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28th CES plows a way for the mission to continue

A member of the 28th Civil Engineering Squadron operates a snow blower to clear the flightline at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Dec. 16, 2015. The airfield is the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron’s biggest mission and number one priority during winter months. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

A member of the 28th Civil Engineering Squadron operates a snow blower to clear the flightline at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Dec. 16, 2015. The airfield is the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron’s biggest mission and number one priority during winter months. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

A member of the 28th Civil Engineering Squadron operates a plow to push snow off the flightline at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Dec. 16, 2015. The 28th Civil Engineer Squadron maintains 125 pieces of equipment and is in charge of clearing the airfield and the base streets during inclement weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

A member of the 28th Civil Engineering Squadron operates a plow to push snow off the flightline at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Dec. 16, 2015. The 28th Civil Engineer Squadron maintains 125 pieces of equipment and is in charge of clearing the airfield and the base streets during inclement weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- It's the time of the year when temperatures drop and snow relentlessly falls on base.

To handle this, the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron transforms into the "snow barn" and clears the base of snow and ice - their most critical mission of the year.

During the winter, the snow barn maintains approximately 125 pieces of equipment used to keep the base and airfield operational.

The CES Airmen, also known as the "dirt boyz", have cleared 3 million square yards of airfield, enabling the wing to launch 20 sorties despite over nine inches of snowfall this season.

However, the airfield is not the only area they worry about. Behind the scenes, Airmen prioritize each area to be cleared based on mission essential status.

When a winter storm hits, some are curious when snow control will clear their area, but the reality is the flight has two priority lists; one for the flightline and the other for street-side. These tell snow barn personnel which sections to plow first and the process of clearing each space.

For the street-side list, the primary mission is to clear roads. Afterwards, they continue plowing prioritized buildings and lastly, once the snow has been piled up, they haul it out of the area.

Clearing the airfield, their top priority, is a little different.

On the flightline, six snow plows run simultaneously to clear the airfield, but there are challenges in keeping equipment serviceable, which can cause snow clearing to take up to a week.

"Sometimes it's frustrating," said Senior Airman Levi Ivey, 28th CES pavements and heavy equipment operator. "It could take 20 minutes to complete one loop and by time you get back to where you started, all that you've done has been covered up again by the snow."

While most people are sleeping, the snow barn is out working hard as ever, said Tech. Sgt. Bryan Vandersloot, 28th CES pavements and heavy equipment supervisor, and when they say a B-1 has to take off - regardless of inclement weather - a B-1 has to take off.

Additionally, complications can arise while clearing snow, such as cars in parking lots and stuck in streets, blocking the plows. Even the flight knows what it is like to be stranded.

During 2013's Winter Storm Atlas, the dirt boyz experienced one of the toughest times in clearing the base. There was only one door open to get machinery out to the flightline.

"Atlas was horrible," Ivey said. "It was really cold and dark because we were stuck in the shop with no power for three days. The personnel were low on energy and we had to scavenge the freezers for food."

Ivey added three of their personnel were stranded outside by the main gate for two days before they could even rescue them. After that incident, shop leadership decided every Airman should return to the shop to wait out the storm.

"Going outside felt like getting sandblasted in the face," Ivey said. "We had gotten 32 inches of snow within four hours with 50 mph winds."

Although snow storms make it challenging, Vandersloot adds cross-training into the engineering career field was one of the best decisions he has ever made.

"I love everything about my job," Vandersloot said. "There's a bit of every [personality] in this shop."

People are not the only thing that makes the career worthwhile in the snow barn. The shop also had the greatest performance in Air Combat Command for 2014. It is not surprising as they have been winning the Balchen/Post Award for Outstanding Achievement in Airport Snow and Ice Control for five consecutive years, and on and off since 2001.

"Times like [Winter] Storm Atlas let you see if a shop will really come together," Vandersloot said. "It shows what people are truly made of."

For more information about the Snow Control flight, you can read our first article, "28th CES snow control gets down and dirty."