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Surviving Tinker's winter outdoors

Tinker gate guard David Brownlee offers warm greetings to motorists on a bitterly cold morning. “Most people appreciate what you do,” says Mr. Brownlee.  Wearing multiples of everything and grateful to be working a gate with space heaters, the guard doesn’t let the temperature cool his sunny greeting.  “A good attitude can make a difference for people and set the tone for their day,” he said. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Tinker gate guard David Brownlee offers warm greetings to motorists on a bitterly cold morning. “Most people appreciate what you do,” says Mr. Brownlee. Wearing multiples of everything and grateful to be working a gate with space heaters, the guard doesn’t let the temperature cool his sunny greeting. “A good attitude can make a difference for people and set the tone for their day,” he said. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Space heaters are prized possessions at the gates.  Not all gates have heaters and heavy traffic times don’t always allow guards to tuck into the shacks for a break from the winter wind, rain or snow. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Space heaters are prized possessions at the gates. Not all gates have heaters and heavy traffic times don’t always allow guards to tuck into the shacks for a break from the winter wind, rain or snow. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Tinker exterior plumbers Jack Hasha, left, and David Black repair a leaky sprinkler system near the intersection of Arnold Street and Air Depot on a day when the sun can’t discourage 25 degree highs and a steady wind. Temporary water spray is stopped by bare hands and a cloth after water-soaked gloves became useless against the cold and instead froze to metal tools. A nearby idling truck’s heated cab offered a welcome shelter for a break. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Tinker exterior plumbers Jack Hasha, left, and David Black repair a leaky sprinkler system near the intersection of Arnold Street and Air Depot on a day when the sun can’t discourage 25 degree highs and a steady wind. Temporary water spray is stopped by bare hands and a cloth after water-soaked gloves became useless against the cold and instead froze to metal tools. A nearby idling truck’s heated cab offered a welcome shelter for a break. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Flightline workers wish they were “rescued” from the cold. But, a biting wind chill of 11 degrees, blowing at 14 mph, doesn’t slow down Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Stewart, an aviation electrician who works on an E-6 aircraft’s exterior lights during maintenance.  Aircraft maintainers are on the job regardless of the weather, keeping Navy and Air Force aircraft ready for the skies. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Flightline workers wish they were “rescued” from the cold. But, a biting wind chill of 11 degrees, blowing at 14 mph, doesn’t slow down Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Stewart, an aviation electrician who works on an E-6 aircraft’s exterior lights during maintenance. Aircraft maintainers are on the job regardless of the weather, keeping Navy and Air Force aircraft ready for the skies. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla., -- They dress in layers, but the biting cold, winter air penetrates. They stand by heaters and try to concentrate on their jobs and the mission, but the weather conditions won't die down. It's just another day for Tinker personnel who work outside.

Security officers, flight-line personnel and maintenance crews, like many other Tinker career fields, spend day-after-day, shift-after-shift outdoors, in all types of weather, including the brutality of an Oklahoma winter when highs can be in the 'teens. It gets so frigid that while plumbers are out fixing pipes that burst in the cold, their tools freeze to their gloves.

"When you're standing in the cold with absolutely no heat, the hardest thing to do is concentrate on the job," said Brian George, 72nd Security Forces Squadron security officer, who checked badges Tuesday morning at the Eaker Gate. It was 32 degrees outside, which is mild compared to other days. "You're thinking about getting warm." Standing, for two to three hours at a time, in several layers of socks, thermal pants, thermal shirts, turtlenecks, fleece-liners, jackets, gloves, and sometimes full-face masks, Mr. George and peers said the cold cuts right through.

"I think we all took this job knowing that we were going to work in inclement weather but at the same time, when it's 12-degrees outside, I don't think anyone can stand to be out in that kind of weather," Mr. George said.

Chief Master Sgt. John Martin, 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent, agreed.

"When you're out there, you think about getting your job done right and getting it done as fast as possible to get away from the aircraft and back to some heat," said Chief Martin.

Though he spends about an hour outside each day, he is responsible for 530 Airmen who spend eight hours a day outside working aircraft maintenance for the AWACS. Chief Martin said his Airmen only come inside to use the restroom, eat lunch and when the shift is over.

He said the key to working in the winter is to use the buddy-care system. While an individual's internal clock will push that person to get the job done, sometimes it's important to have a peer to encourage a break to rest up and warm up.
"Work-rest cycles are important," Chief Martin said. "Keep an eye on each other."