Wake Island Airfield, MID-PACIFIC --
Air Force jobs run nearly the entire occupational spectrum, including every trade from piloting to carpentry to logistics. The men and women of the 611th Air Support Squadron Quality Assurance team sum all of those occupations and add another: running an island.
On June 11, the QA team finished a 10-day assessment of Wake Island, 3,600 miles southwest of Anchorage and roughly 2,300 miles west of Honolulu across the international dateline.
The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson-based team travels 12 times a year to some of the Air Force’s smallest and most far-flung outposts for quality-assurance visits for two major contracts, said Tech. Sgt. Connie Araiza, QA team chief for the 611th ASUS.
For this contract, the team ensures the military sees results during a seven-year, $185-million deal for support of Wake Island and two other remote sites.
On less tropical inspections, the team reviews facilities on Shemya Island near the tip of the Aleutian island chain – itself nearly 1,500 miles southwest of Anchorage -- and a dozen other remote radar sites scattered throughout America’s largest state.
The QA inspection is a process of several days, with Air Force technicians scrutinizing the processes, equipment and records of their respective areas of expertise in work contracted out to private entities, per Defense Department policy descriptions.
"We ensure the contractor complies with the performance work statement," Araiza said, stacking contractor performance against required results and past reports.
"There are checklists for each section, which we’ll add to, flesh out or adjust for better results and quality of life for both [the service and the contractor]."
Nearly 32 different Air Force specialty codes are represented on the team, tasked with inspecting every aspect of the contractor’s work on the island.
"The [performance work statement] has to balance Air Force, [Department of Defense] and federal regulations with the systems and access limitations of the civilian world," said 2nd Lt. McKenzie James, QA flight commander.
"Repeat findings," or issues identified with the contractor’s work or the contract itself, James said, "can either highlight poor performance or the need to identify areas where the regulations don’t adequately cover the task."
On a base with the remoteness and complicated lineage of ownership like Wake – uninhabited until the 1930s, then run by the Department of the Navy and Pan-American Airways, then the site of a fierce land, sea and air battle and occupied by the Japanese for nearly all of World War II, then handed to the Federal Aviation Administration, all before winding up in the custody of a series of Air Force units -- tracing responsibility for problems and arriving at solutions for fixing them is a constant, gradually churning process of accountability, verification and action.
The team talks through potential issues, how to classify them and how to remedy them, then program managers wed reasons for fixes and changes to applicable Air Force and other regulations, James said.
The QA is a thorough review of all the bureaucratic, managerial, technical and logistical elements of governing and sustaining an island.
A four-person detachment from the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center, the parent unit of the 611th ASUS, keeps government communications, engineering and operations support afloat on the Wake atoll. Chugach Federal Services, Inc., a division of Chugach Alaska Corporation, one of the Alaska’s 13 Regional Native Corporations, performs the remainder of the work on the island.
"The team runs through a series of checklists governing every element of living life and accomplishing the mission on the island," Araiza said.
That means verifying that the civilian custodians of Wake Island are maintaining the runways, the safety of power and water systems, the structural integrity of buildings and the maintenance of vehicles and communications equipment, among other functions.
The team is used to long flights, tiny islands, and long-distance phone calls, Araiza said, working essentially as the executive
enforcement arm of a special contracting unit at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
The tiny size of Wake Island -- just shy of three square miles of land -- belies the complexity of its upkeep and operations.
The CFSI contractors and Air Force members represent the bulk of the roughly 50-person labor force, but a handful of DoD Agencies maintain programs and assets on the island: the Missile Defense Agency runs a set of launch sites and storage facilities for equipment such as the Army’s THAAD missile launchers, while the Defense Threat Reduction Agency monitors for atmospheric and seismic evidence of nuclear launch tests and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency monitors tidal patterns and sea levels.
The QA team returns to Anchorage Saturday after the arrival of the Wake atoll’s newest senior military representative, an Air Force captain. They’ll soon pack their bags for other missions later this summer, linking them to units and locations throughout the Pacific.
No unit is an island, after all.