319th CES innovates solution for dual dormitory water outage

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Anthony Nunez-Pellicer
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Typically, infrastructure is not thought of as a weapons system, but during arctic temperatures here, the aging buildings and water lines providing heat and shelter to warfighters are further strained.

The 319th Civil Engineer Squadron provides vital support to Airmen of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing who in turn, ensure decisional advantage for combatant commanders through the high-altitude, long endurance aircraft the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40.

Day and night, these Airmen also provide command, control and communication capabilities to the Joint Force, allies and partner forces through the High Frequency Global Communications System.

The wing also oversees geographically separated units in three countries, actively contributing to the Advanced Battle Management System through the RQ-4 and E-11 Battlefield Airborne Communication Node year-round.

These Airmen, referred to as ‘Griffins,’ require adequate manpower, logistics and resources to execute these no-fail missions. Of equal importance to the weapons system being operated and the Airmen conducting the mission, are the installation’s facilities and housing. Any impact to base infrastructure brings the risk of mission degradation.

The 319th RW’s contingency response was put to the test when a waterline failed, leading to an inch of standing water in the Eielson Hall dormitory the morning of Jan. 3, 2024.

“People had their clothes soaked, electronics that were tied into surge protectors soaked, it was rough for them,” said Staff Sgt. Tailore Dawson, water and fuel systems maintenance supervisor for the 319th CES. “My team immediately responded.”

Dawson and his team discovered the source of the leak within 30 minutes, a steel pipe that burst under the building’s mechanical room roughly 12 feet underground. The original 1950’s pipe released enough water to fill the entire crawl space underneath the dorms and seep up through the floor.

“My team answered the call during holiday schedule, despite the freezing weather and having to be available at all times - I didn’t hear a single complaint,” said Dawson. “I made these call to change the schedule to 24-hour operations and my team immediately responded. Some of them missed out on family time and still did their best work. I’m very proud of them for that.”

Dorm residents, First Sergeants and dozens of volunteers from the base community rallied together to salvage as much personal property as possible and assist with mitigation and clean-up efforts.

“A lot of the community helped and the dorm Airmen themselves had towels and squeegees to dry and clean up their dorm,” said Dawson.

The immediate response to the leak was to turn the water off to the facility, affecting not just Eielson but also Kollinger Hall. This left over 100 residents without running water to drink, bathe in, use the restroom, or even brush their teeth.

Wing leaders determined living conditions were unsuitable. Residents of both halls were relocated to off-base commercial hotels or with friends and family; as the base’s Warrior Inn had permanently closed the year prior and the emergency living facilities were co-located in the affected dorm.

The team installed new piping ahead of the old system but when repressurizing the pipes for waterflow and ideally testing, water quickly filled the trenched-out area, identifying a secondary failed portion of the same pipe. 

To solve the new issue, the team had to quickly innovate. Their solution was to join the water system with the newly replaced fire suppression system, tying new pipes to an existing and functional method of transporting the same clean water.

“Fellow Airmen, supervisors and volunteers were dropping off food and heaters for our team working in the cold. It made us so proud to see everyone helping in this time of need, and the way our Engineers innovated to solve the problem was nothing short of incredible,” said Lt. Col. William Bentley, commander for the 319th CES.

After four days of around the clock repairs, most residents were allowed to return to their dorm rooms the next week, following water tests by the 319th Medical Group’s bioenvironmental engineering flight. The 319th CES plans to repair the original pipe after spring thaw this year.

Once work is completed in spring, Eielson Hall will have two working waterlines that can serve as backups for each other and prevent the necessitation for a full waterline shut off. Should this issue ever occur again, water will be restored in minutes as opposed to days.

“I am extremely proud of our airmen. They showed incredible resolve and creativity despite being under constant stress from working around the clock four days in a row for the wellbeing of their wingmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. Troy Pietz, senior enlisted leader for the 319th CES.