Winter is coming, 86th VRS is prepared

Story and photos by Senior Airman Tryphena Mayhugh
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Franz “The Commissioner” Gute, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron Special Purpose heavy equipment mechanic, works on a Unimog, a vehicle that spreads salt, during the squadron’s Summer Rebuild Program Aug. 10 on Ramstein. The Summer Rebuild Program will run from April 1 to Oct. 1, during which time the 86th VRS Special Purpose shop will inspect and repair all winter maintenance vehicles on Ramstein in preparation of the upcoming season.

During spring, with the summer sun and sandy beaches filling Airmen’s thoughts, many might not be thinking about the winter season and what they need to do to prepare for it.

For the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron Special Purpose Airmen, winter is exactly what they were thinking about. Every year, from April 1 to Oct. 1, they hold their Summer Rebuild Program.

“Summer Rebuild is basically getting a jump on the winter months,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Wesley Thorpe, 86th VRS Special Purpose maintenance supervisor. “During the winter, you have the snow and different types of inclement weather. What we do is get the snow removal vehicles, identify and foresee any problems, and then have a whole three to four month timespan where we overhaul them.”

The program has four phases. First, the shop receives the vehicles, does a complete inspection to identify any issues and orders the necessary parts to repair them. Then phase two, the longest phase, is when the repairs are done. Once the vehicle is fully operational, it is quality controlled during phase three. Lastly, the vehicle is returned to its respective squadron.

“This year’s Summer Rebuild, we’re really diving down deep into it,” Thorpe said. “We’re re-evaluating some of the processes we have done in the past and improving on those since we have more experience from the last year, the year before and so on. Every year is a new training endeavor.”

The special purpose shop has 40 snow removal vehicles they are working on for the Summer Rebuild Program. With so many vehicles that could require any number of repairs, the Airmen have to stay on top of everything to get the work completed on time.

“I am the floor manager for Summer Rebuild,” said Staff Sgt. Samuel Anderson, 86th VRS assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of special purpose. “I supervise all the guys in the shop (and) make sure everybody’s gainfully employed. The guys are doing the check lists.”

Despite the daunting size of their task, the Airmen involved in the program have strived to get all 40 vehicles inspected and repaired on time.

“It’s a constant process, and they’re doing great,” Thorpe said. “With the amount of people we have and what’s expected of these guys, they are busting their butts to get these things done on time every day. We all have deadlines, and we’re no exception.”

Airmen in the 86th VRS are moved around from the different types of vehicle repair, such as special purpose, fire truck repair, refueling, and light or heavy vehicles. Because of this, some of the Airmen working in the Summer Rebuild Program are experiencing it for the first time.

“This is the first Summer Rebuild Program I’ve been involved with and directly supervised,” Thorpe said. “I love it. It’s a lot of different experiences, and you get to see the big picture because you are directly related to the flightline. If I don’t fix this truck, this plane is not going to be able to take off because it’s not de-iced. Whatever that plane is for, it’s some kind of mission, and we’re directly affecting it. That’s awesome.

“I love the fact that it’s such a great mission we have here,” he continued. “We take pride in our work, we get stuff done efficiently and correctly the first time, and we see the benefits in the winter time.”

All of the parts ordered for repairs by the special purpose shop are shipped from the U.S. This delays the time it takes to complete repairs and keeps the vehicle out of commission longer. Having the Summer Rebuild Program provides the shop enough time to thoroughly check every aspect of the snow removal vehicles, reducing the risk of needing repairs during the winter months.

“Knowing that we won’t have to be working constantly this winter, I think that’s the biggest thing for me,” Anderson said. “Seeing what’s getting done and setting our expectations of how we want the winter to go — quality over quantity — and hopefully that pays off in the end, that is what makes me happy.”

Should one of the 40 vehicles break or become damaged during the winter months, the special purpose shop has instated a customer service section. Before, all vehicles were brought to the squadron’s general customer service, but the general customer service couldn’t always help with those specialized vehicles in a timely manner. Now the special purpose mechanics can get vehicles back to their squadrons much faster, with some repairs able to be completed in 20 minutes.

“For us having our own customer service here in our shop, it eliminates a lot of the down time that the vehicle sits while it’s in the transition from one shop to another,” Thorpe said. “A customer can come and bring their specialized vehicle straight to the specialized shop that’s going to be working on it. Mechanics can be compared to physicians to a certain point. If someone comes in with a cough, they’ll ask how long you have had the cough, what were you doing prior to the cough, etc. We have direct contact with them, and we can ask the right questions.”

Whether it’s a six-month-long program or a 20-minute repair, the 86th VRS Special Purpose Airmen ensure all the snow removal vehicles on Ramstein are fully operational to restore readiness to the flightline during the winter season.

Harald Baron, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron Special Purpose heavy equipment mechanic, selects the tools he requires to repair a snow removal vehicle Aug. 10 on Ramstein. Baron, along with other German nationals and U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 86th VRS, are inspecting and repairing all winter maintenance vehicles on Ramstein for their Summer Rebuild Program.
Staff Sgt. Zachary Simmons, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron Special Purpose maintenance supervisor, tests the functions of a snow brush attachment to a snow removal vehicle Aug. 10 on Ramstein. Simmons was testing the vehicle for the 86th VRS Summer Rebuild Program, where all winter maintenance vehicles are inspected and repaired for the upcoming winter months.