Confessions of an Air Force Base Overhead Crane Technician

Long waits at the gate. Background check. Passport. Full-truck inspection. ZERO photographs. Sound familiar? Then you have probably done contract work for the U.S. Government at a large base or installation. Gaining access and performing work on these locations is quite a unique experience that creates many storytelling opportunities.

Midwest City, Oklahoma has been the home to Tinker Air Force Base since its inception in 1941. A critical part of central Oklahoma’s workforce and economy, TAFB encompasses nearly 9 square miles and employs approximately 26,000 military members and civilians. It goes without saying that security is paramount. I have personally enjoyed a contractor gate entrance that included a 3-hour wait time. All vehicles are required to be fully inspected. This includes under the hood, under the chassis, in the cab, all compartments, all tool boxes. Good times! The base isn’t without its own sui generis history – which includes the first successful tornado forecast in history, the production of the bulk of WWII’s C-47 Skytrains, and TAFB’s Officer’s Club provided the space for the recording of 4 Buddy Holly and The Crickets songs in 1957!

Finding your way around an area that contains 760 buildings of a combined 15,000,000 SQFT poses its own challenges. With the proper badging and access, WITHOUT a trailer, one can utilize multiple gates for entry and exit. All of the gates have their own hours and requirements. Being inexperienced in your surroundings is all it takes to burn chunks of precious job time. Fortunately, there are many skilled GCs that oversee all of the base’s projects. They keep close tabs on the bodies in and out of their areas and are knowledgeable to timeframes and locations of the mass exodus that is a shift change.

You learn quickly that safety is priority number one in all work areas. Signage is clearly displayed of PPE requirements in all areas. One day, during an install, we were given warning of a live “active shooter drill.” Yeah. No joke. Aimed for realism, there are apparently occasional, random shooter drills that include masked gunmen with rifles and handguns containing blank rounds and even flashbangs! Unfortunately, our day was complete before the drill took place. The warning almost never came which would have been more than interesting. Trying to service an overhead crane through gunfire and masked assailants from 15 feet in the air in a scissor lift taken by entire surprise would have been quite an experience to write home about!

Hungry for heart palpitating adventures in a labyrinth guarded by highly trained and armed security forces? I suggest you volunteer your services the next time Air Force Base work is offered.

Published with permission from Tinker Air Force Base, Midwest City, OK

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