AVON PARK AIR FORCE RANGE, Fla. --
Five Airmen bump around in the cabin of their Humvee as the tires make tracks in the unpaved dirt road they’re traveling on. Without warning they begin to skid; careening from side-to-side until the driver is able to safely bring the vehicle to a complete stop.
What caused the Humvee to act that way? Only one of the more than 125 Airmen in the 822d Base Defense Squadron can answer that question, because he’s the only vehicle maintainer.
The 822d BDS completed their Mission Readiness Exercise March 2 to 14, at Avon Park Air Force Range, Fla., where they utilized 26 vehicles and gave him a taste of what a deployment with the 822d BDS could be like.
“It’s a busy job,” said Staff Sgt. Joel Kirtley, 822d BDS NCO in charge of vehicular equipment. “Without vehicles, troops don’t move which means missions go unaccomplished. If generators don’t work, the Tactical Operation Center goes down and there’s no communication.
“We’ve got 17 Humvees out here, they can't do their job without them,” said Kirtley. “Being one deep, I’m pretty critical to getting day-to-day operations done but there’s not a lot of rest because I’m on call 24/7.”
As the 822d’s only vehicle maintainer, Kirtley is responsible for anything with a motor, from Humvees, to golf carts and generators.
“I gauge how well I’m doing by whether or not the mission gets done,” said Kirtley. “If they’re able to go out and complete the mission without towing the truck back, I consider it a job well done. If the Tactical Operation Center stays powered up, I’m doing a good job.”
During the 822d’s MRX, Kirtley was responsible for 26 vehicles, so keeping up repairs on all of the equipment he’s responsible for makes his job tough, but planning ahead for the problems he sees often helps him thin the herd.
“Tires, transmissions, power steering pumps are all common things I see go wrong,” said Kirtley. “We try to bring spare parts and fluids but a lot of it ends up being field fixes, so safety wire and duct tape is my best friend.
“We’ve had a few things go wrong with the generators,” said Kirtley. “Some unforeseeable small fixes with Humvees. It’s real-world issues, you can’t tell when a transmission is about to give out or when bolts are going to shear off; you find a way to field fix it and you get it done.”
While there are many people and jobs that help the 822d BDS accomplish its mission, Kirtley’s niche is critical to their success.
“At home station, he’s responsible for keeping this equipment ready to deploy,” said Master Sgt. Sanford Gschwend, 822d BDS superintendent of logistics and readiness. “When we get on the ground, he keeps them up and operational. On average, he’s getting three to four hours of sleep a night but that’s his work ethic, if something needs to be done, he’ll sleep later.”
As Kirtley’s boss, Gschwend knows the ins and outs of what Kirtley does and how hard he works.
“It’s frustrating for me because there’s only one of him and I don’t know enough about [the mechanical side] to help him, so I end up watching him work,” added Gschwend. “The only other person I’d put in Kirtley’s position is Kirtley, he’s an awesome Airman.”
The support Kirtley gets from the Airmen he helps empowers him to push through the fatigue and get his mission done.
“Since I’m the only mechanic and there’s so many vehicles I do get a lot of face time with the Airmen,” said Kirtley. “They know me and they know I’m here to help them do their job.”
Throughout the exercise various missions and scenarios were thrown at the 822d BDS to test their ability to adapt and overcome as a team. While generators went down and vehicles had malfunctions, Kirtley completed every task he could to ensure the rest of the team could get the job done.
“My favorite part about this job is seeing them accomplish their mission and knowing I’m the battery that drives it,” said Kirtley.