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Balad Airmen have sweeping task

by Tech. Sgt. Pamela Anderson
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

11/25/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN)  -- Keeping the busy airfield here free of debris is a lot of work -- and takes a lot of sweeping.

But Airmen from the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron airfield management flight and 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron pavements and equipment shop see it as a challenge.

"We oversee the whole process of sweeping operations," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Kretschmer, the support squadron’s airfield manager. "We funnel the request for sweepers to CE then inspect afterwards to ensure the airfield is operational."

And keeping the airfield it operational is a full-time job. Civil engineers operate the sweepers 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

They have to. Balad’s airfield is the second busiest single runway operation in the world, just behind London’s Heathrow Airport, said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Hannaford, the civil engineers’ operations superintendent.

The base handles about 15,000 sorties a month -- a 280,000 total in fiscal year 2005, Sergeant Kretschmer said.

So sweeper operators are getting plenty of experience.

"Seventeen people rotate responsibilities throughout the (air expeditionary force) cycle," Sergeant Hannaford said. "The individuals will perform sweeper operator duties for one week phases so everyone will get the opportunity to gain experience in sweeping and airfield operations."

The terrain and types of aircraft landing at the base have an impact on foreign object damage, or FOD, prevention.

"With both fixed wing and rotary aircraft here, and the number of sorties each day, sweeping takes on a new role," Sergeant Hannaford said. "Since we do not have the comfort of green grass, small rocks and other debris have a tendency to find their way onto airfield surfaces from open areas of the airfield and from vehicles.

“If everyone entering the airfield would keep their vehicles on hard surfaces this would help eliminate a majority of FOD, especially during the rainy season," he said.

The overall runway condition is good, but some sections have bigger FOD concerns than others, Sergeant Kretschmer said. The south end of the runway takes the heaviest beating. There is a plan for a complete renovation.

In the meantime, airfield management prioritizes areas needing work and where the sweepers should focus their efforts.

"They spend a lot of time near the hardened aircraft shelters, taxiways and -- of course -- the runway," Sergeant Kretschmer said. "Our biggest concern is the F-16 (Fighting Falcon) because its engines are so low to the ground and have major sucking power."

It's a legitimate worry since debris could knock out an engine and affect overall mission capability.

"These aircraft rely on the sweepers to provide a FOD-free path," Sergeant Hannaford said.

The pavements and equipment personnel are doing their part to fulfill that need.

"Sweeping can be very tedious and it's a job that goes unrecognized," said Staff Sgt. Jason Putt, a pavements and construction equipment troop. "But we know what an important role it plays in the overall mission.

“So I'm glad to be doing it," he said.

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