Snow doesn’t slow wing’s civil engineering squadron

The 167th Civil Engineering Squadron has a variety of vehicles and equipment to clear snow from the base roads, parking areas, runway, taxiways and aircraft ramp. (Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Stacy Gault/Released)

The 167th Civil Engineering Squadron has a variety of vehicles and equipment to clear snow from the base roads, parking areas, runway, taxiways and aircraft ramp. (Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Stacy Gault/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Keep the shovels at the ready.

Punxsutawney Phil spotted his shadow Feb. 2 forecasting six more weeks of winter.

News perhaps not relished by many already weary of this winter's snowy mix.

But it's business as usual for the wing's civil engineering squadron. While some assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing may still be snug in their warm beds during the wee morning hours, members of the civil engineering squadron are already hard at work. They may be found digging out from the mounds of snow which have pummeled the area in recent weeks.

Maj. John Poland, the 167th Civil Engineering Squadron commander, explained that when it comes to snow removal on base the priorities are clear: base roads and large parking areas are first addressed, then the runway/taxiways, followed by the ramps.

Typically the team will arrive at 3 a.m. to begin normal snow operations and can clear the base roads and parking lots by 6 a.m., Poland explained.

"Once daylight breaks and under the watchful eye of the control tower to keep the airfield safe, the runway/taxiways are cleared," he said. "For a normal snow event, snow removal is about 12 hours on the first day and an additional eight hours the following day to finish up the parking ramps."

Should snow start tumbling during a typical workday, the squadron strives to keep the main base roads and west gate open for traffic.

More than two dozen Airmen and state workers assigned to the civil engineering squadron utilize a variety of equipment in their battle against the elements. Heavy equipment vehicles are used to plow the runway with 16-foot wide brooms and large snow blowers tackling the runway, taxiways, and ramps. Other equipment in the fleet used for snow removal include dump truck-sized plow trucks, walk behind and tractor powered snow blowers, brooms on utility vehicles, loaders, tractors and salt spreaders.

And Poland noted the simple snow shovel is "ever popular" and always useful.

But what happens when "snowmageddon" strikes? On occasion, operations may be delayed or the base forced to close and making that call is a team effort. The base civil engineer and wing commander collaborate on whether to delay opening the base or request to shut it down.

"Factors in the decision process include the timing of the snow event, the amount of snow and especially ice and the amount of time it will take to prepare the base roads and parking lots for arrival of personnel," Poland said.

Many may take for granted what the civil engineering squadron does to ensure the wing can carry on with its mission.

"Airmen should be aware that snow operations are continued long after they arrive to work," Poland said.

The squadron commander stressed not to get close to snow equipment in operation and avoid driving close behind the snow removal equipment.

"Equipment operators do their best to focus on their task and watch for vehicles around them and may stop and back up at any time," Poland said.

"The snow removal this year has been about what we normally prepare for and expect," he noted.

Adding: "The biggest challenge of this particular season has been the extended periods of bitterly cold temperatures which has caused more difficulty in removing ice on parking lots and the airfield. We have used about three times the amount of chemical treatment than normal and this is the first year to my knowledge that chemical treatment has ever been used on the runway and taxiways in order to get the airfield operational."

Col. Rodney Neely, commander of the wing's mission support group, noted the civil engineering squadron is up to the challenge no matter how many inches they face. During February 2010's "snowmageddon" 38 inches of snow fell with an additional 18 three days later.

"While civil engineering clears the airfield so we can fly missions and recover aircraft - through the Airport Joint Use Agreement (AJUA) - civil engineering keeps the runway clear for civilian aircraft and during this storm assisted the airport manager in clearing civilian taxiways and ramps, again through the AJUA," Neely noted.

And even though spring is just around the corner, depending on how much more snow is in the forecast this season, 2014 may set its own record.