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Dirt boyz supporting airpower by battling nature
GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. ? Heavy equipment operators, affectionately referred to as ?Dirt Boyz? by their fellow civil engineer squadron peers, clear the flightline here Dec. 4 after a snow storm using sweepers, plows and graters (photo/Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon).
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Dirt boyz, supporting airpower by battling nature

Posted 12/20/2007   Updated 12/20/2007 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon
319th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

12/20/2007 - GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D.  -- A snowflake weighs only .0000003 kg, but with enough of them together, they can prevent a tanker carrying more than 49 trillion times its weight from taking off.

It's the mission of heavy equipment operators, affectionately called 'dirt boyz' among their peers in the civil engineer squadron, to sweep, plow or scrape the snow from the runway so the wing's flying mission can continue even in the worst winter weather.

"When the snow starts to fly, we know we'll have a busy night," said Senior Airman Daniel Rimer, a dirt boy from the 319th Civil Engineer Squadron and Surgoinsville, Tenn., native. "When it's windy and snowing, it's a constant battle since the snow constantly blows back across where we just swept."

Brooms are used to sweep the loose snow from the flightline as it collects. If the snow piles up, the crews use oversized snow blowers and plows more than 12 feet tall to push or blow the snow away from the mission-critical, 12,000-foot runway. However, if the weather conditions are right, the number one winter enemy of the dirt boyz rears its frozen head -- ice.

Ice build-up can quickly overwhelm the abilities of the plows and even graters. When this happens, dirt boyz use a special de-icing solvent to melt the ice so the equipment can move it. The process is slow-going at best, but necessary for the wing's mission to have even a chance at success.

According to Airman Rimer, snow removal on the flightline is the dirt boyz' primary mission during the winter; yet, in technical school, heavy equipment operator instructors don't spend much time instructing on the operation of snow removal equipment.

"I think we only spent 30 minutes on the subject," he said.

All the training on the snow removal equipment, as well as many other machines, is accomplished on-the-job.

"As soon as we get here we start getting qualified to operate the equipment," said Senior Airman Benjamin Bagnato, 319 CES heavy equipment operator. "Each piece of equipment has its one learning curve, some are easy to learn, and others are more difficult."

According to Airman Rimer, it takes about 48 hours of operating time on a piece of equipment to be qualified to operate it alone.

For these highly-trained masters of giant machines, knowing they have a direct impact on the flying mission is the only reason they need to tackle the worst Jack Frost can blow there way.

"It a good feeling knowing what we do is so important," said Airman Rimer.

It's just .0000003 kilograms, but if it wasn't for dirt boyz and their fleet of titanic machines, it could have a dramatic impact on America's global air power.

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