EFD, HOUSTON, TX 77089
April 2004–I wake up and get ready and go to work. It is 0500 hours when I arrive and start with the morning chores of inventory and safety inspections. It doesn’t really hit me until the first announcement over the loudspeaker, “FOD walk 0630 all available personnel required”. Yep, I am on duty for the military starting off early to make sure the first missions have the okay to make their run down the strip. This is when I realize that I’m actually at Ellington Field and start to wake up. It is the engine startup that gets the day going. I’ll go inside after the FOD walk and sit down wishing I were still at home in bed, and not really start to be active until I hear the jet engine of the F-16C fire up and throttle forward. That makes the morning roll. There aren’t a whole lot of thing that will get my adrenaline flowing that early in the morning but that sure is one of them. From that moment on, the day never slows down. One thing after another has to be done until duty call ends at 1700 hours.
Despite any personal opinions of outside sources and influences, I would argue that Houston is a wonderful place to dwell. This is seen, and proven, by over population and growing suburbs. People want to live here and continue to move to this location. I would also tend to say that good things are worth fighting for.
Take our country for instance. A few guys go in a boat hoping to find something new and better. The product of their search was the Americas. They decided that it could definitely be a better place than where they came from. More and more people followed them to start over as well. When the big bullies they had tried to escape, came to their new place and kept messing stuff up and controlling it, we, like anyone else who values what they have would do, took up arms and fought back to defend what is ours, and eventually to fend off the colonial rulers. Much later down the road we become a great superpower in the world.
Now, Houston may not be a country that others travel a long way to inhabit, but it is the location of a major shipping and oil industry. It is also the home of NASA. Pending how old you are, you may remember a time when many different nations were all racing to make their space program the best. All were trying to see who could orbit the earth first, and then who could make it all the way to the moon first. When I say that Houston is a major shipping and oil industry, you should not take this lightly. Houston is known as the energy headquarters and the world center for the petroleum industry.
Let me give you some statistics. Five thousand energy-related establishments are located within the Houston region, including more than four hundred exploration and production firms, and more than thirty pipeline operators. Houston is home to forty-four of the nation’s two hundred largest publicly traded oil and gas exploration and production firms. All major oil and gas companies have extensive operations here. Houston was the seventh largest metropolitan exporter in the nation in 1999, and Houston ranked fifth in the nation by the growth in export value between 1993 and 1999. This amount of commerce and trade makes Houston a significant strike point for opposing nations wishing to mess stuff up or even take control. That is why there is a place called Ellington Field with the 147th Fighter Wing.
Ellington Field is located off of interstate 45 about fifteen miles south of downtown Houston. It was established during World War I, and by 1917 was one of the largest aviation training facilities in the nation, with about five thousand men and women, and about two hundred and fifty aircraft. Ellington’s 147th has put to use many different types of aircraft including the F-4C and F-4D models until they were replaced by the F-16A’s in September of 1989 and later to the F-16C’s in 1996 for more of an air defense fighter capability which is what is used there to this very day. The kinds of training that took place there were pilot and bomber training as well as radio communications and gunnery training. Now, Ellington field has undertaken the responsibilities of air-to-ground and alert missions.
If you have ever been to the military side of this base, you may have felt a little bit intimidated. I know I sure was my first visit. It almost makes you paranoid because you’re not used to seeing anything like it. I found myself always looking around to see if anyone was watching because I didn’t want to do something wrong and have my face planted in the concrete with a circle of guys pointing their weapons at me. This intimidation could be an effect of the many military personnel dressed in their battle dress uniforms (BDU’s) as they train to mobilize and deploy as seen fit by the governor or President/Commander in Chief. It could have also been because of the tactical assault rifles that many of them carry around with them, or maybe even because of the high level of security you were exposed to as you had to drive through multiple check points and barricades and possibly even vehicle searches. Although the employees seem as if this is an average day or normal routine, you may feel a little tense and at the same time glad that they are willing to do all of this for our safety as we carry on with our carefree life styles.
