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Al Udeid shop operates most productive AF wheel, tire repair facility

Staff Sgt. Abraham Ponce (Left), 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance craftsman, from Odessa, Texas, and Airman 1st Class Bobbie Price III (Right), 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance journeyman, from League City, Texas, work to repair two wheels at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar Feb. 16. The 379 EMXS wheel and tire shop was the most productive in the U.S. Air Force in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Staff Sgt. Abraham Ponce, left, a 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance craftsman, from Odessa, Texas, and Airman 1st Class Bobbie Price III, a 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance journeyman, from League City, Texas, work to repair two wheels at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar Feb. 16, 2016. The squadron’s wheel and tire shop was the most productive in the Air Force last year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Senior Airman Michael Dalleo, 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance apprentice, from Enfield, Connecticut, cleans a wheel at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar Feb. 16. Cleaning every wheel by hand is part of the process of wheel and tire repair. During the cleaning process, Dalleo inspects the wheel for cracks and signs of corrosion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman/Released)

Senior Airman Michael Dalleo, a 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance apprentice, from Enfield, Conn., cleans a wheel at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar Feb. 16, 2016. Cleaning every wheel by hand is part of the process of wheel and tire repair. During the cleaning process, Dalleo inspects the wheel for cracks and signs of corrosion. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS) -- The 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron operates the only wheel and tire repair facility in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and the most productive facility in the Air Force.

In the past year, the squadron’s wheel and tire maintenance team produced 3,000 serviceable tires, more than any other Air Force wheel and tire shop.

“We average between eight and 10 tires a day,” said Staff Sgt. James Mercatell, a 379th EMXS aerospace maintenance craftsman from Sebastian, Florida. “There are days when we’ve received 25 tires, and we have the capability to turn 30 wheels and tires in a single day.”

Unserviceable wheels are pulled off aircraft and delivered to the shop. Once received, each wheel is broken down and inspected.

“A couple days ago we received 30 wheels and we had stuff everywhere, but we got every wheel and tire out, with 15 being completed in one shift,” Mercatell said. “We inspect everything to ensure each wheel is serviceable, and it can be reassembled safely and properly.”

Nearly 10 Airmen work in the wheel and tire repair facility. These Airmen look for anything that would make a wheel unserviceable such as cracks or signs of corrosion. The inspection is a thorough process and includes hand cleaning of every wheel, as well as an inspection by the 379th EMXS nondestructive inspection team to detect potential micro fractures, which are invisible to the human eye.

“As the only wheel and tire repair facility in the AOR, we disassemble, inspect and reassemble wheels and tires for any aircraft in the AOR,” said Senior Airman Michael Dalleo, a 379th EMXS aerospace maintenance apprentice from Enfield, Connecticut.

Dalleo said the work he does has an impact every day.

“I get to work on seven different aircraft, and I see the direct effect of what we do and how it supports operations,” Dalleo said. “I take great pride in knowing what we do enables missions across the AOR. Planes can’t take off or land without tires.”

The 379th EMXS has enabled more than 20,000 sorties and more than 683 million pounds of fuel to be off-loaded in 2015. Because of the unit’s dedicated mechanics, Al Udeid Air Base’s KC-135 Stratotanker fleet was able to take-off from the base and fly more than 100,000 combat hours and perform more than 54,000 aerial fuel transfers.

Having a hand in those accomplishments has special meaning for every one of his Airmen, Mercatell said.

“We provide a lot to the fight and we all understand the magnitude of what we do every day,” Mercatell said. “That’s why we carefully inspect each item. We want to make sure we support the fight so our planes can fly; if they’re not flying, then they’re not able to support our brothers and sisters in arms who need us.

“The best part of the job is knowing we support the fight,” he added. “We make a difference. The wheels we work on go on aircraft across the AOR and those aircraft fly missions to take out bad guys.”

Senior Master Sgt. Adam Otto, the 379th EMXS maintenance flight chief from Hastings, Michigan, said the dedication the Airmen in the wheel and tire section display is impressive.

“Most of the Airmen here have never worked together before and many have never worked in a wheel and tire shop,” Otto said. “They get trained, they come here and they come together to support the mission. We rely on them to become a cohesive team in a minimal amount of time.

“They’re turning more tires than any other shop in the Air Force and they have the capability to produce up to 30 tires in a day,” he continued. “The work this team does is very important because without our aircraft flying, more people would be in harm’s way.”

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