Engineers, airfield managers fight snowy weather, keep Misawa runway open

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Jeremy Garcia
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Misawa averaged more than 147 inches of snow over the past six years and experiences freezing and drifting precipitation from the Pacific Ocean. It takes a lot of coordination to keep the flight line clear and remains a top priority for the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron and 35th Operations Support Squadron.


The engineers work hand-in-hand with airfield operations to clear the flight line of as much snow and debris as possible.


“Some of the unique challenges we face at Misawa are keeping up with the hardened aircraft shelters and clearing of the taxiways during multiple hours of snowfall,” said Master Sgt. Eric Roberson, the 35th CES heavy repair superintendent who has lived through two winters here. “We encounter flight and HAS changes every day and it is our job to adjust as quickly as possible to ensure we do not waste deicing chemicals.”


The squadron removes snow across all areas of operations including the parking ramps, taxiways, HASs and joint areas for both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.


Although the 35th CES remains the go-to squadron for snow removal, Roberson acknowledged multiple units which aid in ensuring mission success.


“Airfield management are the brain of airfield operations and provide snow control dictating the changes; they’re really the gate keepers for all areas that need attention,” explained Roberson. “Along with airfield operations, the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron provides all the snow removal equipment for our team.”


Operations, engineers, logistics and maintenance work together as a united front to ensure aircraft can take off and complete their sorties in a safe environment.


“For mission success, we communicate the areas in need of plowing and when the chemicals are used with the 35th CES; we send out a ‘snow priority’ sheet every night to address what areas of the airfield need the most attention,” explained Tech. Sgt. Michael Miller, the 35th OSS airfield management operations NCO in charge. “The sheet is so important because it dictates where the snow needs to be removed and the specific time.”


In order to create a safe environment to meet the commander’s priorities, the 35th CES has one of the largest snow fleets in the entire Air Force. The fleet consists of 153 personnel and 135 vehicles that cover more than 82 miles of roadway, not including the flight line, across the installation.


With such a large team, attention to detail and constant communication ensures the 35th Fighter Wing remains combat-ready to protect U.S. interests in the Pacific and support the mutual defense of Japan.


“We frequently conduct airfield checks for snow berms, ice chunks and any other foreign object debris that may be harmful to an aircraft,” continued Miller. “If we see an area in need we call it in to snow control and temporarily close the affected sections until the removal actions have occurred.”


Misawa AB has its own challenges when striving to maintain the ability to project combat air power.


“The answer to all of our challenges is communication,” Roberson explained. “We have a lot of organizations with input on how to remove the snow and getting them to actively communicate helps create a solution.”


The removal of the snow on the flight line is critical to get F-16s cleared for takeoff.


“Every day it snows before or during our flying window is a challenge because the runway, taxi routes and parking spots in front of our aircraft shelters have to be cleared,” said Capt. Taylor Absher, the 14th Fighter Squadron assistant chief of weapons. “Airfield operations and the engineers have to have a strong line of communication to work snow removal priorities on a very dynamic basis and it’s because of their relationship we operate in a place like Misawa and do not lose combat capability.”