From expeditionary to enduring: 386th ECES conducts base improvements

  • Published
  • By Capt. Casey Osborne
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The 386th Air Expeditionary Wing has been at war for nearly 15 years. In that time, its U.S. Air Force Airmen have stood ready in the fight against violent extremism across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The wing has been vital in operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and more throughout the AOR. During this period, it’s stayed at one location, operating in an expeditionary capacity.

That’s all changing. The 386th, in conjunction with U.S. Air Forces Central Command and its subordinate units, has set about executing a long-term strategy to upgrade its facilities and make them more enduring. These projects will improve the quality of life for Airmen and, more importantly, the wing’s ability to execute wars against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as well as other adversaries.

“The charge to make the installation more enduring is really a charge to make it better for Airmen, provide more to the fight and to do more every single day,” said Capt. Adam Burwinkle, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron deputy commander. “That’s more logistics capability, more intelligence capability, more vehicle maintenance, more aircraft maintenance, that’s more all of that.”

The 386th ECES is taking lead on the base improvements. They’re currently managing more the $34 million in projects, and they’re working with members of AFCENT’s Installations and Mission Support directorate on updating the wing’s 5- to 10-year master development plan.

One significant way the wing is embracing the shift to a more enduring posture is by focusing on quality-of-life improvements. These include upgrading dining facilities and transitioning lodging for the wing’s Airmen from tents to trailers. The tents-to-trailers project in particular will directly increase both Airmen morale and base sustainability, said Burwinkle.

“Quality of life, living conditions, cleanliness, maintainability, sustainability, all those second order benefits, it’ll be huge,” he said. “It’s huge for us engineers. It becomes more maintainable. We’ll be able to more effectively keep the base running because while tents are great and flexible, they take a lot of work to maintain whereas trailers are more efficient.”

An additional, mission-focused example of a project Burwinkle’s team is currently working on is building new “clamshell” hangars for MQ-9 Reapers. The wing currently operates MQ-1 Predators, but is scheduled to upgrade to larger, more capable Reapers. To accomplish this upgrade, AFCENT sent a team of engineers from the 557th Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron to augment Burwinkle’s Airmen.

Staff Sgt. Dustin Brooks, 557th EPBS structural craftsman and team lead, explained that his team is responsible for embedding at bases and accomplishing construction projects that require special training and skillsets like the clamshell upgrade.

“We were tasked to take down two (large aircraft maintenance shelters),” he said. “Basically, they’re shelters that aren’t needed there anymore. They have to make room for a new mission, so we’re supporting those operations by taking these shelters down.”

Brooks said his team’s work has a direct impact on the war against ISIS.

“If these clamshells aren’t built, then the operations that support taking out ISIS can’t happen,” he said.

Projects like the clamshell upgrade pose a problem, said Burwinkle, because the wing has to continue its daily mission while simultaneously increasing its capacity.

“That is part of the challenge,” he explained. “You have to improve and get more enduring while still maintaining current operations. We can’t shut down the flightline and to do a multiple projects all at once, because we have to conduct operations. We have around $10 million worth of airfield construction going on right now that improves our airfield and sets us up for another decade of operations but is being done while we’re still operating out of the airfield.”

Burwinkle and Brooks both stressed, though, that through teamwork both on base and with outside units, they were confident they’d be able to accomplish their tasks without negatively impacting daily operations.

“I’ve been fortunate here,” said Brooks, referring to his time with the 386th. “Everyone’s been great. The CE unit, the leadership here, I’ve been asking for a lot of things and they’ve been helping me out with it. It makes the job smoother, it runs smoother, it’s safer, and operations are much more efficient.”

For his part, Burwinkle said he isn’t surprised by the drive to make the wing’s base a more enduring location, given its long history of supporting operations across the AOR.

“We have multiple logistics units that all want to be here with the 386th because of the throughput and the location,” said Burwinkle. “That’s a great opportunity. We have a lot of customers that want to bring a lot of projects and want to bring a lot of improvements to the base. The 386th is the place to be for logistics.”