Forward, Ready, Now: Stepping Up Despite Sequestration

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Aaron Demmon, a 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems journeyman from Ludington, Mich., inspects a strobe light on the flightline at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Jan. 23, 2014. As a part of a three-man team, Demmon services more than 3,000 lights on the airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank / Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Aaron Demmon, a 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems journeyman from Ludington, Mich., inspects a strobe light on the flightline at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Jan. 23, 2014. As a part of a three-man team, Demmon services more than 3,000 lights on the airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank / Released)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany--Airmen of the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance shop work on government-owned vehicles at their squadron’s garage Sept. 24, 2013. Members of the 52nd LRS vehicle maintenance shop prepare, provide and deploy vehicles and mechanics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany--Airmen of the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance shop work on government-owned vehicles at their squadron’s garage Sept. 24, 2013. Members of the 52nd LRS vehicle maintenance shop prepare, provide and deploy vehicles and mechanics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Our Airmen are innovative and mission-oriented...and despite the hard-hitting sequestration and budget cuts over the last two years, they still complete the mission through creative and effective ways. It isn't ideal, they said, but when America asks them to sacrifice and step up to the plate, that's just what they do.

This is part one of a multipart series that highlights how our Airmen have dealt with budget cuts, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

Watt are you talking about? Turn the lights off!

52nd Civil Engineer Squadron certainly shed some light on how to efficiently use resources while saving the Air Force money.

If the Air Force had as many quarters as they had streetlights on Spangdahlem, it would have...$750. More impressive is the base's electric bill, with more than 3,000 streetlights contributing to the monthly electric bill of half a million dollars. That high-priced bill doesn't count the time and effort the electric shop invests in maintaining the lights.

So, when the budget cuts left many in the dark, the electric shop had a "light bulb moment" and identified multiple areas on base that were just too bright. By turning off more than 180 lights and reducing wattage in 330 others, they saved more than $74,000 in annual energy costs, $35,000 in annual material costs and nearly 7,000 hours in maintenance costs.

At the same time, they developed a unified standard of light bulbs and reduced more than 400 lights to a smaller wattage. With the new style fixtures, the electric shop reduced maintenance time by 65 percent.

To put those numbers into perspective for those who don't speak wattage, an average house light bulb is roughly 40 watts. The electric shop managed to reduce base lighting and still maintain safety by reducing more than 100,000 watts, or 2,500 house light bulbs.

"By removing lamps and reducing the wattage in the light fixtures, we reduced unnecessary time and money spent," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Wengard, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems craftsman, from Fountain Hills, Ariz. "This was just our way of making our base a more sustainable institution."

This no-cost project not only reduced energy consumption and light pollution, but will continue to save more than $1.3 million over a 15-year life cycle. Now that's a bright idea.

Hit the road, Jack

However, it's not all about smart savings and creative fixes. For some, budget cuts haven't forced Airmen to improve processes...it's just made the job a lot harder to do.

With across-the-board sequestration cuts in fiscal year 2013, the 52nd Logistic Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance flight temporarily parked approximately 27 percent of the entire Spangdahlem Air Base vehicle fleet, according to Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Keyser, chief of vehicle management and native of Astoria, Ore. The theory behind the move was to eliminate gas and maintenance costs.

It sounded like a good idea, but after the vehicles sat without maintenance checks for six months, they needed a lot of tender love and care to be roadworthy once more. It took a herculean effort to get all the parked vehicles operational, Keyser said, especially since they only had 45 days to fix the vehicles with the funds given to "unpark" them.

It wasn't just small cars they had to get up to snuff; the vehicle maintenance flight maintains everything from sedans to fire trucks, to deicers to fork lifts...you name it, they had to fix it so all vehicles were roadworthy.

While all the vehicles are back in the rotation now, the operations of the vehicle maintenance flight are at the mercy of any budget changes. When it comes to maintaining a healthy fleet of vehicles, replacement parts are where the rubber meets the road...and that depends on if there will be funds available.

"Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do to mitigate budget cuts," Keyser said. "We can't operate without replacement parts, and if we do not have the funds to purchase parts, then unfortunately we can only go so far with repairing vehicles."