Snow Worries: Civil Engineers Keep 180FW Mission-Ready

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shane Hughes
  • 180th Fighter Wing

Late in January, a polar vortex struck the Midwest, causing the temperature to plummet as low as 10 below zero. High winds made the temperature outside feel as cold as 35 below zero. Anyone outside with skin exposed to the elements became susceptible to frostbite within minutes. As snow began to accumulate at the 180th Fighter Wing, civil engineers began the critical task of clearing the flight line.

“Our main priority is the Aerospace Control Alert mission,” said Master Sgt. Codey Kinemond, operations superintendent for the 180FW Civil Engineering squadron. “If that ramp isn’t clear, then they can’t fly.”

“The country is counting on us to be available and ready at all times, no matter what the weather is, so it’s critically important that taxiway is clear from our aircraft shelters to the runway,” said Lt. Col. Brian Hoose, ACA commander at the 180FW.

The polar vortex presented unique problems for the civil engineers. Kinemond said the temperatures were so low that the de-icing pellets and fluids they typically use to clear the flight line wouldn’t work. They had to keep a snow removal broom vehicle operating constantly, driving it back and forth across the flight line over and over again. During most snow storms, the temperatures are nearer to freezing and there’s more moisture in the snow, making it heavier and easier to remove with only a few passes from the snow removal equipment, but the extremely low temperatures meant that the snow was drier and lighter.

“As soon as we cleared the snow from one area, the wind would blow it back over what we had just cleared,” Kinemond said. “We had to keep the one broom vehicle out there going back and forth constantly.”

Even before the polar vortex hit, the civil engineers were hard at work. Rain preceded the polar vortex and threatened to make a bad situation even worse.

“One of our biggest challenges was getting the moisture off the ramp before the temperature fell,” said John Turley, building construction superintendent at the 180FW. “Once the temperature drops that low, that moisture freezes up and you’re not getting rid of it until the temperature comes back up again.”

In addition to keeping the flight line clear, the civil engineers are responsible for keeping the power and heating on in all the buildings, and keeping the roads and sidewalks clear. Turley said it takes an average of six hours to clear snow and ice from the roads and parking lots on base.

“It takes a lot of people on this base to make sure those planes get off the ground, so we have to make sure everyone is safe so they can do their jobs too,” Kinemond said.

With only nine civil engineers responsible for base maintenance 24 hours a day, managing shifts and overtime becomes a careful balancing act. While Airmen prepared to leave for a deployment to Estonia last year, civil engineers were on base for seven days straight to keep the flight line clear for the F-16 Fighting Falcons and the C-17 Globemasters responsible for transporting troops and equipment overseas. They even work on major holidays, such as Christmas Eve, to ensure the 180FW is always ready to respond to any threat to the nation.

“It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, or what holiday, if they need us to be here, we’re here,” Kinemond said.

While others keep warm inside watching the snow turn the world around them into a picturesque winter wonderland reminiscent of a Bing Crosby Christmas song, the civil engineers at the 180FW are working around the clock, in the bitter cold, to keep the nation safe.

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