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Depot field team braves Alaska weather to perform radome maintenance

Sun, wind and clouds surround the long range radar radome at the top of Towak Mountain, Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 26, 2017. The weather is the biggest factor that affects team members ability to accomplish their maintenance mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Sun, wind and clouds surround the long range radar radome at the top of Towak Mountain, Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 26, 2017. The weather is the biggest factor that affects team members ability to accomplish their maintenance mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

A marker outside the residential dome building reads, “Welcome to Paradise.”

A marker outside the residential dome building reads, “Welcome to Paradise.” Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1984 and located near the center of Cape Romanzof, Alaska, the two-story dome, along with a maintenance dome, have sixteen bedrooms, kitchen, library, lounge and recreation room, fitness room, two laundry rooms, dining/common area and several offices and storage rooms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Depot field team members hold a production strategy meeting with Hal Olmstead and Bobby Gamsby in the residential dome common area at Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 28, 2017. Inclement weather conditions during the day prevented the team from reaching the radome. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Depot field team members hold a production strategy meeting with Hal Olmstead and Bobby Gamsby in the residential dome common area at Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 28, 2017. Inclement weather conditions during the day prevented the team from reaching the radome. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Jim Egbert vacuums up water thatcollected around the base ring bolts at Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 26, 2017. Base ring bolt are checked during each maintenance visit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Jim Egbert vacuums up water thatcollected around the base ring bolts at Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 26, 2017. Base ring bolt are checked during each maintenance visit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Justin Cevering, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector, uses a "man lift" to reach the top of the 50-foot-high radome structure on Sep. 26, 2017, at Cape Romanzof, Alaska. Bolts holding the structure together have to be checkedand often requires the use of ladders and lifts to reach them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Justin Cevering, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector, uses a "man lift" to reach the top of the 50-foot-high radome structure on Sep. 26, 2017, at Cape Romanzof, Alaska. Bolts holding the structure together have to be checkedand often requires the use of ladders and lifts to reach them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Justin Cevering, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector, uses a newly installed rope to repel down the side of a satellite communications radome at Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 27, 2017. Ropes are secured to the tops of the radomes and allow inspectors to climb onto radome exteriors to perform maintenance. 
(U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Justin Cevering, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector, uses a newly installed rope to repel down the side of a satellite communications radome at Cape Romanzof, Alaska, on Sep. 27, 2017. Ropes are secured to the tops of the radomes and allow inspectors to climb onto radome exteriors to perform maintenance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Upon landing and roll out, the chartered aircraft arrives at the northeast end of Cape Romanzof’s runway on Sep. 25, 2017, where everyone is greeted by the long range radar sites cold, windy and overcast conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Upon landing and roll out, the chartered aircraft arrives at the northeast end of Cape Romanzof’s runway on Sep. 25, 2017, where everyone is greeted by the long range radar sites cold, windy and overcast conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Rime ice forms as cold, moist air is blown across the radome perimeter catwalk at Cape Romanzof on Sep. 26, 2017. This is one example of weather related conditions that make maintenance so difficult in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Rime ice forms as cold, moist air is blown across the radome perimeter catwalk at Cape Romanzof on Sep. 26, 2017. This is one example of weather related conditions that make maintenance so difficult in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

A chartered Cessna Conquest II aircraft flies over the Tordrillo Mountain Range on Sep. 25, 2017, on its way to Cape Romanzof, Alaska. Below the aircraft is Triumvirate Glacier and in the distance (top right) are the mountains Foraker and North America’s highest mountain, Denali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

A chartered Cessna Conquest II aircraft flies over the Tordrillo Mountain Range on Sep. 25, 2017, on its way to Cape Romanzof, Alaska. Below the aircraft is Triumvirate Glacier and in the distance (top right) are the mountains Foraker and North America’s highest mountain, Denali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

At Cape Romanzof, Alaska, depot field tream members start their day early inside the LRRS radome, on Sep. 26, 2017. The weather breaks long enough to view a beautiful sunrise over the Alaska interior. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
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At Cape Romanzof, Alaska, depot field tream members start their day early inside the LRRS radome, on Sep. 26, 2017. The weather breaks long enough to view a beautiful sunrise over the Alaska interior. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Jim Egbert, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector, loads a large container of supplies on Sep. 25, 2017 in Anchorage, Alaska, into the bed of a pickup truck. This container and other equipment, are prepositioned in a local storage unit to ensure they are available when needed and can be transported to any site in Alaska. . (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
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Jim Egbert, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector, loads a large container of supplies on Sep. 25, 2017 in Anchorage, Alaska, into the bed of a pickup truck. This container and other equipment, are prepositioned in a local storage unit to ensure they are available when needed and can be transported to any site in Alaska. . (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron depot field team members Jim Egbert, Justin Cevering and Wayne Howard depart Anchorage, Alaska, on Sep. 25, 2017, in a chartered Cessna Conquest II aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
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526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron depot field team members Jim Egbert, Justin Cevering and Wayne Howard depart Anchorage, Alaska, on Sep. 25, 2017, in a chartered Cessna Conquest II aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Sean Fenderson, ARCTEC services technician, chops asparagus in preparation for the evening meal on Sep. 27, 2017. The North Pole, Alaska, resident has worked at most radar sites operated by ARCTEC during his five year employment and is on his second assignment to Cape Romanzof. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
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Sean Fenderson, ARCTEC services technician, chops asparagus in preparation for the evening meal on Sep. 27, 2017. The North Pole, Alaska, resident has worked at most radar sites operated by ARCTEC during his five year employment and is on his second assignment to Cape Romanzof. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

Wayne Howard, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector and team lead, uses a torque wrench to tighten bolts that hold the radomes fiberglass panels together at Cape Romanzof, Alaska on Sep. 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
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Wayne Howard, 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron plastic fabricator inspector and team lead, uses a torque wrench to tighten bolts that hold the radomes fiberglass panels together at Cape Romanzof, Alaska on Sep. 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

CAPE ROMANZOF, Alaska -- For most of us, getting to work means waking up, showering, maybe some breakfast, then dealing with traffic on a drive of 30 minute or less, and finally, waiting in a long line at a base entrance.

