MISSION CRITICAL: Akima Keeps MacDill Air Force Base Running

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"I’ve spent 30 years in the Air Force and I don’t know of an Air Force base with a more important mission right now,” said Akima Project Manager Steven Hoarn.

Hoarn is talking about Florida’s MacDill Air Force Base, out of which operate two of the military’s highest profile commands — the United States Central Command, with responsibility for the Middle East, and the United States Special Operations Command.

Supporting these crucial missions are 150 Akima employees focused on keeping those important customers happy. Working for the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron, the Akima team cares for more than five million square feet of buildings and 32 million square feet of airfield on nearly 6,000 acres.

The team, part of Akima Facilities Management, LLC, provides facilities maintenance, repair and minor construction as well as design and construction management for large projects. Akima also provides important support services to MacDill, such as emergency and deployment management, environmental services, and energy and real estate management.

Along with its many duties on the base, Akima also has made it a priority to save its customers money by finding ways to improve services through innovative thinking and safe practices. It’s in this area — finding efficiencies — where Akima really shines.

A CITY IN ITSELF 

MacDill, in Tampa, Fla., is like a small city in itself, with 10,500 military personnel and 4,000 civilians working on the base. More than 16,000 of their dependents also use base services.

To help accomplish MacDill’s mission, 38 “mission partners” play an integral role at the Air Force base. These include the worldwide aircraft operations center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Joint Communications Support Element for all branches of service, and the American Red Cross. These commands are hosted by the 6th Air Mobility Wing, which provides aircraft for air refueling and airlifts around the world.

HIGHEST RATED CUSTOMER SERVICE

Hoarn and his Akima staff, nearly halfway in their seven-year contract at MacDill, keep a sharp focus on customer service. In their last performance report, they were rated “exceptional” — the highest rating.  Since Akima took over the contract, after-hours trouble calls dropped by nearly 80 percent.

With federal budgets tightening, a key component of customer service is identifying and implementing cost savings. Over the last year, the MacDill team has saved the Air Force more than $1.1 million and avoided costs in excess of $2.8 million over the remaining life of the contract.

WHERE RUBBER MEETS ROAD

MacDill is a busy airfield, with one runway and 11 taxiways. Each year an average of 16,000 aircraft land safely at MacDill. With just seven people in the heavy-equipment shop to maintain the airfield—as well as its 1.6 million square yards of roads and sidewalks, base signs, and fencing —finding efficiencies is crucial.

Akima found a way to save time and money in its runway rubber removal process. When airplanes tires hit the runway during landing, the friction causes the rubber to melt and spread into a thin film. Over time, buildup can make runways slick and dangerous. The Federal Aviation Administration has strict guidelines about how much rubber can accumulate before it must be removed.

Machines can measure the exact amount of rubber on the runway, but they are expensive. Akima acquired a surplus machine from another Air Force base, modified and upgraded it, and then certified several employees to use it.

Before the machine, maintenance staff walked the runway twice yearly to check for buildup hazards. Based on those inspections, they removed excess rubber by using chemicals and scrubbing with large brushes, which wore down the pavement.

Mounted on a truck, the machine measures every inch of the 11,000-foot-long runway. Using the equipment, Akima determined that the runway is operating within FAA friction guidelines and that rubber removal should occur about every 18 months rather than twice a year.

“This is absolutely saving money,” said Kevin Hudgins, heavy-equipment manager. “It not only helps the Air Force plan when to do the rubber removal work, but can let them know how good of a job was done.”

LIGHTNING, LIGHT BULB MOMENTS

Tampa has a subtropical climate. With 5.4 million square feet of occupied facilities at MacDill, one of Akima’s most important responsibilities is keeping the AC running — not only for the comfort of the people on base, but also for the 400,000 square feet of climate-controlled data centers housing sensitive computer and communications equipment. It’s a big job for the 13 mechanical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians in the shop.

