MINOT AIR FORCE BASE With so much snow this winter, the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron snow removal team at Minot Air Force Base is on the go.
The high priorities for the team are keeping the base flightline clear and removing snow as needed at facilities in the Minot missile complex.
"We use 20-foot airfield snowplows to remove the heavy snow, 18-foot front-mount snow brooms to remove the finer snow and expose taxiway/runway lines and high-speed ribbon snowblowers capable of moving 3,000 tons of snow per hour," said Lt. Col. Monte Harner, commander of the base's 5th Civil Engineer Squadron, explaining what equipment is used to remove snow on the flightline.
The 5th Civil Engineer Squadron at Minot Air Force Base is charged with keeping the flightline clear of snow to fulfill mission requirements at the base, shown in this photo taken Jan. 6 by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Stratton. The flightline is one of many areas cleaned by the squadron’s snow removal team.
"We must keep the runway open 24 hours a day to support local 5th Bomb Wing flying operations as well as to receive any transient aircraft," Harner said.
An equally high priority is supporting the 91st Missile Wing to remove snow as needed at 165 launch and missile-alert facilities in the 8,500-square-mile Minot missile complex, he said.
Harner explained how 5th CES has a comprehensive priority list for snow removal response.
"In addition to the flightline and missile complex facilities, other Priority 1 areas include our command-and-control facilities, weapons storage areas and emergency services access roads. Priority 2 areas include main roadways, and key operational and support facilities (i.e. child development center). Priority 3 areas include secondary roadways, residential roads, dormitories and other less critical facilities," Harner said.
The 5th Civil Engineer Squadron snow removal team is composed of full-time military and civilian equipment operators and seasonal overhires, as well as additional augmentees who are called in as needed, Harner said.
An augmentee is a military person who is trained how to use the equipment and can assist the squadron short term. Overhires are temporary civilian employees.
"When all augmentees are activated, we have 68 personnel working three shifts for an average of 22 to 24 people per shift. Each of the three shifts work an eight-hour day providing 24-hour coverage, typically November through April," Harner said.
On the flightline, the snow removal team is responsible for 1.56 million square yards of pavement, about 61 miles of paved roads and parking lots supporting 339 base facilities, Harner said.
Harner said snow removal on the flightline starts as soon as the snow begins to accumulate with the intent to keep the runway open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "Once the snow stops, snow removal ops continue until all the priorities have been completed," he said.
To remove ice on the flightline, he said they use an environmentally-friendly product potassium acetate (E-36) which is widely used at airports across the country.
There are some big challenges in keeping the flightline free of the elements.
"When the temperatures rise, frost often forms on the pavement surface which reduces surface friction," Harner said. "This requires us to expend a lot of manhours brooming the pavement to increase friction and enable aircraft operations. E-36 can also be utilized to reduce frost, however, mechanical methods are preferred."
The successful snow operations require comprehensive preseason planning, training and dedicated personnel and a disciplined equipment maintenance regime to maximize vehicle operability throughout the snow season, Harner said.
He said this winter has been challenging with the large amount of snowfall received.
"The snow removal team has logged over 1,400 hours of overtime so far this season," Harner said. He said they have had to pull additional augmentees from within the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron to assist with snow removal.
"Also, in addition to our normal seasonal overhires, we have hired 12 emergency overhires on a 30-day basis to assist in snow-removal efforts," Harner said.
This year, he said they have used a local contractor to assist with opening the main roadways, key facilities and parking lots immediately after snowfall of more than 4 to 6 inches.
"This allows us to open up base streets and lower priority facilities quicker while still maintaining an operational airfield and meeting other Priority 1 requirements," Harner said.
He said they have also used the contractor to haul snow from the housing area on base where the snow berms in some places were approaching 6 feet. "This creates room along the curbs to accommodate future snow-removal operations, removes visibility obstructions at intersections and driveways, and provides housing residents relief and a place to shovel upcoming snowfalls," Harner said.