Where the rubber meets the road

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

Used and new tires are piled around the 341st Logistics Readiness Squadron tire shop floor, some ready to be placed onto Humvees, and some to be thrown out. This area is one of the final resting places for worn tires after being driven nearly 20,000 miles to and from the missile field.

A two-man team is responsible for replacing old, low-thread tires with ones that will assist Airmen in safely executing the base’s mission. On average, Senior Airmen Brennan Popp and Hunter Dombek, 341st LRS mission generating vehicular equipment maintenance technicians, receive between five and 10 vehicles a day.

“How many we get per day really depends,” Dombek said. “Sometimes we’ll have three and sometimes it’ll be 20. Either way, we tend to stay fairly busy.”

The Airmen begin by receiving a work order that specifies which tires need to be replaced. They use a lift to manually raise vehicles and place a metal stand underneath the axle to add extra support in keeping vehicles at the correct height and to keep them safe.

Whether they work individually on a tire or help each other, the duo use an air ratchet, or drill, to remove the bolts from the rim in order to take the wheel off. Once the wheel is off, it is placed aside where they will later remove the tire from the rim and reuse the rim for newer tires.

Long before the work order is started, new tires are balanced to minimize uneven wearing of the tread. The tires are placed onto a machine which spins them to find the amount of weight that needs to be added.The machine calibrates and finds the spot where the weight needs to be added, shining a red laser to the exact location the Airmen need to add weight. They find the correct metallic weight and hammer it in between the tire and rim. The new tires are then placed onto the vehicle and bolted into place with the same drill used to remove the old tires.

“The (balancing machine) is pretty nice,” Popp said. “The old machines never showed us exactly where to place the weight but this one does and it definitely makes it easier.”

As one final step, orange paint is spread onto all of the bolts to show completion of the job at the required settings. It also prevents manipulation to the bolts after the tire shop sends the vehicle on its way.

“I like to think of it like decorating a cake,” Dombek said.

Dombek said the job may seem easy, but he feels he contributes to the mission here because it’s difficult to defend or move a nuclear asset without wheels and no one is going anywhere without tires.

“I prefer this job over the others,” Dombek said. “I’ve been down here 18 months and they always ask me if I want to leave and I tell them ‘no.’ I personally like this job.”

The two Airmen running the shop are best friends and said working with one another and getting along, really makes the job easier.

“As far as the work is concerned, I like the work,” Popp said. “I like coming to work in the morning because of what I do, and us being good friends makes it even more enjoyable.”

Popp added that some Airmen may feel they do not play a large role in the mission, but to him, it’s the complete opposite.

“It’s hard to feel as if I don’t play a role here because no one would have tires,” he said. “Due to the nature of the mission here, it may make people feel discouraged, but I don’t.”

Their flight chief, Master Sgt. Wayne Simmons, 341st LRS vehicle fleet manager, oversees eight sections, including the tire shop. He said he feels the tire shop plays an important role because of the amount of miles driven and how much wear and tear the tires endure.

“If you look at how many millions of miles Airmen from the base drive in a year, people would be on bald tires,” Simmons said. “We basically supply pieces of transportation to get the missileers, security forces and maintenance out into the missile field.”

With Malmstrom’s nuclear deterrence mission, vehicles will always need to be maintained and tires to be replaced. But as long as the tire shop is around, the drive out to the missile field will be smooth where the new rubber meets the road.