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Face of Defense: Airman Uses Maintenance Skills on Motocross Track

Sept. 27, 2017 | BY Air Force Senior Airman Jenna Caldwell , 22nd Air Refueling Wing
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As Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Tangedal ran his motorcycle through a five-foot pool of water, wrecking the bike, he thought everything he had worked for all his life was over.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Tangedal, an aircraft metal technology journeyman with the 22nd Maintenance Squadron, poses for a photo with his mother, Jill Tandegal, in Las Vegas in 2016. Tangdal grew up in the motocross racing world helping friends and family as a pit crew member. Courtesy photo
Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Tangedal, an aircraft metal technology journeyman with the 22nd Maintenance Squadron, poses for a photo with his mother, Jill Tandegal, in Las Vegas in 2016. Tangdal grew up in the motocross racing world helping friends and family as a pit crew member. Courtesy photo
Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Tangedal, an aircraft metal technology journeyman with the 22nd Maintenance Squadron, poses for a photo with his mother, Jill Tandegal, in Las Vegas in 2016. Tangdal grew up in the motocross racing world helping friends and family as a pit crew member. Courtesy photo
Airman puts MX skills to use on motocross track
Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Tangedal, an aircraft metal technology journeyman with the 22nd Maintenance Squadron, poses for a photo with his mother, Jill Tandegal, in Las Vegas in 2016. Tangdal grew up in the motocross racing world helping friends and family as a pit crew member. Courtesy photo
Photo By: Senior Airman Jenna Caldwell
VIRIN: 160901-O-ZZ999-0003

Tangedal, an aircraft metal technology journeyman with the 22nd Maintenance Squadron here, was completing a practice run on a 150-mile loop in the desert outside of Las Vegas, three days before his first race.

The maintainer and his small race team had 72 hours to rebuild and repair the entire bike from the ground up on a limited budget -- a seemingly impossible task.

Tangedal grew up in the motocross racing world, helping friends and family as a pit crew member, helping them achieve their marathon goals. This was finally his chance, and he wasn’t just going give up that easily.

“There were times I wanted to put the bike back in the garage and be done with it,” said the Calexico, California, native. “But I knew I couldn’t do that. Having faith in yourself is what it is all comes down to. It’s a big mind game, hoping you did everything right and hoping that it’s all going to pay off.”

Hard Work

With a lot of hard work and little sleep, Tangedal and his team were able to get the bike ready in time for the race. He ended up taking fourth overall.

“It’s very similar to what I do at work every day,” Tangedal said. “Being that [the KC-135 Stratotanker] is 60 years old at this point, there are parts that break that are no longer in the supply [chain]. We’re always trying to figure out ways to make parts for this aircraft and make sure they won’t break again. It’s all about getting the mission done no matter what.”

Tangedal joined the Air Force in 2010. He has since become proficient in fabrication for the Air Force and for his hobby. In 2016, he decided to start his own race team.

Tangedal rides a Honda CRF50X modified off-road motorcycle. Although he is the only one on the motorcycle, a race is never a solo effort.

“My mom is my biggest supporter,” Tangedal said. “She’s like my dedicated crew chief. She’s the one who puts my pit books together and she’s the one who organizes all the hotels. She does a lot of hard work trying to get me ready for these races and making sure that everything is taken care of. Without her, I don’t know what I would do.”

Applying Air Force Leadership Skills

Tangedal has learned how to lead people in the Air Force, and that benefits him beyond the maintenance world.

“The leadership skills he is learning [in the Air Force] apply to his race team and establish a positive attitude for the team to succeed,” said Tangedal’s mother, Jill Tangedal. “He is very focused during the race and is great at communicating with the team to accomplish tasks. He is open to ideas from team members and works to have everyone participate in the strategy for his race.”

It takes an entire team to succeed in a racing marathon. And just like in the military, not every job on the team is glamorous.

“It’s all different,” Tangedal said. “You could be the guy handing someone a sandwich or you could be the guy ripping a tire off and putting a new one on the vehicle. For two years, I was navigator in a car. Whenever something went wrong, it was my job to figure out how to fix the car and keep going. Every job is important.”

During a race, on an already-dangerous course, preventing accidents is imperative. Tangedal said that staying hydrated and staying in communication with his team are of extreme importance.

“You can relate a lot of racing to the military,” Tangedal said. “It takes not only physical toughness, but mental toughness. On the track, it’s hot and it’s dusty. You’re probably not going to be able to breathe well, and you’re going to be sore. You have to be prepared. You have to be ready for the consequences and be ready for everything to possibly go wrong.”

Life and Death

When an airman goes go down range, lives are at stake. When a driver runs a motocross race, lives are at stake. When he lived in Southern California before he joined the Air Force, Tangedal participated in a lot of races in Mexico, where the rules are lax and the conditions of the race are hazardous and formidable.

“Some things you just can’t prepare for, so at the end of the day, a good race is just a race that you finish and make it home safe,” he said.