Tampa’s humid climate can corrode metal quickly, and that keeps welder Krzysztof Grzelczyk busy. Grzelczyk designed and fabricated platforms that allow maintenance staff to safely access air conditioning equipment, and he crafted handles that make it easier to pull out the large chiller units for repairs. For these innovations, he received the Akima President’s Award for Safety last year.

IMPROVEMENTS BY LEAPS, BOUNDS

Akima maintains the security barriers and the 38 elevators on base — doing regular safety inspections and weight tests — as well as a variety of electric entry gates, hoists and rollup doors, said Pat Curry, special facilities supervisor.

Curry, who retired from the military in 2000, has been at MacDill since 1995. He’s in a new role with Akima, after working for the previous contractor. “Things turned around leaps and bounds since they took over the contract,” he said of Akima.

Akima has also generated savings through energy-management projects, large and small. Akima runs one on-base electric shop with 12 staff members.

 “As you do repairs, you look for opportunities for energy savings,” said Dave Carlisle, an electrician.  As part of this effort, Akima is changing all of the street lighting on the base to energy-sipping LED lighting.

TOP AIRFIELD DRIVERS PROGRAM

Wilfred Santiago runs the Airfield Drivers Program to train and certify people who operate vehicles on the runway. People authorized to drive on the flight line have to be fully certified by Santiago, whether they are Akima employees, military firefighters or other contractors. Such training helps prevent potentially costly and devastating workplace accidents.

Certification includes classroom training, online tests, night training and a daytime check ride. “One of the important things we teach are the correct phrases to use when communicating with the tower,” said Santiago, who has been at MacDill since 2002, working for the previous contractor as a driver and now as a QC specialist for Akima. “I love what I do with this company, and I love to teach,” he said.

The drivers program has been named as one of the best at MacDill, with three years of outstanding ratings.

MAKING MACDILL A HOME

Akima manages two warehouses at MacDill where supplies and furniture are storied for use by troops, personnel and their families.

For troops, Akima provides pillowcases, blankets, simple furnishings, appliances and lamps. If families need furniture, they can choose from the warehouse inventory. Akima staff schedule the delivery. “When personnel are transferred to the base, they are immediately caught up in their new duties and their spouses are left to make the house a home,” said warehouse manager Ronnie Souter.

Souter has been at MacDill since 1999 and with Akima since July 2010. “I enjoy my job as a supervisor,” Souter said. “I can’t say enough about the incredible people who work for me.”

LIGHTING UP THE SKY

One of Akima’s most visible projects is the 65-foot base Christmas tree. With 6,200 lights—white twinklers below and a multicolored star on top— it can be seen for miles by pilots flying in to MacDill. Originally the mast of a sailboat, the tree takes three people three days to put up and secure.

The tree-lighting ceremony includes a children’s choir and a special program for families. For those families, who hail from all over the world, getting in the holiday spirit in sunny Florida can be hard. “We take a lot of pride in that part of the job— the whole base, especially the little kids, really look forward to it each year,” said Carlisle, an electrician.

The Akima staff has even found a way to light the Christmas tree more efficiently. The old lighting system required $8,000 in maintenance expenses every three years. The team switched to LED lighting and not only passes on huge energy savings, but also avoids the task of replacing burned-out bulbs. With LED lighting, the tree now draws 45 amps instead of 200 amps, saving enough energy to run one of MacDill’s buildings for a year.

SHARING NANA’S VALUES

Many of Akima’s workers at MacDill are retired military, and they enjoy sharing their expertise with a company that shares their beliefs. “I spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, where our core values are integrity, excellence in all we do and service before self,” said project manager Hoarn. “Those values are very similar to the NANA values.”

Pride in a job well-done is a common theme when you talk to the Akima staff at MacDill. “Clearly, our success is a direct result of the quality of our employees here at MacDill AFB and the great support we receive every day from our parent company,” Hoarn said.

MacDill, with its vision to be America’s Best Wing, is more than an Air Force Base. And keeping MacDill running smoothly and efficiently is more than a job for Akima employees: It’s their mission.

For more information: http://www.akimafacmgmt.com/