JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The 773d Civil Engineer Squadron received their ninth Balchen/Post Award for snow and ice control excellence Aug. 16.
Established in 1976, the award highlights how effectively installations with a Snow and Ice Control program execute operations against categories such as snow removal and ice control achievements, performance and weather.
“The key thing about Alaska is, from October to April, we have snow on the ground whereas a lot of other installations - they’ll get a climbing snowfall and two days later it’s 60 degrees,” said Mark Mobley, the 773d CES chief of Heavy Repair. “It stays cold [here], so we utilize the most efficient technology to stay ahead of snowfall, like putting sensors in the runway that gives us chemical content and freezing temperature, and we use potassium acetate to pre-treat asphalt to keep snow from bonding to it. We stay ahead of icing by using these chemicals and brooms.”
Mobley, an Alaska native, has been in the snow and ice control business for nearly 40 years, and stressed that his team of nearly 140 civilians, contractors and military members takes great pride in what they do from October to April each year.
“They’re standing tall when they hear those jets going, that’s a big deal for them,” Mobley said. “I don’t have doubts that, at any time of day, we can get aircraft off the ground and recover them, get people on and off base as necessary, and maintain all of our priorities, like the hospital and munition routes.”
Across JBER, the 773d CES supports the alert missions for the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptors, E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, HH-60 Pave Hawks, and C-130 Hercules. Additionally, they assist snow removal and ice control for the U.S. Army airfield and ammo routes.
“We also support the Army National Guard Bryant Army Airfield, the Nike Site Summit, the ranges out past Chugiak, and the munitions and ammo supply areas,” Mobley added. “We don’t lose the airfield, and if the Army can’t get to their airfield, then there’s no mission. [During the winter] Soldiers and airplanes are the same mission.”
That is one key difference between the sides of JBER. The 773d CES maintains the Elmendorf side of JBER, while a contracted service handles Fort Richardson.
“As much as our guys would like to do everything on JBER, it’s just not possible,” said Senior Master Sgt. Geoffrey Abbe, the 773d CES superintendent of Heavy Repair. “When we joint-based, we never got the allocations necessary to maintain the entire installation. As a result, the Fort Richardson side is maintained by a Base Operations and Maintenance Services contract.”
Abbe added the contractors have a priority system much like the 773d CES, however, it’s still a joint effort.
“In the event something needs to be taken care of on the Fort Rich side, we can flex that capability over there and get that taken care of,” Abbe said. “Additionally, one good thing that they put on that contract is their capability to pre-treat roads prior to [or during] an event. That makes it easier to keep [roads] clear.”
In order for the contractor to provide that capability on the Fort Richardson side, Mobley, Abbe and their team provided the statement of work, process and information they had developed over time to the contractors – it’s all about teamwork.
Speaking of teamwork, snow removal and ice control would not be possible without innovation and assistance from the 673d Logistics Readiness Squadron’s vehicle maintenance section.
“Mr. Leon Sutton and his folks have been quite an innovative team,” Mobley said. “They communicated with the manufacturers that – hey we have this piece of equipment and are seeing these problems with it – and teamed up to develop a repair and fix, and then the manufacturers have incorporated that into their design, and now it goes across all Air Force snow equipment.”
As the months go by and winter gets closer, Mobley stressed the importance of being cautious while on the roads.
“People need to be cautious when driving - winter is coming up really fast,” Mobley said. “Slow down, consider [snow] tires for your vehicles and safety equipment that you carry in your vehicles. The last thing I ever want to hear about is someone freezing or becoming hypothermic because they ran into the ditch.”
It may not be your fault, but going into a ditch can happen. Some items to keep in your vehicle are extra blankets, pants, long-sleeve shirts, a jacket, gloves, pair of boots and non-perishable foods like water, granola bars.
Congratulations to the 773d CES Heavy Repair Element for winning this award.