Airmen versus Mother Nature
By Airman 1st Class William Johnson, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 07, 2015
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- There are few Airmen whose job requires them to do battle on a daily basis. However, this is the case for a select few at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
The Pest Management shop of the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron confronts Mother Nature daily to protect the more than 9,000 members of Team Dover against a range of insects, bugs and diseases and maintains vegetation and wildlife on the flight line that could create hazards for aircraft.
Ken Barnes, 436th CES Pest Management foreman, has worked at the pest management shop for more than 16 years and said that as the summer months roll in, their work orders nearly double.
"We handle all the insect, vegetation, animal and mosquito control for the base," said Barnes. "We spray on average between 10,000 and 15,000 gallons in just herbicide each year. We also do the runways and taxiways because if left untreated, the vegetation can break up the ground and cause a FOD (foreign object debris) hazard to the aircraft."
There are more than just bugs and weeds that keep the five members of the Pest Management shop busy. Wildlife such as foxes, deer and birds can cause hazards to aircraft taking off and landing at Dover AFB. The 436th Pest Management shop is a key player in the Bird Air Strike Hazards program. All injured animals are turned over to local wildlife rescues for rehabilitation and are release back into the wild.
But not all local wildlife is so lucky. As the summer rains continue to soak Dover AFB, it provides the ideal climate for mosquitoes and mosquito larvae to thrive.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Holmes, 436th CES Pest Management NCO in charge, said once mosquito traps meet a certain threshold, the Pest Management shop can begin treating for mosquitos and their larvae. With the constant heat and rain, the traps are nearly overflowing with mosquitos triggering a response from the pest management shop.
"We are using ultra-low-volume foggers to combat the mosquitos, it puts out a lot less chemicals than the old traditional way of going out and spraying liquids," said Holmes. "The foggers turn the chemicals into an aerosol that atomizes into the air and makes contact with the insect causing it to die."
More than 1,800 mosquito larvae briquettes have been placed in pools of stagnated water around the base to prevent any larvae from receiving their "wings."
Unlike other pest management offices throughout the Air Force, the 436th Pest Management shop does not contract any of their maintenance to outside agencies.
"We do all of our own maintenance on all of our equipment," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Fink, 436th CES Pest Management supervisor. "We don't send anything downtown, so if something breaks on our rigs, we bring it back to our shop and fix it in a day. That allows us to be more independent to complete our mission."
Since Dover AFB is located in a region that experiences four different seasons, Fink believes Airmen in the career field have much to gain from an assignment here.
"Dover is amazing for the pest management career field," said Fink. "I believe that every pest management Airmen that comes into the Air Force should come through Dover because there isn't anything that we don't get our hands on."
The summer months also usher in a special, no-fail mission for the 436th Pest Management shop.
Every year, thousands of Japanese Beetles descend upon Dover AFB contaminating military and civilian aircraft. This results in a quarantine of all aircraft departing Dover AFB and traveling to one of the nine western states that are protected against Japanese Beetles.
"If any aircraft is leaving here and going to one of those nine protected states, we have to inspect and/or treat that aircraft before it can depart," said Barnes.
Once an aircraft is prepped, treatment time is relatively quick, taking approximately 37 seconds for a C-5M Super Galaxy and 17 seconds for a C-17 Globemaster III. Members of the pest management shop suit up and walk the inside of the aircraft while canister's discharge their chemicals to kill any beetles. Once sprayed, the aircraft is sealed shut for 15 minutes. If the seal is broken, the aircraft must be 'bombed' again.
If the beetles spread to one of the nine protected states the results could be devastating for the economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the beetles and their grubs could destroy millions of dollars in agriculture ranging from citrus trees to vineyards to potato farms in these protected states.
As the airlift mission continues to send Dover aircraft across all regions of the world, the battle between Mother Nature and the 436th Pest Management shop will continue to rage on.
"You just never know what you're going to find and when," said Barnes. "With our aircraft going everywhere in the world, who knows what insects and bugs are coming back with it? But it's our job and our mission to always be ready for it."