By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)March 17, 2016
(Editor's note: This article continues our series about the service-specific training our sister services provide at Fort Leonard Wood.)
Whether it is repairing a damaged runway or clearing an overgrown area to construct a brand-new runway, Airmen learn the tasks step-by-step, while attending the Air Force Pavement Maintenance and Equipment Operators Apprentice Course at Fort Leonard Wood.
For the first six weeks of the course, the Airmen, mixed among Sailors and Soldiers, learn preventive maintenance checks and basic operations for equipment, such as front-end loaders, graders and crawler tractors, to aid in their construction projects.
Following the joint portion of learning heavy equipment operation basics, the Air Force students spend another 52 days attending an Air Force specific-portion of the course.
Instruction in the Air Force- unique side includes surveying, security fencing, airfield damage repair, asphalt and tractor-trailer operations.
The training is broken down into six blocks of training, including safety and basic equipment operations for all tools used during that block.
Block one consists of learning the basics of surveying and building security fences. Block two builds on the surveying and gets into airfield damage repair. Blocks three and four cover pavement, starting with flexible pavement, or asphalt, then ridged pavement. Block five includes tractor-trailer and crane operations, and block six covers airfield sweeping and snow-removal operations.
"It is a very large course rolled into a short period of time," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Neville, instructor for the Pavement Maintenance and Equipment Operators Apprentice Course, 364th Training Squadron, Detachment 1, Fort Leonard Wood.
Training an average of 560 students per year, each course usually has a few Airmen with some construction experience, Neville said. Most of the experience the students have consists of helping the Family with small projects such as laying a patio or building a deck.
"We usually have two or three per course with pavement experience," he said. "The rest might not have chosen this job, but within two weeks of Air Force-specific training, they are hooked. They love it."
One such student, Air Force Airman 1st Class Lawrence Amihele, chose the Air Force as a way to give back to the United States for taking him in, after immigrating from Africa.
"As soon as I got to the shores of America, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me," he said. "Pavements and construction are about building stuff to make the world a better place."
Air Force Staff Sgt. Chauncey Garrett agreed.
"It's cool to see how everything fits into the big picture," the former aircraft maintenance specialist said. "Being aircraft maintenance, all I saw were the planes, and that's the last piece of the puzzle for the Air Force. Now I get to see how without this career, the planes don't take off, don't land."
At the end of the course, students should be able to clear an area and construct a road, runway or security compound, repair asphalt and concrete projects, and do them all to the scale needed for the project, said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chad Patterson, instructor for the Pavement Maintenance and Equipment Operators Apprentice Course.
"We have such different tasks compared to the Army or the Navy," Neville said. "A lot of our tasks are specific to airfield and base operations for our air bases down range, as well as stateside."