EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Building a bridge can come with many challenges, especially when the materials are water and below freezing temperatures.
Airmen from the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron head to Delta Junction, Alaska, each year to construct a bridge made of ice, spending weeks at a time in the Alaskan wilderness transporting heavy equipment and materials over the ice bridge to prepare for the next RED FLAG-Alaska season.
“The main purpose of the ice bridge is to bring in equipment and save on helicopter costs during the summer,” said Tech. Sgt. John Jochusch, the 354th CES NCO in charge of range structural maintenance. “We bring in lumber and other materials for the summer builds.”
The time it takes to build the ice bridge varies year-to-year and is weather dependent, Jockusch explained. In optimal weather, the bridge takes one to one and a half weeks to construct. This year’s bridge took longer because of warmer temperatures.
Four Airmen with the 354th CES partnered with 20 soldiers this year to teach them how to make the ice bridge. With guidance from the Airmen, the soldiers learned ice bridge construction and the joint team completed the build in three weeks.
“It’s a dry river,” said Jockusch. “It is glacier fed and freezes in the winter. When it’s frozen, we go in with a bulldozer to break up the rotten ice and turn it into a fine powder. Then we spread water across it.”
Usually, the Airmen deal with overflow on the bridge toward the end of the build, but this year they were dealing with it while putting the ice bridge in, since this year was warmer, Jockusch explained.
Jockusch explained there were days they had to stay off the bridge and wait for the temperature to drop back to below zero.
Airmen are authorized to wear clothing that keeps them warm out in the elements. Issued insulated overalls and jackets are worn, replacing Air Force uniforms during the time the team works in the cold.
Once the bridge is finished and the Airmen transport the heavy equipment and materials to the Oklahoma Range on the opposite side of the bridge, the construction begins.
“We build all the targets for the pilots to destroy during the RED FLAG-Alaska exercises,” said Jockusch.
A pilot’s mission during RED FLAG-Alaska usually varies based on training requirements so the types of targets constructed on the range depend on the mission, Jockusch said.
Airmen take shipping containers known as conex boxes to build mock villages and also bring kits to build mock tanks. They use these mock set-ups for strategic training, which is RED FLAG-Alaska’s main mission.
The 354th CES Airmen also spent the time across the ice bridge putting a trail system in. The trail is large enough for one vehicle at a time and is used to cut down on the time it takes for the Airmen to set up targets and clean up the destroyed pieces from the large range after an exercise.
In the summer, the range is closed and Explosive Ordinance Disposal Airmen clear the range. Once that is done, the CES Airmen head back out via helicopter and retrieve all the pieces from the exercise training.
“Whatever we bring out to the range, we bring back,” said Ryan Lucke, a 354th CES engineering equipment operator.