GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind. --
As snow piles up, Hoosier Airmen depend on a team of civilian contractors who work hard on the ground to keep planes in the air.
During one of the snowiest months in Indiana history, Grissom's snow control team has been heading out in force with an array of vehicles to clear the base's airfield, keeping Airmen safe and the mission going.
Armed with monstrous industrial roll-over snow plows, snow blowers, straight-blade plows and multipurpose sweepers, the team has cleared more than 30 inches of snow that have fallen on Grissom's flightline this month.
The team's top priority is clearing Grissom's 12,500-foot runway and taxiway so the aircraft can continue to take off, said Marvin Plunkett, a base contractor in charge of snow control. The team is also responsible for clearing the base's 88 football fields of aircraft parking space.
"We can't close down like regular airports," explained Plunkett. "We have to keep the alert commitment open."
That alert commitment involves a portion of Grissom's 434th Air Refueling Wing aircraft being kept in a constant state of readiness, capable of launching at a moment's notice.
Before the snow-control team can roll out with their machines, a request must be made by the base's airfield management, security forces or command post, which gets approval from the 434th Operations Group commander to deploy them.
"The snow-removal crew is amazing," said Master Sgt. Matthew Huston, 434th ARW command and control technician, who often has to make the request for the snow-control team. "Many people don't realize how big the airfield is.
"They work at it constantly," Huston added. "Without them, we wouldn't be moving right now."
This season's heavy and persistent snowfall has meant the team has had to work around the clock to keep the flightline clear, and making the job even more difficult have been the bone-chilling temperatures, said Kevin Lack, Grissom's air traffic weather supervisor. This lowest recorded temperature this month was minus 17 F and wind chills have been around minus 25 F numerous times.
"At those temperatures, anything that melts even slightly turns in to a sheet of ice," Lack explained. "It gets even more complicated because diesel fuel tends to gel when it gets that cold."
Despite these challenges, the team has remained vigilant in their efforts, fighting off the historically severe weather.
"You get it done, and you got to do it again," said Plunkett.
When Grissom isn't covered in snow, the snow-control team performs other various maintenance jobs around the base that keep it functioning.
Grissom is not only home to the 434th ARW, the largest KC-135R Stratotanker
unit in the Air Force Reserve Command
, it also hosts three Army Reserve units and a Marine Corps Reserve communications detachment.
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