EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
In a location like Alaska, where snow can fall as early as October and as late as May, weather doesn’t stop Eielson Air Force Base’s mission from continuing. The vital task of clearing the base's 2.2 million square foot airfield falls on the shoulders of the Airmen assigned to the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron snow barn.
Deemed as “Dirt Boyz”, these Airmen specialize in maintaining and fixing pavement and roads while operating as an eight-hour shop.
“It can vary between having to redo a road or pouring reclaimed asphalt pavement on it, grading it out and making sure it is passable for vehicles,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class William Barbry, 354th CES pavement and heavy equipment operator. “I really like to think of it as we maintain the base.”
Airmen must perform operator checks prior to getting into a piece of equipment to ensure safety, proper functionality and perform some of the maintenance on equipment when required.
However, as the season changes to winter, the Dirt Boyz mission also changes.
“In the winter time, we’re primarily focused on snow removal,” said Barbry. “Whether that’s on the airfield or streetside, we’re not only trying to remove snow, we’re trying to remove ice.”
As their focus shifts and demand increases, the shop must begin 24-hour operations.
“Sometimes if it comes down really bad, we can have three shifts running 12 hours a day so that we have overlap and we can maximize the amount of workforce we have,” said U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Bobby Breland, a 354th CES noncommissioned officer in charge of snow and ice control. “We keep most, if not all, of the horizontal traffic surfaces open on base-side and airfield-side.”
Constantly operating ensures the airfield remains clear and helps to keep roads passable on base. However these accomplishments don’t come without obstacles.
“We could have four brooms making a pass on the runway on the centerline and by the time we get to one end to turn around, the whole path we just did just gets covered right back up,” said Barbry. “So instead of cleaning, we are maintaining and that can be a little challenging.”
Being in a remote location in the world also makes it difficult to get certain equipment or parts. And it isn’t financially realistic to always have brand new equipment.
“We have adapted to the increase in demand by realigning our priorities and figuring out what’s going to work in order to keep the flying mission going and keep everybody else functional,” added Breland.
Part of Eielson’s mission is to provide combat-ready fifth-generation airpower and Alaska’s strategic location allows for the fastest flight access to locations across the Pacific region. No matter the weather, these Airmen provide a clear airfield to ensure the mission is executed without fail.