JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
When Alaska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Connie Camama deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, it was the security forces Airman's job to keep aircrew and flightline Airmen safe from outside threats.
Today, as a 176th Operations Support Squadron Rescue Aircrew Flight Equipment Oxygen Section Airman, it is Camama's job to keep aircrew safe through proper maintenance of the equipment that helps them breathe in an emergency or when a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II has the cargo ramp open during pararescue high-altitude parachute missions.
Tech. Sgt. Quinn Williamson, noncommissioned officer in charge of Rescue AFE O2 Section, said his element works on anything involving aircrew oxygen and night-vision goggles for 211th RQS and HH-60G Pave Hawk aircrew of the 210th Rescue Squadron.
“We maintain all of the helmets, masks, underwater egress breathing systems and NVGs to support the 210th and 211th,” he said.
Camama, a native of Kodiak, said she always wanted to work in law enforcement and joined the military in 2010 as a security forces Airman to help pay for college. She said she recently reclassified to AFE in an effort to secure a permanent position with the Alaska Air National Guard.
After 12 weeks of technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Camama attended survival, evasion, resistance and escape training, and water survival training to fully integrate with 176th Wing rescue units.
Camama is currently serving on full-time mission-essential skills training orders, which allow her to further hone her skills with 176th Wing's unique equipment. Williamson said the training term is important for new AFE Airmen to dig into technical orders and Air Force instructions, and come to grips with the complexity of the equipment.
“One piece of equipment can have five or six TOs or AFIs,” Williamson said. “On top of that, you have a local training guide that requires specific procedures local to the 176th OSS.”
One item Camama maintains is the HGU-56/P helmet. Its purpose seems simple enough: protect HH-60 aircrew's heads. A closer look, however, reveals a somewhat complex system of systems.
Beyond closely inspecting the helmet shell for cracks and deformations that could compromise its protective capability, Camama maintains the communications headphones and microphone extension, the NVG mount, the visor, and an integrated LED light. When she puts all of the pieces together, the assembly has to fit comfortably, communicate and hold up under being pelted by debris launched by Pave Hawk rotor wash.
Camama also maintains NVGs, critical for rescue Airmen searching through dark Alaska winter nights for isolated personnel. Williamson said the section recently upgraded more than 30 NVG sets from green to white phosphor image intensifiers, improving contrast and detail for the user.
In addition to meticulously fitting the precision intensifiers, each set had to be purged of contaminants, a process of removing unwanted air from the interior of the device and filling the vacuum with dry nitrogen to ensure particles don't affect the image.
Williamson said the key to the job is attention to detail, knowing what instructions to use, and to follow those instructions to the letter.
Camama, a detail-oriented Airman, said she is happy with her decision to stay in the Guard and to pursue a career in AFE.
“I don't see why people wouldn't want to join because the benefits are great, the money is good, and the job isn't that hard,” she said. “You do what you’re told and you follow the instructions.”
From doing what she was told while patrolling Kandahar Airfield to following instructions etched in myriad technical orders, Camama continues to serve through keeping other Airmen safe.