FORT RILEY, Kan. -- The purpose of the Automotive Skills Center at 7753 Apennines Drive, said Matt Enoch, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation community program coordinator, is to give Soldiers, family members, retirees, civilians, contractors or community members of Fort Riley a place they can go and receive self-help assistance on their own automobiles.

"They can develop skills through instruction by trained mechanics," Enoch said. "They can save money by doing work on their own. We have nearly every tool imaginable, piece of equipment, and know how to do essentially anything that you need to keep your vehicle operating."

The auto skills center is also the cheapest place in the surrounding area for services such as towing, car wash and lift bays, to name a few, said Rick Newlon. Newlon has been an automotive mechanic at the Automotive Skills Center for about 35 years now.

"I would encourage people to come here because $6 an hour for a lift is whole lot cheaper than paying $85 to $145 an hour," he said. Besides providing help and low rates, the auto skills center also services all 50 vehicles in the DFMWR fleet and works with the Directorate of Emergency Services towing abandoned vehicles on Fort Riley, Enoch said.

"The whole abandoned vehicle thing is a real tight partnership with Directorate of Emergency Services -- that's a real strong partnership," he said. "They rely on us a lot for that program."

Beyond the partnerships the auto skills center has with other organizations on post, the facility's purpose boils down to preserving the morale and welfare of Soldiers and their family, so that service members can focus on their own mission readiness, said Enoch.

"It's way, way, way more than economics -- there has to be an economics part too because that's what keeps our doors opened -- but it's all subservient to the whole focus on improving the lives of our Soldiers and families," he said. "A lot of these people are working on their vehicle with other guys or gals, so it's increased camaraderie, you see an increase in morale. All of these things, it all relates to an increase in readiness, in resiliency of our Soldiers and families, which improves mission readiness -- everything we do goes back to that."

In the heart of readiness and boosting morale, Enoch said the Automotive Skill Center answers the call to the vehicle-centric culture that is prevalent in the military community.

"You see lots of vehicles on this installation that have been modified by Soldiers and family members, customized -- it's part of our culture," he said. "Working on automotives is a recreation activity for many of our community members, just like working in a wood shop, just like shooting basketball, just like going to outdoor recreation (center) and renting a canoe. For a lot of our Soldiers it's like coming to the shop, and having access to all of this equipment, and using our bays at a very cheap rate, having the assistance of highly skilled mechanics and being able to work on their vehicle, which is a recreational activity because it gives the benefits of such in a form of reduced stress."

There are five mechanics who have many years of experience in the field and are also trustworthy, said Enoch.

"I think this is the best team in the garrison, I really do," he said "I think that with the combined experience and technical skill, these guys are unbeatable … These guys care a lot about what they do. They are extraordinarily customer-centric and they're also very trustworthy … We are not here to sell parts and supplies, we're here to help people. So you can trust our mechanics."

Facilities and classes
First, to be able to use the facilities at the Automotive Skills Center, patrons will have to produce proof they attended the Basic Safety and Lift Training Class, Newlon said.
"It's given Wednesday through Friday at 6 (p.m.) and another one at 10 a.m. on Sundays, and that's to get you familiar with our equipment," he said. "It gives you a good idea of what our equipment is about and how to operate it … that's when we can turn you lose to operate the lifts and some of the other tools."

However, if the DOD ID holder already has a DA 3031 card, which is a certification saying they went to a safety class at another post, they can use that to use the facility too, he said. There are 39 lift bays at the facility.

While there, as long as the patrons bring their own parts, the mechanics on staff can teach them how to work on their vehicle, Enoch said.

"That's what they're paid to do and that's really what their passion is -- helping our community members learn new skills," he said. "And I've used it before. I've needed to do something with my vehicle: change the brakes -- and I don't know how to do it and I want to do it myself. I buy my own parts, I bring them in and these guys help me through the course of the project and they help me do it and I learned a new skill -- I can do it by myself now."

Apart from helping patrons develop basic automotive skills, the facility hosts quarterly clinics on to interested DOD ID holders, Newlon said.

"In February we will do a brake service class," he said. "In May we will have a car care detailing class, in August we will go over automotive checks and services and in November we will have a clinic on winterization and winter safety."

For those needing a paint job for fun or due to a fender bender, Ep Sandoval, craftsman at the Automotive Skills Center, works wonders at the paint booth and body shop, said Enoch.

"He is a magician when it comes to making your car look better," he said. "If you buy your paint, for a very reasonable price ... Ep can help you paint your vehicle. It's pretty awesome; he can paint it a completely different color if you want to. It's a great resource if you're restoring vehicles."

Future facilities and services
Enoch said DFMWR is committed to the Automotive Skills Center and they are finding ways to improve by adding more facilities and services.

"MWR is 100 percent committed to this program," he said. "We're expanding what we provide. We are always going Automotive Skills Center, always -- that's always going to be our priority. But we feel like we can start providing traditional automotive services to people who just want to have their vehicles worked on, serviced or repaired."

The auto skills center staff hopes to bring a range of basic services such as oil changes and brake services.

"(We are) just trying to help the spouses or somebody who doesn't want to get their hands dirty and work on their car, so that they can come it and get it done at a cheaper rate and help our business move forward," Enoch said.

Currently, in the works is a nitrogen fill system for tires. The machine was purchased and will soon be available for patrons. The fill system replaces regular compressed air in tires with nitrogen, which helps slow the wear and tear of tires, said Newlon.

"That helps the tires stay inflated and not change the rate of the inflation, which helps maintain the temperature in the tire to keep wear and tear on the tire (lower)," he said.
Another new feature that will be added in coming months is a Dynamometer. This system is used to test the horsepower of vehicles. The auto skills center rented a system for Victory Fest in 2017, Enoch said.

"We have been approved to purchase a Dynamometer and our demographic will know what that is," he said. "It's essentially a machine that will test the horsepower of your vehicle -- very popular with our demographic."

Newlon said the Dynamometer does more than just test a vehicle's horsepower.

"It can be used for tuning, it can be used for troubleshooting -- so you don't have to go out on a road test," he said. "You put it up on the Dyno and you can troubleshoot the noise on the Dyno. There's multiple good uses for that tool."

Having about 35 years under his belt, Newlon said the most rewarding part of his job is knowing he has been a part of improving the lives of Soldiers and their families.

"It's very rewarding to know you can possibly help somebody who is down and out and really needing help," he said. "I feel that it is a great opportunity for the Soldier to get out of the barracks or instead of being a gamer, you can save yourself a little bit of money and learn (about) your car and get that hands-on experience to where in the future it could save them dollars down the road ... it can save families dollars down the road, not just one time."