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NEWS | Jan. 12, 2018

JB Charleston plows through winter storm to restore ops

By Staff Sgt. William A. O'Brien Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

In the wake of Winter Storm Grayson, which arrived Jan. 3, 2018, several teams from across Joint Base Charleston worked to clear the snow, return runways to operational status and fix damages caused by the snow and ice.

Like previous rare storms such as in 1973 and 1989, Grayson created unusual challenges for Joint Base Charleston. However, readiness to deliver Rapid Global Mobility was never threatened because Airmen relocated and prepositioned Air Mobility aircraft to actively operate from remote locations.

"From the beginning, our priority was safety. A great deal of caution and consideration had to be taken into account as we worked through our response to this historic snow storm and multiple days of temperatures below 40 degrees. Many of our teammates worked long hours to ensure the safety of both our personnel and resources," said Col. Jeff Nelson, 628th Air Base Wing commander.

In order for the entire installation to resume normal operations, the base had to recover the airfield, remove snow on the roads and address facility issues such as broken water lines and HVAC system damage.

These services are taken for granted until they’re no longer there. When the power or water goes out or people are unable to pass through roads, response teams kick in and save the day,” said Col. Rockie Wilson, 628th Mission Support Group commander.

Joint Base Charleston is responsible for maintaining the runways used by both our military and civilian partners. With safety as the top priority, the base worked in coordination with the Charleston County Aviation Authority and Boeing to reopen Runway 03/21 by noon Jan. 6. Additionally, flight operations and the entire airfield reopened the following day as of 2 p.m. with the help and partnership of teams across the base.

"Everything from our security forces members keeping watch on the roadways for travelers, to the weather flight monitoring and providing necessary updates to the storm -- the dedication across the installation to bring the base up to full operations was admirable,” said Nelson.

The 628th Civil Engineer Squadron jumped into action repurposing excavation and construction equipment to clear the roads for essential personnel to make their way into work.

“When we started clearing the main gate the ice was about three inches thick,” said Tech. Sgt. Gregory Winter, 628th Civil Engineering Squadron NCO in charge of horizontal repair. “Breaking ice down and getting the first two lanes open made it possible for people to start safely getting back on base.” 

While the horizontal repairs shop cleared roads, the 628th Contracting Squadron contracted the necessary snow plows to assist with the effort.

“We’re not equipped or trained for snow removal like many northern bases are,” said Winter. “When it snowed and we needed to get it done, we took the tools we have at our disposal and we did it. We used a grader, which is used to level fill material and land and a back hoe as make shift snow plows.”

To the untrained eye an airfield may just seem like a large surface of concrete, but it is actually a delicate surface that must be handled with care and cleared with specialized snow plows.

“The grader and backhoe could be used for preliminary removal, but could do significant damage to the airfield if used to clear all the snow,” said Winter.

In order to make the runways safe for flight operations, base officials obtained additional snow and ice removal resources to augment locally available and contracted equipment.

“This historic winter storm produced icy conditions from freezing rain and then dumped up to six inches of snow on the airfield. A coordinated effort ensued across the base and with our partners at the Charleston County Aviation Authority and Boeing to safely clear the runways of both snow and ice to reopen the airfield for operations,” said Col. Jimmy Canlas, 437th Airlift Wing commander. “It took a great deal of teamwork and resourcefulness throughout the storm, and I'm thankful for the men and women who worked around the clock to restore operational capability at the airfield.”

While spending millions of dollars on supplies and equipment that might only be used every few decades isn’t economically practical, leadership is actively looking at ways to better prepare for future storms.

“There will always be lessons learned, and because of that we are working with our local community partners on ways to continue to improve our response in the future,” said Nelson. “I'm thankful for the efforts of our team in response to this historic storm.”