For 10 plastic fabricator inspectors in the 309th Electronics Maintenance Group, it’s anything but normal when they leave home for work.

These highly skilled workers are responsible for maintaining mission critical radar radomes around the world.

Most often in groups of three, they make up what is known as a “depot field team” and it routinely takes them two or more days to arrive at their duty location. For example, in Alaska, most radar sites are located in remote areas that are only accessible by aircraft and can only be flown in to and out of when weather conditions permit.

Other than the continental United States, locations they routinely travel to include Hawaii, Alaska, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Azores, Diego Garcia, Greenland, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Ascension Islands and Kwajalein Atoll.

“We are normally away from home seven to ten months of the year, so much so that we have be-come a little family,” said Wayne Howard, depot field team lead. “I spend more time with other team members than I do with my own family.”

Howard, along with Jim Egbert and Justin Cevering, recently completed a twelve-day assignment to Cape Romanzof Long Range Radar Site, Alaska, which is home to one of fifteen long range radars located throughout the state.

Cape Romanzof is classified as a coastal radar site and is located in a narrow valley next to the Bering Sea. It became operational in 1953 and was originally built and maintained by the U.S. Air Force as part of the Alaska Aircraft Control and Warning Radar System during the Cold War.

The site covers an area mostly 1,000 feet wide and stretches roughly 5 miles long from a rocky beach on its southwestern edge to the radar site at its farthest northeastern point.

This site and fourteen other LRRS locations are now managed and operated by Anchorage-based ARCTEC, and depending on the radar site, are manned by one-to-four technicians at each location. Positions include a station technician, station mechanic and a services technician.

On the team’s recent visit, getting to Cape Romanzof included an early Sunday morning flight departure from Salt Lake International Airport to Seattle, Washington, and then, an additional flight to Anchorage, Alaska, followed by an overnight hotel stay.

Monday morning included several stops to ensure all necessary supplies and equipment were gathered and then properly loaded onboard a small chartered twin engine Cessna Conquest II aircraft for a two-hour flight that crossed some of the most beautiful landscape in North America.

The flight afforded the team an opportunity to view magnifient glaciers and the highest snow covered mountain in North America known as Denali.

Upon reaching Cape Romanzof, the small aircraft made a very tight and bouncy approach under extremely low overcast and windy conditions, to an uphill 3,955 foot long landing area on a dirt and gravel road barely wide enough to be called a runway.

The day’s tight schedule allowed the team just enough time to offload the supplies and equipment, along with personal bags, and settle in to their base camp living accommodations before eating the 5 p.m. evening meal that had been prepared by ARCTEC service technician, Sean Fenderson.

Combined, the three men have 27-years’ experience as field members and during that time have amassed more than 500 assignments to radome sites worldwide.

“It isn’t a vacation when we travel to the different sites. Most people would be quite surprised to see where we go, especially in Alaska,” Egbert said.

The team’s adventures continued Tuesday morning before dawn, when station chief/technician, Max Jones, provided a white-knuckle experience driving up 2,300 feet to the top of Towak Mountain on a steep, narrow twisting road that seemed to disappear at times due to heavy fog and low-hanging clouds that were being blown around by the never-ending strong winds.

At the end of the road was the destination the team had spent the last two days to reach and now they could accomplish the precarious duties they had traveled so long and far to begin.

Duties included repairing the radomes fiberglass panels and calking along the panel seams, using a torque wrench to tighten bolts that holds the radome structure together and if weather permits, climbing and rappelling on the outside of the dome to apply a new coat of a specialized methyl methacrylate paint.

526th Electronics Maintenance Squadron director, Hal Olmstead and Bobby Gamsby, Aerospace Dominance Enabler Division, C2ISR Branch product support manager, accompanied the team to Cape Romanzof to witness and gain a better understanding of what depot field team members experience and logistic challenges faced during a site visit.

“Our maintainers are well trained and proficient in their duties; however, we need to look closely at maintenance workloads so that we can balance our work schedules with the available short Alaska weather window to accomplished all the work that is needed at the different sites,” Olmstead said.

Common during most months in Alaska are high winds, combined with cold temperatures, fog and low clouds that create a working environment that can destroy equipment and make it impossible to complete all necessary maintenance on the radomes.

“I’m very impressed with the relationships that have been formed between our team members and ARCTEC, along with many different businesses in Anchorage and the U. S. Air Force’s Transportation Management Office that together provide year-round logistics support to all the statewide locations,” Gamsby said.

After completing this challenging 12-day assignment, team members filed their temporary duty paperwork and immediately began preparations for their next assignment to what they hope will be a location that is warm and dry.