CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mike Runyon was homeless and sleeping under Charleston's Spring Street Bridge not long before he went to work for the West Virginia National Guard's tire maintenance facility in Kanawha City.
"When I got out of the military, I was drinking and doing a lot of bouncing from job to job," the 47-year-old Navy veteran said.
Friends and contacts with the National Guard got him back on track, and offered Runyon a job tearing down and reassembling expensive wheel and tire assemblies for the U.S. Army.
"I was six weeks sober when I went to work here," Runyon said. "I've been sober for a year."
Runyon is one of 19 employees at the West Virginia National Maintenance Program tire facility, located in a large warehouse in Kanawha City. There, workers take apart complicated wheel assemblies for more than a dozen types of military vehicles, clean them up, install new tires and ship them back out.
Lt. Col. Joe Peal, in charge of logistics for the West Virginia Army National Guard, said the military usually buys entire wheel assemblies for its myriad vehicles. By reusing the old wheels and installing new tires, the Kanawha City facility can save the Army millions of dollars a year.
Peal said the National Guard started refurbishing tires in Eleanor in 2009, but outgrew the facility. The Kanawha City tire center opened last year, and has already rebuilt more than 10,000 wheel assemblies.
Wheels that come into the facility are first sorted, and the tires removed. Tires that hold air are sent to a facility in North Carolina to be reused or recapped, while tires that are gouged, torn or otherwise damaged are sent to West Virginia Tire Disposal to be recycled into things like playground mulch. Peal said no rubber from the Kanawha City facility ends up in a landfill.
He said National Guard members in Mason County first began refurbishing wheels on their own Humvees. Now, the West Virginia National Guard is the biggest supplier of rebuilt Humvee tires in the whole country.