Maintenance Women, Men, Keep the Wheels Turning at Hurlburt

June 19--HURLBURT FIELD -- When Air Force Staff Sgt. Gabriel LaDue was growing up, he tinkered around repairing small cars, maybe a van or two.

Today, the 31-year-old can be found half deep in a 29,000-pound fuel tanker, admittedly a vehicle of a different breed.

"There are a lot more procedures and precautions, but I love it," LaDue said of working on the tankers that provide fuel to all the aircraft that fly out of Hurlburt Field. "It's a fun challenge every day coming out here and trouble shooting what's wrong and then fixing it."

LaDue is part of a 35-member team responsible for maintaining and repairing all 805 of Hurlburt Field's vehicles, a fleet worth nearly $66 million.

It's a busy job.

The main hangar resembles a child's collection of toy trucks -- cranes, forklifts, Humvees -- though in full size.

On Wednesday, airmen were scattered about tinkering at the different vehicles.

Airman 1st Class Hannah Moccia, 18, has only been on the job two months and was working hard to remove a wheel bearing from a forklift.

"We never have a down moment out here," she said, her palms covered in grease. "I love that it's hands on and there is always something to do."

When vehicles need body work, they go to Staff Sgt. Carly Whittle, 26, the sole body mechanic for the base.

She has a passion for the work, sprung from watching her dad as she was growing up.

"Pops, you could put anything in front of him and he could fix it," she said.

Her favorite part of the job is when a vehicle comes in smashed up and she can impress people with making it look like nothing ever happened.

"People are always looking at it and saying 'Good job,' " she said. "And I'm like, 'yeah, I know.' "

Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4443 or Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.

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