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Malmstrom locksmiths have combination of key skills

Jeff Kaul, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron locksmith, demonstrates how to use an electronic combination lock Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Kaul maintains, installs and builds locks for all establishments on base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Jeff Kaul, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron locksmith, demonstrates how to use an electronic combination lock Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Kaul maintains, installs and builds locks for all establishments on base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

An automatic key-cutting machine carves divots into a blank key Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The machine is able to cut keys at a much faster rate than the older, hand-operated ones. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

An automatic key-cutting machine carves divots into a blank key Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The machine is able to cut keys at a much faster rate than the older, hand-operated ones. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Jeff Kaul, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron locksmith, demonstrates how to deconstruct a door handle Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Some instances require Kaul to completely disassemble a mechanism to clean or replace parts within. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Jeff Kaul, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron locksmith, demonstrates how to deconstruct a door handle Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Some instances require Kaul to completely disassemble a mechanism to clean or replace parts within. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Senior Airman Kenny Smith, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron structural journeyman, disassembles a lock to re-key it Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Re-keying involves stripping a lock down to its bare essentials and replacing the tumblers and springs inside it. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Senior Airman Kenny Smith, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron structural journeyman, disassembles a lock to re-key it Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Re-keying involves stripping a lock down to its bare essentials and replacing the tumblers and springs inside it. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Jeff Kaul, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron locksmith, places tumblers back into a lock during a re-keying Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Whenever a new key is needed for a building’s door, Kaul has to re-key the lock to make it compliant with the new key. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Jeff Kaul, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron locksmith, places tumblers back into a lock during a re-keying Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Whenever a new key is needed for a building’s door, Kaul has to re-key the lock to make it compliant with the new key. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Dozens of different keys hang on a wall at the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron lock shop Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Each key is used for different bands of locks and each has a specific number of tumblers it can work with. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Dozens of different keys hang on a wall at the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron lock shop Feb. 3, 2015, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Each key is used for different bands of locks and each has a specific number of tumblers it can work with. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- How many locks are in a given building? Fifty? One hundred? More? No matter the quantity, if it has tumblers odds are the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron lock shop has touched it.

Providing an oft-overlooked service to the base, locksmiths are a vital asset to the mission, enabling Airmen to do a basic but essential task - open their doors.

"There are a lot of lost keys, a lot of forgotten combinations, and if there wasn't someone here to be a locksmith, there would be no record of them," said Senior Airman Kenny Smith, 341st CES structural journeyman.

Cutting keys, re-keying locks and installing security systems are just a few of the shop's responsibilities. Handling some of the most high-security locks on the market, they ensure the most secure parts of base stay that way.

"We are one of the most fundamental security aspects on the entire base," said Jeff Kaul, 341st CES locksmith. "Whenever someone walks in the door to their office, they probably have a computer in there so they don't want to leave their door unlocked. So that doorknob is us, if their door doesn't latch shut that's us, if the dorm residents' card readers don't work that's us."

Sometimes it's not about installing a lock, but rather removing it. For this task, the locksmiths have an array of tools at their disposal from relatively un-invasive to all out destruction. Using lock picks when they can, or a drill and saw, there is virtually no door or lock the locksmiths cannot get through.

Kaul, who worked for eight years as a civilian locksmith, transferred to Malmstrom Air Force Base and has been working on base for the last 15 years. The 23-year veteran locksmith says he enjoys having an impact on the mission, as well as the benefits working for the base provides him as compared to working off base.

In order to better train Airmen from the 341st CES, they rotate through the lock shop one or two at a time. This allows Kaul a helping hand, as well as making the Airmen more capable craftsmen.

"We are planning on having Smith in here for close to a year and rotating a third person through," Kaul said. "In the past when I only had them for a month or three months, it seemed like the whole time was spent training."

Adding an extra body to his shop will enable the more seasoned Airman to train up a novice, while freeing Kaul to continue work as normal.

With such a sensitive mission revolving around munitions that would be very dangerous to the U.S. if in the wrong hands, Kaul takes his job very seriously.

"Our one biggest contribution is the effect we have on the safes and the secret and classified information," Kaul said. "If you think about the possibilities of how bad it could be if someone got ahold of some launch codes or broke into a missile site and sabotaged a missile, it's a pretty good responsibility (we have)."

Keeping the U.S.'s strategic deterrents locked away each day, Kaul and his shop are another layer of defense for the base's mission.
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