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Idaho National Guard helps with snow removal from snowstorm that dumped 15 inches

By Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur | 124th Fighter Wing January 17, 2017

GOWEN FIELD, Idaho -- Many are referring to this winter in the Treasure Valley as "Stormageddon 2017" or "Snowpocalypse 2017" as treacherous snow continues to fall, setting a new National Weather Service depth record of 15 inches since 1985 for Boise, Idaho.

On Thursday afternoon, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, along with officials in neighboring cities, declared a state of emergency due to the record-setting snowfall throughout the Treasure Valley. This state of emergency fell within the Idaho National Guard scheduled drill training.

Both the Idaho Air and Army National Guard used manpower and resources already scheduled to train on snow removal equipment throughout Gowen Field, as well as throughout the valley, to assist Ada County Highway District with their snow removal efforts.

"Because snow removal training was on the annual training cycle, working with the local civil authorities to conduct this training within the community created a win-win situation," said Idaho National Guard spokesman Maj. Chris Borders.

The Army National Guard supported the highway district in and around neighborhoods and the Air National Guard supported local hospitals in removing snow from the parking lots.

"This is an excellent opportunity to take the training on this weekend's drill schedule and put it to good use in the community," said Maj. Gen. Gary Sayler, commander of the Idaho National Guard. "Around this time each year we ramp up our snow removal capabilities to ensure we're able to keep our assets and facilities ready to respond to a state emergency."

Staff Sgt. Clint Pline, 124th Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels management systems technician, was able to take the dump truck and snow plow equipment off base for the first time in this type of training atmosphere.

"It gives us the chance to train with this equipment outside of Gowen Field into a real world environment and gets us out of our comfort zone," said Pline. "We need to practice and know how to use the equipment, and see how the equipment will work in the event of an emergency situation."

With this training opportunity comes learning experiences. Difficulties of starting the engines on the snow removal equipment posed problems early Saturday morning, due to gelling of the diesel fuel. Airmen with the 124th CES used heaters to warm the fuel to alleviate the gelling caused by the subzero temperatures.

"Last year we were able to store our equipment indoors, so we didn't have to deal with this issue. This is more snow than we have seen in the last 30 years and extremely cold temperatures," said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Sumner, commander of the 124th CES. "Additionally, the warmer temperatures that followed the storm caused the large amount of snow to quickly melt, creating leaky roofs and flooding parking lots."

Staff Sgt. Tyler Wilson, heavy equipment operator with CES, said they had difficulties getting the equipment off base because of the extreme cold weather.

"It was a very good learning experience to realize what we might need to do differently, if there was more of an emergency situation to follow," said Wilson.

The extreme weather pattern created other problems for CE around Gowen Field. Icicles measuring more than three feet had to be removed from buildings to reduce the risk of ice dams. The 124th CES has worked shifts around the clock since the beginning of this storm removing snow from the flight line and roads, clearing out gutters and roof dams, and repairing leaking roof damage.

"These record-setting winter conditions have impacted everyone in the valley, including us here on Gowen! Our engineers have been working tirelessly to ensure ramps, parking lots and roads on Gowen Field are safe for use, and are also are working to fix damaged buildings and removing icicles to keep further flooding from happening," said Col. Tim Donnellan, 124th Fighter Wing Commander. "We are excited to support our local community with snow removal efforts - it's a great time to be an Idaho Air National Guardsman!"

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