When Springfield, Ill., Local 51 member Tim Burkhart, was deployed to Afghanistan he probably didn't think he'd be called on to use his IBEW training to save the day, but that's what happened.
|Springfield, Ill., Local 51 member Tim Burkhart used his IBEW skills to restore power to his base in Afghanistan.
"It was very gratifying to be able to help," said Burkhart, a journeyman lineman and guardsman with the U.S. Air Force. "We were definitely the heroes for a couple days at the camp."
In July 2020, a total power system failure occurred at Camp Stevenson in Afghanistan, creating a potentially serious situation. The base was completely mission ineffective and at risk of losing critical base defense systems and medical supplies. Fortunately, Burkhart was there, as well as another guardsman who also had electrical experience, Lt. Matt Denault.
The power had been off for about four hours when Army staff woke up Burkhart and his fellow guardsman to help. Using his IBEW training, Burkhart says they started at the source and then worked their way downstream until they found where the problem was and began troubleshooting the specific issue.
It turned out the transfer switch control panel didn't have power because of faulty batteries. It had been overlooked by the contractor because the rack itself had a generic voltmeter falsely showing good voltage on the batteries. All in all, it took them about an hour to troubleshoot the issue and then another hour to swap out all the batteries.
"Everyone was shocked that we were able to quickly identify the problem and get the power back on so fast," said Burkhart who is now back in Illinois and working for utility company Ameren. "Situations like this are what make guardsmen unique. We bring so much more to the fight than our primary duties in the military."
Burkhart, who served in Afghanistan for nine months as a technical sergeant and joint terminal attack controller, says the base mechanic may have been a little embarrassed about the situation but was ultimately grateful for their expertise.
"It shows how valuable good quality training is regardless of where you may find yourself putting those skills to use," Burkhart said. "The IBEW, like the Air Force, has very high standards and strives for excellence in everything we do. The mission comes first overseas, just like when storms and outages hit stateside. Linemen go to work and do what it takes to ensure safe restoration to all customers."
While power outages on a base are relatively common, Burkhart says they are rarely as long as the one he experienced. And if they hadn't been able to solve the problem, it would have been days before a contractor would have been able to get to the base. In fact, Burkhart and Denault were awarded commander's coins, which are given by senior leadership to show appreciation for an exceptional job done on the spot, and Army Achievement Medals.
"I couldn't be prouder of Brother Burkhart's dedication and service to our country and the IBEW. Tim is a great example of the level of training and ability that the IBEW provides and helped end an event that could have jeopardized lives in that region of conflict," said Local 51 Business Representative Jed Dooley. "I am truly proud to know Tim and appreciate all he and his fellow servicemen and women do to ensure our freedoms."