SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Training devices at Sheppard AFB take a beating, and rightfully so as thousands of enlisted and commissioned Airmen make their way through the North Texas base for technical training in a myriad of specialties.
It’s not uncommon that some of the nuts, bolts, platforms and other apparatus are worn out from years of use, or the material being used just can’t stand up to the test of time, Airmen and, sometimes, water. That has been the case with the plumbing training bays used in the 366th Training Squadron’s water and fuel systems maintenance apprentice course.
The old, deteriorating wooden bays have been in use for years.
“These booths were around when I came through back in 2004 and were here long before myself,” said 366th TRS WFSM instructor Tech. Sgt. Adam Kates. “The type of work we’re doing here with water and plumbing, in general, the wood started to get decrepit and dry rotted. It started to deteriorate while students were working on it and it actually created an unsafe work environment.”
With a safety-first mentality, a replacement project for the feeble work stations began not long after Kates went through the schoolhouse to address the workplace safety concerns and provide Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors with updated, state-of-the-art steel training platforms.
Fred Williams, engineering supervisor of the 982nd Maintenance Squadron’s Trainer Development Flight’s fabrication shop, said the project began in 2006 when a new eight-bay booth was manufactured and installed in Bldg. 1927. Another set was built and installed in 2013-14, and a third wrapped up in September.
He said they’ve just begun work on a fourth and final set. In all, the shop has built four eight-bay booths and four five-bay booths for a total of four 13-bay booths. The reason for the odd number, he said, was to have 12 units for training and one for display so students can see what the end product is supposed to look.
“What we basically have designed is a small residential bathroom,” he said. “The plumbing students come in and they install a toilet, a lavatory, a urinal, a shower pan for showers and a water heater.”
Williams said another bonus to having the 982nd MXS build the platforms is long-term maintenance. He said the original wooden booths were built by instructors, which meant they could not be maintained by the trainer maintenance contractor. The new booths, however, will be covered by the contract.
Brandon Pinson, essentially the foreman of the fabrication shop, said the sturdy, steel structures have a 30-year sustainment window that should require very little maintenance.
“It will need minor painting and touch-up, but as far as structural (maintenance), no,” he said.
Kates said the modern training platform has also had an impact on how the students viewed the devices. He said the wooden structures were viewed – and rightfully so – as old, outdated and unsafe. He added they found it difficult to take pride in the finished product they were viewing.
But with the new booths has come a new mentality.
“The reason we have this new stuff is to teach them what they’re actually going to be dealing with in the field,” the instructor said. “When you have equipment relatively new that’s not outdated, that’s not falling apart, the students have a tendency to take things a lot more seriously.”
Kates said the booths provide realism to what they will see in the field, but also things that are difficult to see, too. He said students are able to look at their work underneath the booths and behind walls.
Students in the WFSM course learn how to install interior and exterior piping, grading, soldering, flare-in, cut pipe, ring pipe, thread pipe and construct the small bathroom from scratch. Soldiers graduate after about 29-academic-days of the course is complete. Airmen and Sailors continue through the remainder of the course.