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NDI Airmen make aircraft safe

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ronald Anazco from the 108th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection (NDI) shop looks at cracks seen on a KC-135 Stratotanker part during a training session at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., April 22, 2017. NDI airmen have a variety of technological techniques at their disposal, from fluorescent penetrant to magnetic particle and eddy current testing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ronald Anazco from the 108th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection (NDI) shop looks at cracks seen on a KC-135 Stratotanker part during a training session at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., April 22, 2017. NDI airmen have a variety of technological techniques at their disposal, from fluorescent penetrant to magnetic particle and eddy current testing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ronald Anazco from the 108th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection (NDI) shop looks at cracks seen on a KC-135 Stratotanker part during a training session at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., April 22, 2017. NDI airmen have a variety of technological techniques at their disposal, from fluorescent penetrant to magnetic particle and eddy current testing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ronald Anazco from the 108th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection (NDI) shop looks at cracks seen on a KC-135 Stratotanker part during a training session at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., April 22, 2017. NDI airmen have a variety of technological techniques at their disposal, from fluorescent penetrant to magnetic particle and eddy current testing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Under the cover of darkness, airmen from the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 108th Wing nondestructive inspection (NDI) shop pour water and shine ultraviolet lights over magnetized aircraft parts, looking for imperfections or cracks with careful eyes. Finding something might mean saving an aircraft, and more importantly, saving lives.

“I love what I do,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Suarez, NDI noncommissioned officer in charge.

NDI airmen have a variety of technological techniques at their disposal, from fluorescent penetrant to magnetic particle and eddy current testing. Their shops looks less like an Air Force office and more like a mad scientist’s laboratory.

Suarez, with 6 years experience in the military, feels that the different challenges make being in NDI exciting.

“You’re always going to find something different every time,” said Suarez. “No two inspections are ever the same, it keeps us on our toes.”

While many maintenance jobs have a more linear process, NDI constantly requires airmen to be challenged in how they approach a job.

“I enjoy the problem solving,” said Senior Airman Ronald Anazco, who’s been with the 108th Wing for eight months. “There’s no one way to do something, sometimes we have to try different methods and think outside the box.”

NDI airmen do everything from scheduled inspections to special cases such as bird strikes.

“If someone suspects a crack we’ll have to go out there and improvise, we have the technical orders that set our general parameters, but when we get out there we have to determine the best way to inspect and figure out whether it’s cracked or not,” said Suarez.

For these NDI airmen, their profession is more than just a job; it’s a passion.

Honestly, for me, it’s awesome,” said Suarez. “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little kid. I come in here now knowing how I inspect and how I interpret defects can really make or break a situation. If I do it the wrong way, it can really impact lives.”

Anazco reflected for a moment, and cited his early days in the Air Force as the roots to what NDI is all about.

“In the military, starting from basic training they instill in you attention to detail, and one of the key things in our job is to be attentive to what we’re doing,” said Anazco. “If we give less than 100%, and slip up, it can cost us equipment, an aircraft, and lives.”

Being in NDI has also given these airmen a great appreciation for the complexity of the KC-135 Stratotankers they service.

“Next thing you know, there’s a part coming into your shop that you’ve never see before, and it can be such a small part, but it can have such a great importance to that aircraft,” said Suarez. “There’s a wow factor when you’re inspecting major components of an aircraft that refuels others to keep them in the fight.”

“It’s a great feeling coming to work every day and enjoying it, and knowing I’m making a difference,” said Suarez.