U.S. troops are deployed all over the world and certainly during these trying times of war; headlines appear on a regular basis in the daily news. Headlines such as "Traffic Management Office (TMO) Airmen Keep People, Cargo Flowing," "Airmen Keep Iraqi Airways Clear," "Deployed Airmen, Soldiers Reach Out To Bedouin Children," "US Air Force C-130 Cargo Aircraft in Japan Loaded With Relief Supplies Will Deploy to Thailand." And it's no surprise to learn about the extent of the missions. Throughout the combat operations in Afghanistan, the Air Force has flown more than 39,650 airlift missions; missions that moved more than 418,000 passengers and more than 429,000 tons of cargo from the US to the Afghan theater of operations. Over the skies of America, airmen from the National Guard, Air Force Reserve and active Air Force participating in Operation Noble Eagle, a civil support mission, have flown more than 27,625 fighter, tanker and airborne early warning sorties and more than 7,000 aerial refueling missions over the past two years.
What we will not read in the headlines is the very simple yet crucial fact that not one of these missions would happen were it not for the thousands of men and women who have studied and worked diligently to earn the Air Force award of Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) 2A632, Apprentice, AGE mechanic, giving them the training and ability to maintain AGE, which supports those same aircraft systems that fly these missions. It is indeed true, "there is no air power without ground power."
According to Senior Master Sergeant Jeffrey Deynzer, AGE Flight Chief, Sheppard Air Force Base is home to the one and only AGE training program in the country offering 37 accredited hours through the Air Force's Community College of the Air Force. "We have detachments in other locations that provide continuation training beyond the apprentice and craftsman courses, but this school provides the only initial training function within the US," says Deynzer. "And when the students graduate our course, they are well on their way to an associate degree in this career field."
The breakout of AGE originated at FE Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, where, 40 plus years ago, the focus was automotive; the fundamentals of working on gas and diesel engines and the "odds and ends" of generators. In 1958, the establishment of the Ground Power Equipment School began the long heritage of what we know today as the Aerospace Ground Equipment career field. After 35 years at Chanute AFB, Illinois, many bases were closing do to the Defense Base Realignment and Closure commission decision. In 1993 courses in AGE, jet engines and aircraft maintenance were transferred to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, TX. "The AGE career field has developed into something unbelievable now," says Howard McKellip, retired AGE Chief and walking encyclopedia on the history of AGE. "Before we had small, simple generators, but as the aircraft has become more sophisticated, AGE and electronics technology have boomed."
The AGE program has progressed over the past 20 years from 48 days to the current 106 day "mission ready" apprentice course where everyday more than 340 plus students train and work on "live" equipment (equipment that is taken out on the flight line for actual use in the field) with a new class starting every week. A total of 1,100 students graduate in a typical year. Though close to 70 percent of the students are apprentice course students directly from basic training, the other 30 percent comprise an eclectic group from various backgrounds and/or components.