News: Cryogenics: Life source to the flying force
Story by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
SOUTHWEST ASIA – In the sci-fi realm, cryogenics is popularly used in preserving human remains to be revived in another era. As fascinating as the concept of life after ice may be, the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenics shop applies practical uses of this science supporting operations through the entire U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility.
Cryogenics technicians work with “compressed gases,” specifically oxygen and nitrogen that are cooled to extreme, low temperatures causing them to liquefy. In this state, they are able to maintain and distribute the substances as needed supporting missions.
“Nothing would be able to fly if you didn’t have oxygen,” said Master Sgt. Charles Russell, 379th ELRS cryogenics NCO in charge deployed from Dover Air Force Base, Del., and a Syracuse, N.Y., native. “Nearly every weapon system we have uses liquid oxygen for both the crew and the passengers; so you wouldn’t be able to air transport anything out of here or anywhere in the AOR without it.”
Every day, the cryogenics shop supplies an average of 150 gallons of liquid oxygen to aircraft at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing here and ships an average of 12,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and about 800 gallons of liquid nitrogen each month to other bases in the region.
“Liquid oxygen is mainly used for aircraft to support the breathing systems and liquid nitrogen is typically used to cool down equipment,” said Senior Airman John Justiniano, a 379th ELRS cryogenics technician deployed from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and hails from Bronx, N.Y.
Additionally, liquid oxygen is provided to medical evacuation teams to support critical patient care, Russell added.
As the hub for receipt, maintenance and shipping of liquid oxygen and nitrogen, the 379th ELRS cryogenics shop saves the Air Force approximately $802,000 each year.
All of the products here are purchased locally and then air lifted to forward operating bases saving time and money needed to convoy trucks in and out of those locations, Russell explained. They also perform all of the sampling and maintenance here eliminating other cost factors.
Upon delivery, the cryogenics airmen take a gas sample from the truck and send it to the Air Force Petroleum Agency Fuels Laboratory here for testing.
“We have to make sure the sample is good and there are no contaminates prior to filling our tanks with the gas,” Justiniano said. “If there are contaminates, we have to deny it and get another receipt.”
When tanks are needed to support operations, they are filled, inspected and staged at the cargo yard, he explained. The team is also responsible for hooking the tanks to the aircraft prior to take off.
Cryogenics technicians work suited from head to toe protecting them from serious injuries caused by the extreme temperatures of the substances they handle. Comparable to a burn one could sustain from a fire, cryogenic burns can freeze and kill human skin and tissues.
“It’s never fun to wear a snow suit when it’s 115 degrees outside, but for safety reasons, we do it anyway,” Russell said. “From hearing protection to the face shield; wearing personal protective equipment is a necessity. It’s like a football player wearing a helmet – you’ve got to wear it.”
These airmen provide a crucial product directly supporting air operations throughout the AOR.
“My team works very hard every day to get the mission done,” Russell said. “Since our arrival, those who had little or no experience have become expert technicians who now complete the mission and make it look easy.”