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Vehicle maintenance keeps 'em rolling on base

by by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt Staff Writer

Photo by: Nick Stubbs
Senior Airman Eddie Ortega is working on a humvee in the maintenance garage.

Keeping MacDill's nearly 600 vehicles on the road is a big job, but the men and women of vehicle maintenance answer the calls daily - whether with the benefit of power tools and computerized testing equipment in the base garage or spit and chewing gum in the field.

From ensuring the base commander's car doesn't stall at stop signs to intense overnight repairs to specialized flight-line vehicles to ensure the success of a mission, the 45 members of maintenance are in perpetual motion.

"If you want to see people working, you can always come here," said Senior Master Sgt. Steven Tudor, vehicle maintenance manager. "It's pretty much nonstop."

The shop currently enjoys a slight surplus in personnel, with the roster at 54, said Lt. Todd Tilford, operations officer for maintenance, which, under the reorganization last year is now part of the Logistics Readiness Squadron. All of them stay busy, particularly now, as vehicles and equipment are being deployed on a regular basis.

Preparing vehicles for inhospitable environments like the desert requires a good deal of care, said Master Sgt. Dwayne Bunner, who recently returned from overseas. Sand, heat and the rigors of the desert test man and machine alike.

When it comes to orders to deploy vehicles, Bunner said great care is taken before equipment goes on a plane.

"We pick out our best, and that's what goes out," he said.

Actually, there is a good deal of pride in keeping the so-called junk on the road, at least for the mechanics of this element.

Among the most-important vehicles maintained are flight-line emergency trucks like the P-23 crash vehicles, fire trucks, refueling vehicles and cargo loading vehicles like the K-Loaders used to lift equipment onto planes.

Tilford points out that, at times, repairing these mission-critical vehicles is the difference between success and failure. He points to one recent instance in which crews worked around the clock for 48 hours to repair a P-23 Crash Vehicle. By working full-tilt and rotating mechanics in and out until the job was done, the mission was preserved, said Tilford.

The maintenance shop offers "bumper-to-bumper" service, said Tudor, including a body shop that handles dents and dings to complete paint jobs. The shop maintains an estimated $24 million in vehicles and other motorized equipment. A good many vehicles from the 1980s are among them, along with a few dating from the 1970s.

With a full 39 percent of vehicles on base "beyond their life expectancy," but still rolling along, it's apparent the shop is doing something right.

"We can keep them running," said Tudor. "That's what we do here."

But even the best mechanics are not magicians, and Tilford, Tudor and Bunner agree those who take the best care of their vehicles reap the benefits of reliability and better life expectancy of their machines.




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