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Keeping the wing ready

Senior Airman Mario Lopez, 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, stores M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. Lopez is assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Senior Airman Mario Lopez, 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, stores M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. Lopez is assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Staff Sgt. Janette J. Sheppard, 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, stores M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. Sheppard is assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Staff Sgt. Janette J. Sheppard, 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, stores M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. Sheppard is assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Senior Airman Mario Lopez, front, and Staff Sgt. Janette J. Sheppard, both with the 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, store M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. Lopez and Sheppard are assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Senior Airman Mario Lopez, front, and Staff Sgt. Janette J. Sheppard, both with the 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, store M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. Lopez and Sheppard are assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Senior Airman Mario Lopez, 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, stores M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. The M50, which provides more than 24 hours of protection against chemical or biological agents and radioactive particulate matter, is an integral part of an Airman’s ability to survive and operate in hostile environments. Lopez is assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Senior Airman Mario Lopez, 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron, stores M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks after they were fit tested at the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2016. The M50, which provides more than 24 hours of protection against chemical or biological agents and radioactive particulate matter, is an integral part of an Airman’s ability to survive and operate in hostile environments. Lopez is assigned to the mobility section, which is part of the Material Management Flight, assigned to the squadron. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst -- Walking into the 108th's warehouse, you can't help but think of the ending of the Raiders of the Lost Ark where Ark of the Covenant disappears into the bowels of the unnamed government storehouse.

I mention this to Staff Sgt. Janette J. Sheppard and Senior Airman Mario Lopez and they laugh. Both Airmen are assigned to the Individual Protective Equipment Section (Mobility), which is part of the Material Management Flight with the 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Instead of the Ark, they are returning M50 joint service general purpose masks to the warehouse after they had been fit tested. The gas masks are just one component of the many items that Mobility is responsible for.

"We stock just over 23,000 mobility items," said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Di Ambrosio, superintendent, Material Management Flight.

Mobility provides 108th Airmen both training and real world gear - equipment that is sent with an Airman when he or she deploys. For mobility purposes, this includes everything from chemical warfare gear like gas masks to cold weather gear and individual protective equipment, which includes web gear, body armor and helmets, as well as M4 carbines, M16 rifles and M9 pistols.

All that equipment occupies a lot of space, which for the Air Force is both costly and at a premium.

Fortunately today's warehouse are a far cry from the storehouses of years past.

Gone are the rows of shelves that stretch on forever. Gone also are the immense buildings with their large floor space footprint necessary to store all the items that a wing needs.
Instead, they have been replaced with mobile shelving mounted on trackways. The shelves can be packed together when not in use, but can be easily opened to gain access unlike the old individual fixed shelf system of the past.

It also means that tracking each of the 23,000 individual items and finding them in the warehouse is that much easier.

"The majority of our chemical gear does have a service/shelf life," said Di Ambrosio.  "These items are tracked monthly to ensure our 'Real World' gear is always serviceable and ready to be deployed with our members at a moment's notice."

This gear includes M50 gas masks, joint service lightweight integrated suit technology suits, over boots, chemical gloves, M295 decontamination kits, M8 paper and M9 tape, just to name a few. That makes it is necessary to be able to track down and replace the gear so if there is a real world emergency, gear that has expired is not being issued to a deploying Airman.

Sheppard and Lopez move the hand truck to the mobility section of the warehouse where the gas masks are stored. Each cluster of shelves are like those found in a library, and because they are in alphabetical order, it is just a matter of locating the open spot on the shelf where the gas mask came from and putting it back.

In less than 10 minutes, all the gas masks have been returned to their locations and Sheppard and Lopez return to their office.

The lesson from this story: If the Ark is in there, it will be relatively easy to find.