An Airman assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron cut out new pipe section to replace a damaged water line at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates Jan. 11, 2018. The ECES team repaired the pipe and restored water supply to deployed personnel. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

Dirty Jobs: water and fuel systems maintenance

By Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott
380th Air Expeditionary Wing

AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates — With wastewater rising, base living quarters were about to be flooded until one Airman jumped into a pit of waste and began hooking up pumps to prevent the overflow.

U.S Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Potter, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels system specialist, repairs a cracked water line at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates Jan. 11, 2018. The water line could have been damaged by variety of ways: pressure change in the atmosphere and low or high temperatures. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

Senior Airman Malachi Nemitz, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels system maintenance specialist, noticed the lift station had failed and jumped in to figure out why the sewage wasn’t draining properly.

“I’ve only seen photos of lift stations at my technical training school,” said Nemitz, a member of the Kansas Air National Guard’s 184th Intelligence Wing currently assigned to the 380th CES. “I didn’t know much about the system, but I couldn’t just sit back and not do anything.”

The lift station that failed isn’t maintained by the 380th ECES. However, it’s part of their daily routine to perform a visual inspection and make sure the station isn’t backing up.

Senior Airman Malachi Nemitz, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels system specialist, stands next to tanker truck Jan. 12, 2018. Nemitz is deployed from the 184th Intel Wing, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas Air National Guard. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

According to Master Sgt. Matthew Fisher, 380th ECES water and fuels system maintenance noncommissioned officer in charge, all the wastewater on base leads to this one lift station that failed.

“Once we realized we were about to be flooded by our waste, our team went into full recovery mode,” said Fisher. “Airman Nemitz played a huge role in making sure the team remained positive. He always has a smile on his face, even at times when nobody feels like being positive.”

The Water and Fuels Section temporarily contained the backed-up wastewater by pumping it into tanker trucks and dumping it at the nearest pump station. This process went on for several days until they could diagnose where the root cause of the stoppage was located.

According to Nemitz, every time the pumps were connected or disconnected from the sewage trucks, the ECES Airmen working the issue would be showered with tiny particles of wastewater.

Despite full-body personal protective gear keeping them clean Nemitz said, “It’s one of the dirtiest jobs, if not the dirtiest in the Air Force.”

While the team continued to manage the pits, the rest of the team focused on finding a solution to the problem.

“We followed the main pipe that takes all our contaminated water away,” said Fisher. “We had guys crawling into every manhole for more than three miles to locate the blockage.”

Airmen assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels maintenance restore a damaged water pipe at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates Jan. 11, 2018. The water and fuels systems maintenance flight manages the plumbing, wastewater collection system, liquid fuel storage and natural gas distribution systems for ADAB. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

After 10 days of 24-hour operations, the water and fuels team found the blockage and replaced the defective pipes. The lift station began functioning properly again.

“We worked together as a team and no one complained about the long hours,” said Fisher. “Everyone knew what the consequences would have been if we couldn’t complete our mission.”

According to Tech Sgt. Brandi Perryman, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group public health noncommissioned officer in charge, if the sewage didn’t get cleaned up in the right way then base operations would have been shut down immediately.

“The dining facilities, latrines and showers would have all been closed,” said Perryman. “Everyone’s hygiene would have been affected. Hand sanitizer can only do so much.”

The Water and Fuels Section ultimately pumped more than three million gallons of wastewater away from the base.

“If I have to get a little dirty every now and then, that’s why I’m here,” said Nemitz. “I take pride in knowing my team played a big role in supporting the mission here.”