JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Clearing snow is an around-the-clock operation paramount in keeping roads and runways operable, essential for nearly all military operations during winter months at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The committed team from the 773d Civil Engineer Squadron Snow Barn assumes this charge.
Earlier this year, the Snow Barn team was recognized for their dedication and hard work when their team was awarded the Balchen/Post Award for the best military snow removal team in the Air Force for the 2016-2017 winter season.
The Balchen/Post Award is an annual award presented by the American Association of Airport Executives. It recognizes outstanding performance by military snow and ice control personnel and promotes better service through policies, procedures and innovation.
The award criteria highlights base specific snow and ice operations, environmental awareness, number of snow and ice events, total amount of accumulation, mission impact in terms of lost sorties, use of liquid and solid ice-control agents, and equipment readiness.
“We have the best group of professionals who are driven to meet the needs of our mission partners,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Austin, 773d CES supervisors and resources manager. “The training and dedication of our team has set them apart from their peers across the Air Force. I'm elated to see the team recognized for all their hard work and long hours behind the wheel.”
The team consists of 23 military and 111 civilian personnel during the winter season, spread across three shifts, providing 24-hour coverage. During heavy snowfalls or manning shortages, they also utilize 24 augmentees, supported internally by the 773d CES.
Together, they are charged with maintaining three airfields, 14 ramps, 42 hardstands, 27 hangars, 5.5 million square yards of airfield pavements, 168 miles of roads, 185 vehicle parking lots, and the Air Force's largest snow removal fleet - 272 pieces of heavy equipment valued at over $55 million.
During last year's operations, the Snow Barn incorporated new technology to their runway weather information system, formally known as Runway Ice Detection System, reducing their chemical dependency by 20 percent.
“In addition, we procured a 200,000-gallon storage tank, allowing us to purchase our de-icing chemical pre-season, saving the Air Force $656,000 annually by eliminating mid-season emergency purchases,” said Austin.
The team also battled a record number of icing events to include over 30 straight days of dense ice fog, without losing any sorties due to snow and ice operations.
Austin says the Snow Barn’s team couldn’t do what it does without the help of vital supporting agencies.
“Our designated equipment maintenance personnel from the 773d Logistics Readiness Squadron D-29 section keeps us running,” he said. “Without them, our aging equipment fleet would cause numerous stoppages and delays in our operations. The cohesiveness we have between the two elements makes for a very strong and dynamic team.
Together, they were able to identify numerous manufacture failures in our equipment fleet and make modifications that would set new manufacture standards, affecting consumers worldwide.
“I’m very proud to say I’m a part of this endeavor,” said Mark Mobley, 773d CES heavy repair chief. “Leon Sutton of the 673d Logistics Readiness Squadron and his team of skilled craftsmen should share in this incredible achievement. Without their expertise and commitment, our team would not be capable of the things we do.”
Mobley has been working at JBER for 36 years and says the team has never “lost a runway,” meaning they’ve always kept the surface cleared to the degree necessary for aircraft to land.
“We have a dedicated, driven team of professional individuals who place the safety and security of our installation and nation at the forefront of their work,” said Mobley. “They demonstrate this every day, and it shows in maintaining the installation for both automotive, pedestrian and aircraft traffic. These guys and girls come to work in all weather and do their very best to ensure a safe environment for all. These folks are the best in the Air force.”