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Team Tinker beats the heat

Senior Airman Matthew Child, left, and Airman 1st Class Joshua Martin are 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs in the Red Aircraft Maintenance Unit.  Blistering summer days or the bite of winter doesn’t matter when it comes to making sure an E-3 Sentry is safe and ready to fly.  Working through a checklist they pour over a jet, tightening fasteners, checking for anything that needs attention.  Seeing “their” E-3 fly is a great feeling for them, knowing they had a hands-on to getting it airborne.  “Knowing I changed those tires, and to see it fly, that’s a pretty cool feeling,” said Airman Martin. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Senior Airman Matthew Child, left, and Airman 1st Class Joshua Martin are 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs in the Red Aircraft Maintenance Unit. Blistering summer days or the bite of winter doesn’t matter when it comes to making sure an E-3 Sentry is safe and ready to fly. Working through a checklist they pour over a jet, tightening fasteners, checking for anything that needs attention. Seeing “their” E-3 fly is a great feeling for them, knowing they had a hands-on to getting it airborne. “Knowing I changed those tires, and to see it fly, that’s a pretty cool feeling,” said Airman Martin. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Whatever the weather, it’s intensified on an aircraft ramp.  A hot summer day and a 12-hour shift securing an entry control point is business as usual for 72nd Security Forces Squadron Airman 1st Class Michael Urrutia.  (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Whatever the weather, it’s intensified on an aircraft ramp. A hot summer day and a 12-hour shift securing an entry control point is business as usual for 72nd Security Forces Squadron Airman 1st Class Michael Urrutia. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla -- As the summer sun peeks over the horizon, illuminating the Oklahoma plains with golden hues, Michelle Rudloff couldn't think of a place she'd rather be: outside, in the heat of a Mid-Western summer, watching the grass grow. There's nowhere better, she says.

It's a sweltering July day at Tinker and although the clock still reads ante meridiem, the temperatures indicate just one thing: HOT. Ms. Rudloff stands on the putting green at the Tinker Golf Course, watering hose in hand. A maintenance employee with the golf course, her job has her outside by definition. She sees the sun, and a lot of it. But she wouldn't want it any other way.

"I just really enjoy the heat and the sun," Ms. Rudloff says. "Getting outside, feeling the breeze. Waking up every morning with the sun. it's quite enjoyable."

She is one of many devoted golf course employees. It's hard work but there are benefits too, namely when the plants say "thank you."

"(The grass) gets greener when I water it so it's kind of like it's grinning right back at me," she said with a smile. "I love all the landscaping too. It all looks so pretty, what better way to say thank you."

But invariably, as the thermometer mercury rises with the sun, the Oklahoma summer bares its teeth daily. Ms. Rudloff has ways to assuage the intensity, but there's no getting around it - it's just plain hot outside.

"Water is like the nectar from the gods," Ms. Rudloff says with a laugh, indicating she drinks about 10-12 glasses of water on a really hot day. "The heat just zaps you and you don't have that morning energy. The morning sun is a lot kinder. The afternoon is brutal."
Ms. Rudloff is like many people at Tinker, whose line of duty takes them outside on a regular basis. It means shivering in the winter and, in the summer, it means battling the temperatures that can crest the 115 degree heat index mark.

The heat can't be ignored, and with air temperatures reaching as high as 105 in the peak of summer, the risk of heat related injuries is significant.

But the mission must go on.

"You just have to do everything we can whether it's roll up our sleeves, have a good water supply, get somewhere where it's cool, provide adequate relief for each other. You have to take care of each other," says Senior Airman Kevin Cuffie, with the 72nd Security Forces Squadron. "One way or another the mission has to go on."

Airman Cuffie and his teammates have been on duty for several hours by now. It's 1 p.m. in the afternoon as they stand guard at the November checkpoint overlooking the 552nd MXG pad. Such is life of an Air Force cop, shivering and sweltering throughout the year. Although it's cooler than the AOR's sometimes 115 plus degree temperatures, the Oklahoma sun is nothing to scoff at. The Airmen at checkpoint November are regularly in the heat - checking IDs, surveying the concrete pad where the E-3's rest. Security forces boast some of the hottest jobs on base, especially the gate-guard posts and those inside hangars.

Twelve-hour shifts mean there's plenty of time to dehydrate. But Airman Cuffie has a solution for this: Two 18-ounce bottles of water and some chocolate milk. That's the winning formula for this Airman, and it hasn't failed him yet. But still, it's hot.

"Itr's draining, it's really draining," Airman Cuffie says. "Sometimes the heat can be a little demotivating but that's why we have each other to help each other out."

Oklahoma boasts some of the most extreme weather in the nation in terms of temperatures variance. Despite the summer heat of last year, which peaked at 105 degrees in August, only two heat related injuries took place at Tinker. Doug Moore, Tinker's Heat Stress program manager, gave a few simple tips to stay cool, and stay safe in the heat.

Long-sleeve loose clothing is a must, Mr. Moore says, as is watching for the signs of heat exhaustion.

"Staying hydrated is huge," Mr. Moore says. "And just being smart about work rest cycles as far as our recommendations are concerned."

Recommended work rest cycles are available on the Tinker homepage.

But the sun doesn't discriminate. At the Tinker Youth Center, kids in the School Age Program feel the heat all the same.

"We try to take advantage of the morning time when we go out to play," says Joy Shelly, School Age Program coordinator. Air Force regulations allow kids the option of going outside for at least 15 minutes every hour. At the Youth Center kids have shaded play areas at their disposal and always have plenty of water on hand. And in the event of a heat wave? There's always the air conditioned gym. The program also schedules three pool visits per week, to help the kids stay cool.

While most sit in the A/C in their offices, Johnny Giesbrecht is the man ensuring your A/C is working. A Tinker Support Services employee of 10 years, he's been on top of most roofs on base. Up there, where black tar and gravel reflects heat, it can get up to 120 degrees, Giesbrecht said. He had few words for the experience.

"It's terrible, it's hot," he said. But long-sleeves and copious Gatorade keep him going.
So while the sun rises every morning, bringing the upper temperatures and searing heat, the mission must go on at Tinker. Numerous people call the outdoors their workplace at Tinker, but they're not letting that stop them.