|TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- It was not his first temporary duty assignment since arriving at Travis Air Force Base, California, a year ago, but Staff Sgt. Marshall Tipton was still excited as he put together the tools he would need for a 10-day TDY at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
“We’re going to replace the brake drum and hub on an MEP-12 (generator),” he said, as he and several co-workers cinched together the packing containers.
Like the other 33 military and civilian members of the Civil Engineer Maintenance Inspection and Repair Team at Travis Air Force Base, California, Tipton loves the hands-on nature of the job.
“I learned a little about high-voltage generators when I was deployed with a guy who had been in CEMIRT,” said Tipton. “He told me so much about (CEMIRT) that I wanted apply for this assignment.”
Tipton was selected while assigned to Little Rock AFB, Arkansas.
“The Air Force stood up CEMIRT in 1962 to conduct critical and specialized maintenance at bases as an alternative to high-cost contracts and to expedite response to geographically remote sites,” said Brett Williams, CEMIRT site manager at Travis.
When Air Defense Command was inactivated in 1978, CEMIRT was realigned under the Air Force Engineering and Services Center, now named the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
Rather than have five regional teams across the United States, the Air Force consolidated CEMIRT into two regions, one on the East Coast at Tyndall AFB, Florida, and the other on the West Coast at Hamilton AFB in Sausalito, California.
“We moved to Travis in 1975,” said Charles Howard, CEMIRT senior electrical engineering technician and project manager.
The CEMIRT detachment at Travis provides routine and emergency maintenance, installation and repair on power generating systems and electrical distributions systems for the western part of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, the Pacific basin, Southeast Asia, Australia and the Indian Ocean area, said Howard.
The detachment at Tyndall provides power production, electrical support and technical support for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and overhaul aircraft arresting systems for the eastern United States, Central and South America, the South Atlantic region, Europe and the Middle East.
More recently, CEMIRT added an industrial control systems branch consisting of experts in security engineering, information assurance, software and network engineering to help base CE squadrons protect against cyber warfare.
“Instead of every base having these capabilities, the Air Force created a team of specialists who travel all over to do the work,” said John McKern, CEMIRT mechanical foreman.
He said base civil engineer squadrons still handle the day-to-day operations.
“We provide technical base-level support when installation, maintenance, system modifications and field repairs are beyond the capabilities of a base’s operations and maintenance staff,” said McKern.
The Travis unit also manages a fleet of portable, self-contained power generators ranging from 60 kilowatts to 1,500 kilowatts, which is enough electricity to power the David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis, said McKern.
CEMIRT mobility teams can be assigned temporary duty up to 245 days per year for any military contingency or operation, said McKern.
For active-duty members, CEMIRT is a four-year special duty assignment. Applicants must be rated at least “craftsman” to apply, said Howard.
Civilians, he said, are usually prior military electricians, power plant production mechanics or direct-hires from similar civilian positions.
“The people who come here come because they love the work,” said Howard. “We have a unique mission that no one else has.”
In addition to rebuilding, repairing and overhauling diesel driven generators – some no longer in production – CEMIRT saves the Department of Defense about 50 percent of what a contractor would charge for similar services.
For example, a team recently returned from Misawa Air Base, Japan, where they spent four months overhauling two diesel-driven generators for the base hospital, saving the DOD approximately half the $1 million bid submitted by a contractor, according to McKern.
Last year, a team spent two weeks replacing 12,000-volt switches at a launch facility at Vandenberg AFB, California. The project would have cost about $500,000 and at least two years of design, programming and contracting, according to Susan Lawson, AFCEC public affairs. She said CEMIRT finished the project on time for approximately $145,000.
The detachment at Travis manages the excess equipment reutilization program, matching high-value equipment with current requirements and providing a cost-effective alternative to purchasing new assets, said McKern.
They also provides short-term emergency generators, manpower and technical expertise to support base recovery efforts following a natural disaster, such as the 2011 tsunami that affected Misawa and Yokota Air Bases in Japan.
The CEMIRT detachment here has an intern program that allows power production specialists with the 60th Civil Engineer Squadron to work directly with CEMIRT experts learning to tear down, strip and repaint and overhaul large diesel generators.
“The program creates a legacy for us and ensures (Airmen) know what they are getting into if they decide to apply to CEMIRT,” said McKern.
Tech. Sgt. Francis Onate, who arrived at Travis from Moody AFB, Georgia, a little over a year ago, is a former CEMIRT intern now assigned to the detachment.
“The more I heard about them, the more I wanted to join the unit,” he said. “I worked hard at CE (60th CES), and I worked hard when I came here for three months, hoping that they’d want me to come back.”
“I love CE in general and I love going TDY. I like that we are helping countries and helping others in CE learn about power generator units,” said Onato.
About 12 members of the 60th CES have completed the three-month internship since the program began.
“We try to send three people at a time, based on manning at the squadron,” said Tech. Sgt. Peter Saechao, 60th CES, noncommissioned officer in charge of electrical power production. “We primarily do preventative maintenance at the squadron, which can get monotonous. But at CEMIRT, every day is different.”
According to Saechao, the program benefits both the squadron and the Airmen.
“An engine is an engine, so they learn the fundamentals for all the other units we operate in the squadron,” said Saechao.
“They know that when they deploy, they can maintain the equipment because of what they’ve learned at CEMIRT,” he said.
Senior Airman Aaron Bear, 60th CES, recently spent four months with CEMIRT. “My regular job is maintaining standby generators for the base,” said Bear. “We inspect them and keep them operating. There’s nothing wrong with that -- I joined the Air Force to turn wrenches and get my hands dirty.
“But working with CEMIRT allowed me the opportunity to work on generators from the ground up. It gives you a real sense of reward knowing that you have to figure out and diagnose a problem, knowing that if the generator fails, some part of the mission won’t get done,” said Bear.