Arnold munitions expert serves country on two fronts

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In 1992, Navy recruiters had Mike Brumer firmly in their sites, or so they thought.

The young man liked what he heard and found the prospect of going into the specialized nuclear technical field aboard submarines hard to resist.

"I qualified for the nuclear program and that looked really appetizing," he said. "I thought that would be something pretty neat to do."

However, as the Beatles' John Lennon, said, "Life is what hap¬pens to you while you're busy making other plans."

It was one of those chance events that totally change the direction of a person's life.

"I was on the way to the Navy recruiter with my dad when we got into a car accident about 100 yards from the recruiter's office," recalled Brumer. "I had to go to the hospital because I had banged up my head and knees, but every¬thing was fine."
Shortly after missing his ap¬pointment with the Navy, the Air Force recruiters called him. In retrospect, Brumer said his decision to join the Air Force made sense.

"We've always been an Air Force family," he said. "And my dad was Army Air Corps - not the Army - he was a crew chief on P-40s, P-39s and P-38s during World War II."

Brumer spoke highly of his father and about how values, motivation and drive were passed down from one generation to the next.

"My dad was huge for me because the type of guy he is and his perseverance," Brumer said. "After World War II, he went to college and became a pharmacist for 55 years or so, a long time. Back in his day, it was all about what you could put on the wall saying you are a doctor or a law¬yer or whatever."

Brumer joined the enlisted ranks, choosing the munitions systems specialist career field. The training and years of practi¬cal experience in the military ultimately provided him with the expertise required to qualify for his job as the Aerospace Testing Alliance's hazardous material operations manager for Arnold AFB.

The Air Force was a good fit for Brumer, who had been inter¬ested in history, military science and English during high school. During his 13 years on active duty, he did a couple of tours in Korea and another at Aviano Air Base, Italy, before reporting to what he thought would be his final active duty assignment at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Tech. Sgt. Brumer transitioned to the Air National Guard and had gone back to college when 9/11 occurred.

Because of that defining event, Brumer went back on active duty for awhile, serving first as a muni¬tions liaison to civil engineering at the Red Horse (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) unit at Langley and then directly for the Red Horse directorate there.

However, it was his Air Na¬tional Guard duties that took him to the front lines in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The first time I went to Iraq was in 2003, for about six months," he said. "I was with the 106th Rescue Squadron, a New York-based air rescue unit with Blackhawks and C-130s. It was interesting because we went in right after the invasion.

"When we landed they were still taking prisoners," he said. "It was pretty much a bare base, you had to make everything yourself. Things were very much up in the air, there was no government - it was kind of like the Wild West, like controlled chaos."

Brumer said he got shot at, but never returned fire.

"It was pretty tense, but that's just part of the job," he said.
Then, after a seven-month de¬ployment to Iraq in 2004, he got an unexpected phone call.

"When I came home from that second trip to Iraq, a buddy from the Pentagon called me and said hey, 'Would you be interested in a job at Arnold - they're looking for a guy with your background and experience, give them a call,'" Brumer said.

He had known about Arnold early in his military career, but acknowledged having a limited grasp of the center's significance until joining the work force in 2005. From his experiences in two war zones and as his role at Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) evolved, Brumer said he now fully appreciates the center's mission.

"It's great because what we do here directly impacts the war fighter," he said. "With
munitions being my business, I see the im¬pact from both ends, whether it's serving overseas or seeing what is done here in our model shop and in the wind tunnels, testing munitions, all kind of stores and weapons systems.

"Here I get to see where they test something and a couple of years later, there it is in the field, where I'm actually working with it, involved in building, loading and using it."

Besides his two tours in Iraq, Brumer recently returned to Arnold from a shorter reserve assignment in Afghanistan. As a munitions inspector with the Nashville-based 118th Airlift Wing, Tech. Sgt. Brumer handles a wide variety of weaponry and related equipment.

"I deal with everything to do with ground-based defense, including small arms, grenades, high explosives, some aircraft chaff and flares, life support and egress systems - anything explo¬sive is something I work with in theater," he explained.

Chaff is a radar countermea¬sure, consisting of small thin pieces of plastic, metalized glass fibers or aluminum, dispersed in a cloud from aircraft or other airborne targets.

Brumer said the high tempo of operations in Afghanistan kept him busy during the last deploy¬ment.

"It was interesting because I got to do a lot of things outside of my normal job role and functions - that was pretty neat," he said. "I enjoyed that because it breaks up the routine. But it was work, eat and sleep, it was constant."

He supported flights which transported supplies to troops located in remote forward operat¬ing bases in rugged mountainous terrain.

"It is vital to get the supplies and personnel down range to where they are needed, to for¬ward operating bases where they don't have water," he said. "You either air drop the water or you land and take it off the pallets, the same with the food, ammu¬nition and medical supplies.

It's a hub and spoke concept, you have to support all these forward operating bases and C-130s are one of the best tools to do it with because you can land on short dirt runways. C-130s carry a fairly good load for the size of plane that it is."

He also enjoys the camaraderie common to men in combat.

"This assignment was also interesting because I got to work with people from other guard units - we all worked together to fly the mission," he said. "I actually went to school while I was there for about a week and a half. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) representatives came from the states to teach a post blast class.

"It was a forensics class, a counter IED program, where an explosive goes off in another vehicle and you got out to the scene, look it over and try to get as much evidence as possible. Then you take all the evidence back, analyze it and try to profile the bombers, so we can go and get the bombers."
He said the 118th has recently taken on a new direction as its pri¬mary mission shifted to training.

Between his National Guard duties and his responsibilities at AEDC, Brumer stays very busy. He said the scope of his job at the center is broad.

"My job on base comes under the hazardous material (hazmat) umbrella - you have munitions and hazmat together - it's all en¬compassing," he explained. "On a routine basis we are working with aviation fuel, heavy and light oils, explosives and munitions, and ozone depleting substances - things like Freon."

His five-member team is re¬sponsible for all hazmat on base, from cradle-to-grave.

"We want to make sure we dispense it properly, and to the right people and that they use it properly," he explained. "We want to make sure whatever is not used, we reclaim it and dispose of it properly."

Brumer said his team is taking a proactive approach to address¬ing environmental concerns.

"We definitely want to buy and use products that work, are eco friendly, but are not cost prohibitive and are appropriate for the operation we want to use it for," he said. "Less is more in the hazmat world."

Brumer will continue to bal¬ance his role at AEDC and du¬ties with the Air National Guard. One of his goals is to make chief master sergeant before he retires from the reserves.

"I enjoy wearing my uniform very much and take great pride in it," he said. "The military has really given me the opportunities that I have now in life."

When Brumer isn't busy help¬ing to keep the base safe or sup¬porting operations in Afghanistan or Iraq, he enjoys hunting locally or slipping down to Florida to pursue his favorite pastime, deep sea fishing.

"The hunting and fishing here are great, and then there's boating and the people," he said. "I've lived all over and have been to most of the states and overseas. This is a beautiful area - Tennes¬see in general is just a nice place to live."