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Cannon after dark: Night life with the 20th AMU

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shelby Kay-Fantozzi
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Editor’s note: this is the first in a series of features on 27th Special Operations Wing Air Commandos who work through the night. These Airmen embody the Air Force Special Operations Command vision: Air Commandos…Ready today, Relevant Tomorrow, Resilient Always.

Long after dark on Cannon’s flight line, a familiar scene unfolds: a CV-22 Osprey, streaked with the dust of a long night’s training mission, points its rotors at the sky and lowers onto the concrete with a deceptively light touch.

The aircraft taxis to its home for the night and powers down, the sparkle of its rotors’ static electricity disappearing from view in the pilots’ night vision goggles. The engines bow forward, the lights turn off and an aircrew emerges from the Osprey’s back ramp.

The fliers have successfully completed their night’s work. But for the 727th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s 20th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, the night has just begun.

This is mid-shift, the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. block of the night when the 20th AMU is at its busiest, according to Master Sgt. Harry Rodriguez, 727th SOAMXS production superintendent.

“Mid-shift is the money shift,” Rodriguez said. “It’s the time when our maintainers catch aircraft coming in from night flights, get things done and get the aircraft cleared to fly again by morning.”

Senior Airman Sean Vogel, an avionics technician with the 727th SOAMXS, agreed that the late hours offer a lot of work, but added that night is conducive to efficiency and teamwork.

“There are less distractions on mids,” said Vogel. “The team gets tight-knit; we work together well, and we work together fast. It makes the night just slide by.”

Vogel added that after surmounting the challenges of a nocturnal schedule, he prefers working after dark.

“Given the choice, I would take nights,” he said. “It’s the shift when we can really build some camaraderie and focus on getting the job done.”
Rodriguez noted that the shift brings a unique set of conditions both on the job and off.

“On shift, we have to pay closer attention to safety and to weather,” he said. “Equipment like a reflective belt becomes important when you’re working around planes in the dark. And we’ve seen some harsh nights here in the winter: the temperature drops way down, the wind kicks up, and you need the right gear to protect yourself in that situation.”

Off-time provides its own extra considerations, Vogel added.

“You invest in tin foil, in blackout curtains, whatever it takes,” he said. “Initially adjusting to the new schedule can be hard. Everyone has their own form of stress release for shifting to a different down time.”

Vogel, who uses exercise and a long cool-down to prepare for sleeping through the day, has successfully adjusted to the lifestyle of working the night shift.

“It’s crazy what the human body can adapt to,” Vogel said. “You become a night owl.”

Rodriguez and Vogel expressed that pride in a job well done brings all of the 20th AMU community—day and night—together.

“Day shift gets the pilots rolling, swing shift fixes urgent problems on the spot and mid shift makes sure everybody is ready to go the next day,” Vogel said. “Everybody’s an important gear in one machine.”