As a member of the Air National Guard, and having been stationed at Ellington field for the past two and a half years, I know that on base, it is anything except carefree and no day is truly normal. At any one moment you can hear the deafening roar of jet engines as F-16s take off and land. Throughout any day you hear several announcements from the command post giving security updates and warnings.
In addition to all of this, trucks with maintenance personnel on board rush to and from different aircraft on the flight line making minor and major repairs in order for the jet to make its next mission on time. Multiple people are rushing around. People working together to get things accomplished. Several men and women are preparing for that next flight. Always ready for a crisis should one appear. Fuel trucks are going here and there. Munitions carts carrying different missiles, bombs, electric counter measures, flares, drop tanks, etc.
What would appear as total chaos to those unfamiliar with our career, is actually the fast paced and high demanding work load that we are trained to perform each day. If you were to walk around the base, you would see many different types of work being done, but each one of them contributes to the same purpose. Each job is done for the jet that isn’t quite ready to take on a mission. In the Avionics Shop people work on thousands of dollars worth of navigational instruments and recording devices, filled with material labeled classified or top secret. In the Hush House, a building used to do a final test on the engines before attaching them to the jet, you see a jet engine on a test stand bolted to the floor. The engine is run to all of the different specifications to make sure it will perform the way it should under any circumstances the pilot may encounter. The entire building shakes as they run the engine from idle, to the military setting, all the way up through full afterburner and you see the distinct fire rings from the multiple compression stages shooting out the exhaust. It is quite a pyrotechnic display.
In the Hydraulic Shop there are multiple systems from the jet hooked up to their testing unit as they troubleshoot any faults that have come about on the previous flights. Speed brakes are opening and closing, landing gear extending and retracting, and the whirring of hydraulic motors hums in your ears. In the Electric Shop, you have several men each with a component and a multimeter trying to figure out where the circuit has its problem. Occasionally you hear a wince as someone accidentally touches an energized circuit and receives a jolt of an electrical shock.
Outside, on the alert pad, there are always two F-16’s fully loaded with drop tanks and weapons in the event that any enemy confrontation should come about. If an alert is sounded, the pilots are able to be in the jet and down the runway within five minutes from the time the alarm sounded. Missiles armed and ready to be fired at any present
In addition to all these, there is a significant amount of construction and rebuilding going on. Civilian working crews are digging up ground with bulldozers and backhoes trying to get foundations made for new facilities. Dust blows all around as the equipment continues to work. The irritating ringing sound of jack-hammers is present to anyone in the vicinity. Engineers are coordinating crews to build the walls, put up insulation, get all of the plumbing and electrical wires put in at the desired locations, and to finish the interior design of each building.
Much money has been budgeted to make the base as attractive to the public as it is useful and necessary. Not a work day goes by where we aren’t out there working with the scent of kerosene burning our nostrils as the jet next to us is being topped of with fuel, or us having to jockey for position or plan which jobs to perform first since any number of different systems could be being repaired at the same time we are trying to do ours. Many days we go home sore and aching from being bent over underneath the jet or from being twisted in an odd shape trying to get the last nut and washer on the final bolt. Many a day we leave with bloody knuckles from banging them on the airframe as we tighten equipment down with our ratchets. Many nights we only get a couple of hours to rest and reboot for the following twelve to sixteen hour shift.
This is just some of the price we pay to stand fast to the mission statement which is to “Conduct worldwide combat operations with the F-16C and perform home station air sovereignty alert and F-16C general purpose roles.” All of this goes on so that the city of Houston and our country can sleep peacefully at night. The city of Houston has enough to worry about already without the added discomfort of having to wonder if it is safe from foreign and domestic powers wishing to harm this city, state, and country. The sacrifices that the base and its workers make put it at the top of the list of places in Houston to hold in high regards.