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Wing leadership, utilities craftsmen flush Vandenberg's underground

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Smiling for the camera, Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, and Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, along with members of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron flush out a sewage main at Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson will be partaking in monthly in activities within Team V's work centers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Smiling for the camera, Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, and Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, along with members of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron flush out a sewage main at Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson will be partaking in monthly in activities within Team V's work centers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, asks the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron’s utilities craftsman questions while flushing out a sewage system at Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Colonel Boltz and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, will be partaking in monthly in activities within Team V's work centers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, asks the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron’s utilities craftsman questions while flushing out a sewage system at Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Colonel Boltz and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, will be partaking in monthly in activities within Team V's work centers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Revealing Vandenberg's underground, Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, helps pull back a sewage manhole cover at Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Johnson have been partaking in monthly activities within Team V's work centers focusing on some of the dirtiest jobs at Vandenberg. This month's focus was on the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron's Operations Flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Revealing Vandenberg's underground, Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, helps pull back a sewage manhole cover at Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Johnson have been partaking in monthly activities within Team V's work centers focusing on some of the dirtiest jobs at Vandenberg. This month's focus was on the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron's Operations Flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, flush out a sewage system with the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron’s utilities craftsman in Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson will be partaking monthly in activities within Team V's work centers.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, flush out a sewage system with the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron’s utilities craftsman in Cocheo Park here Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson will be partaking monthly in activities within Team V's work centers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- On a particularly warm, sunny day at Vandenberg, an unheralded group of utility workers take on a dirty job at a place where the sun never shines: in the depths of the base's sanitary sewer system.

Donning their personal protective equipment, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron utilities craftsmen Master Sgt. Herman Ybarra, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Rivera, Staff Sgt. Brian Young and Jay Lawrence, led Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th SW command chief, through the process of cleaning a fraction of the base's more than 100,000-feet of sewer mains Aug. 26. The day's task: cleaning a 400-foot section of the sewer system using a jetter truck.

"When asked what the 'dirtiest job' in CE is, jetting the sewer system immediately came to the front of the list," said George Croll, 30th CES Operations Flight deputy. "This is a dirty job that has to be done."

To clean and unclog the sewer, Vandenberg's utilities craftsmen assisted Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson as they inserted the jetter truck's 300-foot hose into an 8-foot-deep manhole. With the hose in place, the crew started the water flow--the jetter truck holds up to 700 gallons of water and can eject water at a pressure up to 2,000 pounds per square inch. As the crew went about clearing the main, mist flowed up and out of the manhole emitting a pungent odor from the underground and dampening the workers above.

"This was certainly one of the smelliest jobs I have ever been on," said Colonel Boltz.

Cleaning the base's sewers serves two important purposes: it prevents sewer backups and is also a safety and environmental requirement to prevent the buildup of sulfuric gases in the system, said Mr. Lawrence, an Oakland native who has served more than 39 years in the U.S. government (military and civil service).

Over a period of time, physical, chemical and biological contaminates accumulate within the base's sewer system, which can lead to back-ups. As areas become backed up, the men and women of the 30th CES's Operations Flight arrive on scene and do the dirty work that keeps Vandenberg running.

"What I enjoy most about this job is its importance," said Sergeant Rivera, a native of Angeles City, Philippines, who joined the Air Force 10 years ago to see the world and to further his education.

"I think if anyone deserves to have a negative attitude it would be these folks, but what I found is quite the opposite," said Chief Johnson. "They all have great attitudes and are positive about being out here."

Utilities craftsmen operate, maintain and repair water collection, supply and treatment plants and systems as well as wastewater treatment plants and systems. In addition, they perform analysis on water and wastewater samples to monitor compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Utilities craftsmen must be knowledgeable in multiple areas such as repairing, maintaining and replacing washers, valve seats, leaking faucets and interior and exterior water and sewer lines and mains. Duties may vary from day-to-day. They might find themselves unclogging drains, commodes, sinks and traps one day and operating backflow prevention devices, natural gas distribution systems and fire suppression systems on another.

"I enjoy the diversity of the tasks; they are never repetitive and the job never gets old," said Sergeant Young, a native of Greenfield, Iowa. Before becoming as an utilities craftsmen, Sergeant Young decided to join the Air Force for travel and educational opportunities. Now, after seven years of an active duty commitment, Sergeant Young has decided to make the Air Force a career. "I love my job."

Back to the task at hand, after about 20 minutes the water was spent from the truck and the sewer resumed its normal flow down to the Lompoc Wastewater Treatment Plant. The team retracted the jetter truck's hose and replaced the manhole cover.

"They are doing what most people wouldn't even consider doing," said Colonel Boltz. "Their job is one that goes unnoticed or is underappreciated until people need them. However, when called upon, these guys unhesitatingly come out and do what they need to do to get things moving again. They are real professionals at what they do."