EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Ice crystals build up on eyelashes and face masks and ice chunks drag from the bottoms of pants as Airmen from the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron brave the frozen tundra to construct an ice bridge to the Blair Lakes Range Maintenance Complex.
With temperatures reaching 40 degrees below zero, these Airmen will spend more than four weeks building up an ice bridge to reach the isolated range complex.
“We work on the ice bridge starting from the South Cushman Street access point of the Tanana River in Fairbanks,” said Senior Airman Matthew Brown, a 354th CES range maintenance technician. “It runs across the Tanana and intersects eight or nine more rivers along the 28 mile trail.”
Once it is determined that building may commence, the 354th CES Airmen break out their cold weather gear and head for the river.
“The first trip out is a lot of hand carrying equipment,” said Brown. “We can’t utilize the snow machines with the shelf ice build-up.”
Augers, water pumps and ice chippers are a small fraction of the equipment needed to drill holes in the ice, pumping the river water to the surface to create a smooth ice trail.
“The extreme cold temperature is the most challenging thing for us,” said Brown. “It’s not too bad with protective clothing on, but keeping the equipment running and operational has its difficulties.”
The trail will be strong enough to transport supplies and fuel to the range. It is only constructed every two years, so the Airmen assigned to the range have to plan accordingly as to what needs to be transported.
“As a mechanic, we use the ice bridge to transport the bulky and heavy supplies and equipment we will need over the next two years,” said Senior Airman Mitchell Whitman, a 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance journeyman. “It helps us continue maintenance operations on the range and saves time and money compared to getting the heavy supplies flown out as needed.”
Even with the icy cold temperatures and limited sunlight The Last Frontier offers during the winter months, the 354th CES Airmen keep their mission running smoothly.
“The people I work with and the mission at hand is what keeps me motivated,” said Brown. “I enjoy what I do and seeing the end results.”