JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
It was 6 p.m. Friday evening, dark and quiet, as the final trickle of dayshift workers from Joint Base Charleston climbed into their cars and headed home. Meanwhile, a father and his two children entered a building on the Air Base flightline to join his wife and their mother for her "lunch" break.
The building, an industrial facility housing aircraft ground equipment, had been cleared out earlier in the day. In place of heavy machinery stood a long line of tables, loaded with 20 or more platters--a full Thanksgiving meal.
It was here that Senior Airman Kody Becker, an aerospace reclamation technician with the 437th Maintenance Squadron, and his two sons, joined Airman 1st Class Nicole Pieper, 437th MXS home station check, and the rest of the 437 MXS "swing-shift" crew, for their unit celebration. Pieper, who just returned from a deployment to Qatar, would take the children home soon thereafter, as Becker returned to maintain airplanes until 11:30 p.m.
Pieper's family wasn't the only one to join this non-standard celebration. Maj Brian Clark, the commander of 437 MXS, enjoyed the meal with his wife, Leslie, and their four children. Clark helped organize the meal to recognize his Airmen and civilians on swing-shift, whose accomplishments, he said, often go unnoticed.
"I think taking the time to recognize what these guys do at night is key because so many times they are kind of forgotten," Clark said. "They're the off-shift; everybody else, including leadership, is sleeping and they're here [working]."
Yet it is not just the time of day that limits maintainers recognition, Clark said, but also their manner of work: quietly, in the background.
"What a lot of people don't realize, outside the gate, is that maintainers are here 24/7/365," he said. "There's not holiday that they're not here; there's not a shift that they're not here. When you see a C-17 flying out and about, or whatever airframe, a maintainer put it there."
When we think "holidays," we often think "family time." We are sensitive to the ways in which deployments hinder that family time, but, as a group of non-commissioned officers at the MXS event explained, so too does night shift.
"Honestly, you don't really see [your family] that much," said Tech. Sgt. Nolan Gibson, 437 MXS Home Station Check section chief. "When I get home at midnight, I'll go up to the room and check on them--kiss my girls, make sure my son is still breathing. But that's the only time that you really see them, unless you wake up in the morning."
As Gibson explained, the ritual of getting ready for school provides his only interaction with his children during the week, making weekends especially precious, he said.
Even so, the Airmen find creative ways to spend time with families, whether during the holidays or throughout the year.
SSgt Jamie Rose, 437 MXS aerospace craftsman, gets up for a couple hours in the morning to spend time with his 10-month-old daughter, while his wife does errands, before returning to sleep.
"You have to work out a good plan with your significant other," Rose said. "Communication is key."
Staff Sgt. Jerrel Futrell, an aerospace journeyman with the 437 MXS, travels home during his hour-long lunch break--a 15-minute drive each way--to get his children ready for bed. Though short, this time provides their only interaction during the week, he said.
In the case of these maintainers, shared challenges enhance camaraderie.
"For those who have family and kids here, we're all very understanding. We know what someone might be going through, so we always have someone to lean on and ask for advice," said Rose.
As for military spouses, Leslie Clark shared what she has done during her husband's 18-year career to celebrate the holidays when he is away.
"I keep things as normal as possible, just like it is every year, so the kids know 'Hey, Christmas time is coming; here's what we do. Thanksgiving is coming; we have sweet potato casserole every year, the same little rolls, the same kind of turkey--we try to [keep things] the same,'" she said.
Meals like the one that night in the maintenance facility provide a forum for family time and team building. They are a traditional aspect of military life.