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Dirt Boys pave the way at Vandenberg

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief, pose on asphalt rollers at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief, pose on asphalt rollers at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, receives a briefing about an asphalt roller at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, receives a briefing about an asphalt roller at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, fills the water tank on an asphalt roller at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, fills the water tank on an asphalt roller at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief, take a moment for a group shot with the “Dirt Boys” while paving a parking lot at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief, take a moment for a group shot with the “Dirt Boys” while paving a parking lot at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron compound parking lot here Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, helps monitor the spreading of asphalt at a parking lot in the civil engineer compound here August 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, helps monitor the spreading of asphalt at a parking lot in the civil engineer compound here August 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Clouds blanketed the rolling hills east of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron's storage compound at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 24. On this exceptionally foggy morning, vision was limited and the sound of turning engines enveloped the adjoining grounds, indicating the duty day had begun. An Airman, standing ready to operate an asphalt paver, guzzled down the remainder of his energy drink.

Once postured with two asphalt rollers, a paver and a dump truck weighed down by a 167-ton mixture of crushed stone and crude oil, 10 members of Vandenberg's 30th CES Horizontal Flight, known as the Dirt Boys, were ready to begin yet another rigorous and remarkably dirty job on the job.

The 30th CES's storage compound was experiencing drainage problems due to the unevenness of the surrounding pavement. To fix it, the Dirt Boys would have to integrate an additional 12 inches of asphalt in several areas to level-out the storage compound's pavement.

A hydraulic cylinder raised the dump truck's bed, pouring steaming asphalt into a paver below. Two Dirt Boys, clad in overalls and personal protective gear, prepared the paver for operation. The bed of the truck was lowered and the wheels began to move in a flanking-fashion away from the eventual course of the paver. Onward, leaving a flattened trail of asphalt behind, the paver crept along in a straight line as an asphalt roller followed to further compact the newly laid ground.

Overalls dripping with sweat, covered in earthly filth and reeking with the pungent stench of tar, the Vandenberg Dirt Boys were now two hours into their workday.

"The overalls speak for themselves - they are always dirty," said Airman 1st Class Gregory Baker, a 30th CES pavement and construction journeyman. "When I come home at night and take a shower, the dirt falls right off. It's gross, but I love it."

For Baker, his love for construction and the excavation of soil began as a child.

"I grew up with my grandpa who had a construction company in which he used to haul rocks and such," said Baker, a native of Poplar Bluff, Mo. "On several occasions, we would go down to the creek and get rocks for the company. Ever since then, I have loved it."

Baker joined the Air Force not knowing the capacity in which he would serve. Fortunately, once at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for Basic Military Training, a vacancy was available in the pavement and construction equipment career field. Baker jumped on the opportunity and was pleasantly surprised when it was later awarded to him.

Like Baker, the other Dirt Boys also share a similar passion for the work they are doing for Vandenberg and the Air Force as a whole.

"I love every part of this job," said Tech. Sgt. Dale Tompkins, a 30th CES pavement and equipment craftsman. "We do concrete, asphalt and operate heavy machinery. We get to play with big-boy toys every day. I personally think this is the best job in the Air Force."

Although passionate about his job, Tompkins, who is a native of Hartland, Maine, described another hardship often experienced by other people in his career field.

"We work with extreme heat. On some days, when it's hot outside and you're working behind a paver, it can get up to 130 degrees," said Tompkins. "So, we have to keep the water flowing through our systems because the outdoor conditions can be very difficult."

Despite the heat, rain, fog and other unfavorable outdoor conditions, Tompkins, who now spends more time driving a desk due to his rank and 14 years of experience in the Air Force, still would rather be out doing the dirty work with the other junior-enlisted Dirt Boys, he said.

Two other people who picked up shovels on the morning of Aug. 24, were Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief.

"I knew it was going to be hot work and I knew it was going to be dirty work, but I didn't quite realize that the work would necessitate the level of coordination and choreography that it does," said Boltz. "I never cease to be amazed by the professionalism and the skill of the people we have working here at Vandenberg Air Force Base."

The fog had long vanished and the sun began its descent into the western horizon at the time Vandenberg's Dirt Boys laid and compressed the last morsel of what was left of a 320-ton batch of asphalt. Even though the day's task was complete, the work of the 30th CES Horizontal Flight is never complete, for tomorrow will likely bring about another challenging and, undoubtedly, dirty task.