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Maintainers own the night

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[Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series on shift workers.]

Story by Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland, 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE — While the national anthem signals the end of the duty day for many Airmen, Barksdale shift workers are settling in for the night.

Many squadrons use round-the-clock vigilance to ensure the mission is completed. Flightline maintainers staff a 24-hour period to keep the B-52H Stratofortress flying.

“It takes every maintainer we have to support the flying mission,” said Chief Master Sgt. Beau Markin, 2nd Maintenance Group superintendent. “The maintenance team works 24-hours a day in order for that mission to get done. Without their dedication, we wouldn’t be able to make the Bomb Wing’s mission happen.”

Since work can’t always be left for the next day, shift workers ensure what needs to be done gets done.

“Some of the problems we encounter can’t be fixed in one shift,” said Master Sgt. Curt Penhallegon, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Unit production superintendent. “These old planes aren’t like cars; it takes time to fix problems. Many times we can’t do that in one shift, and multiple shifts are essential.”

Flightline night shifts are not solely about fixing broken planes; training on unique and new problems help maintainers learn the whole plane.

“We also do tons of training on nights,” said Airman 1st Class Zachary Poorman, 96th AMU crew chief. “Since many of the planes land on our shift, we get to work on the problems aircrew find in flight and fix them. On day shift we can’t always do that, with visitors, appointments and required Air Force training.”

While there are advantages to working nights, it also presents many challenges for shift Airmen.

“Working the night shift can sometimes be the most difficult shift,” said Penhallegon. “Our guys have to work all night and don’t get to spend as much time with their families or they have to go to an early medical appointment after getting off work at 3 or 4 a.m.”

Despite scheduling conflicts and lost family time, there are those who enjoy working the night shift.

“Swings is the best shift for me,” said Poorman. “We get to just focus on our jobs and get the aircraft back to mission capable for the aircrew. Maintainers are ultimately responsible for getting the planes flying again so that the aircrew can train and do their jobs. It’s also cooler at night, days it can get so hot out here.”

Through the dedication of every maintainer who works on the B-52, regardless of flightline or back shop, team work and multiple shifts lead to Barksdale’s flying mission taking to the sky.