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‘Dirt boys’ help keep Air Force planes flying
Airman Robert Clark, Class 09021, practices cutting metal, April 24, at TA 244 during Pavement and Equipment Apprentice Course. Airmen in the course spend 69 days learning how to operate everything from front-end loaders, road graders and bulldozers to backhoes, dumps trucks and skid steer loaders.
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'Dirt boys' help keep Air Force planes flying

Posted 7/30/2009   Updated 7/30/2009 Email story   Print story


by Allison Gipson
Fort Leonard Wood GUIDON staff

7/30/2009 - FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo.  -- Without the "dirt boys" in the United States Air Force, the mission to fly aircraft would be a lot harder. 

"Without us, that mission is not going to happen," said Air Force Master Sgt. Matt Perkins, Pavement and Equipments Apprentice course instructor supervisor. 

Airmen in the course spend 69 days learning how to operate everything from front-end loaders, road graders and bulldozers to backhoes, dumps trucks and skid steer loaders.
It might be safe to say, the dirt boys are a jacks of many trades when it comes to pavement and equipment. 

"When they come to Fort Leonard Wood, their first 21 days of training is nothing but ITRO (inter-service training) and that is nothing but equipment," said Air Force Master Sgt. Jeff Young, Pavement and Equipments superintendent. 

Young said after inter-service training with the Army, Navy and Marines, the Airmen move to Air Force specific equipment for 48 days, using a lot of equipment that other services don't use. 

The Airmen also spend time learning their wartime mission, which is a very important part of their training, Young said. 

"When we go into contingencies and they are learning the wartime mission, the primary mission for us is runways," Young said. "If a runway gets bombed, we have to know how to fix it. That is why they learn settling and cutting, because sometimes the runways will have rebar steel in them and they need to know how to cut that out." 

Young said another part of the Airmen's job is to know how to do asphalt and concrete -- not only how to lay it and pave it, but how to sweep it too. 

"We do have a sweeps course. With a jet aircraft, a pebble can destroy an F-16. They have to know how to communicate with the runway tower in order to get out there, sweep the runway, and make sure it is clean for air traffic," Young said. 

Perkins said with the Airmen working with heavy machinery and equipment, the most important lesson stressed everyday is safety. 

"The biggest thing for the students here is safety. There are so many pieces of equipment here and different hazards that we deal with, so safety is the biggest issue that we deal with," Perkins said. 

Perkins said safety is addressed by making sure the instructors are continually following standards and training students to those standards. 

"When they leave here, we want them to be able to do their job safely."
Airman Kevin Mullinex, Class 09018, said class members look out for one another to ensure safety on training sites. 

"You always look out for your wingman, and they (instructors) stress it. As soon as you get here -- wear your hard hat, hearing protections, safety glasses and steel toe boots," Mullinex said. 

Senior Airman Antony Vasquez, Class 09019, recently returned the Air National Guard. In the civilian world, he is a registered nurse in surgery and said working with heavy machinery and concrete and asphalt is a different new world for him. 

"Coming here, every piece of equipment has it different types of challenges, and the instructors are really good at getting you through those challenges," Vasquez said. "I believe the instructors have shown us the capabilities of the machines. I was timid at first. I have never been on a heavy piece of equipment in my life, and by them showing you the full capabilities, takes the nervousness out of it all." 

Most of the dirt boys who come to the Pavement and Equipment Apprentice course have never dealt with heavy machinery before. Airman Chris Jaggars, Class 09018, only had his drivers license a couple of weeks before coming to the installation. 

"I never thought I would be doing this," Jaggars said. "I actually thought all of it would be a lot lamer, but I really enjoy it. It turns out it is really fun." 

Aside from being really fun, Jaggars said he has learned a lot through the hands on training and watchful eyes of the instructors. 

"I am doing stuff and operating things that many people don't even do," Jaggars said. "Now, I am operating heavy machinery."

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