergraph has been in the US Air Force for 14 years.

Raymond Pendergraph

  • Raymond Pendergraph has served all over the world as an E6 technical sergeant in the US Air Force.
  • He joined 14 years ago and has served at bases in South Korea, Japan, and Italy.
  • He describes how his job works and how he helps keep aircraft like the A-10 working.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Raymond Pendergraph, a 35-year-old E6 technical sergeant in the United States Air Force who’s working on a military air base in Italy. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My dad was in the military, so moving around and living on Air Force bases was part of my life growing up. When he retired we were living in Florida, and I stayed there for 10 years before I decided to enlist myself.

I was working in a town called Gulf Breeze near Pensacola at that time and taking courses toward an engineering degree at the University of West Florida. I wanted to move out of my parents’ home, and all my student grants and scholarships ran out. I realized the job I had wasn’t going to support me through my studies, and I didn’t want to take on student loans.

Because of my dad’s experience, the idea of joining the military wasn’t super scary for me, and I knew that what I was learning about engineering would be useful in the Air Force. I also liked the idea of working abroad — seeing different places and experiencing different cultures.

In basic training, there’s no wall climbing like there is in the movies

After enlisting I went to San Antonio, Texas, for nine weeks of basic training. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. for physical training, and I learned fundamental things like self-aid buddy care or what to do when a base is under attack.

My job involves electrical environmental systems in airplanes, so after basic training I went to a tech school in Wichita Falls, Texas. There I learned things like the formulas for determining airspeed and air pressure, the electronic principles for aircraft, and how to use tools and safety protocols.

My first duty station was at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. I spent 3 1/2 years there working on EC-130 aircrafts and was promoted first to a senior airman and then to a staff sergeant. Then I was assigned to a position in South Korea.

Over time I learned to work on a different aircraft. After 14 years of service I’m now fully qualified to work on five airframes: the EC-130, the U-2, the F-16, the B-1, and the A-10.

International assignments brought me to South Korea, Japan, and Italy

I spent a year working on Osan Air Base in South Korea. I loved the food there and often spent my off days hiking.

Then I was assigned to Misawa Air Base in Japan, where I stayed for two years. I lived near the water and ran on the beach every day. Japan had the best snowboarding I’ve experienced. I also climbed Mount Fuji, which was one of the most miserable things I’ve ever done.

Next I went to Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota, where I stayed for another two years and where I had a chance to hold a grizzly-bear cub. Then I went back to South Korea.

Photo of man and woman smiling at the camera with a town in the backgroundRaymond Pendergraph and his wife.

Courtesy of Raymond Pendergraph

During my second tour in South Korea I met my now wife. She’s from South Africa and was teaching English there. We got engaged before I left Korea for Italy.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and then complicated visa processes, we were separated for six months before we met in South Africa to get married. Then it was another six months of red tape before we could finally get her to Italy.

At the moment we’re still living here in a town not far from Venice. Living in Italy has given us a chance to travel all over Europe.

In the military, working hours really depend on your position

People working in administration or finance have pretty standard, set schedules. But my role needs to be covered 24 hours, meaning my shifts tend to change weekly.

My daily shift changes every two or three weeks. I tend to wake up four hours before my shift to make coffee and get my bag ready with my uniform and lunch. Then I run before work.

At work I figure out when aircrafts are launching and see if there’s anything I can fix before the pilots step to the airplanes. Once they’re up in the air, I go back to fixing the planes that are broken. When planes are preparing to land I stand by to help with any technical problems that may occur.

I enjoy puzzles, so I like taking an airplane apart and figuring out what’s wrong. After I fix a plane, I’ll watch it take off and think, “I fixed that airplane, and it’s flying now.” I feel really good about myself.

But it can also be a very stressful job with a lot of unexpected challenges. Sometimes after an eight-hour shift I’ll hear: “Surprise! More jets are broken. We need you to stay four more hours.”

Or when I’m told to get a 72-hour bag ready, I know I’m going somewhere and we’re postured to do something but they can’t tell me what it is yet. Dealing with the unexpected, for me, is the worst part.

People aim to stay in the military for 20 years

I enlisted on a six-year contract and then extended that contract for another 3 1/2 years. I’ve kept extending contracts because it continues to be a good job for me.

I’m staying in this job because it’s fun and interesting. I always tell new troops to make sure they enjoy what they’re doing. If it stops being fun, you can finish out your contract — there’s no obligation to continue.

I’ll be moving back to South Korea later this year. I plan to finish 20 years of service so that I’ll get a pension and medical benefits, but I also want to finish up my bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering.

I also plan to earn an airframe-and-powerplant certificate. With that I can go on to work on wind turbines or at a hydroelectric power plant.

Read the original article on Business Insider
WP Radio
WP Radio