AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar –
Have you ever tried maintaining more that 20 million square feet of anything? Ok, that sounds crazy, so let’s say that you have a staff of six highly trained individuals who are willing and able to devote their full attention to the task. No problem right? In addition to the millions of square feet of airfield we can’t forget the access ramps, more than 30 taxiways, thousands of individual lights, extremely high temperatures, some humidity, some birds once in a while, and wind- don’t forget the dust and sand it carries through the air at 40 plus miles per hour. Still no problem you say? Just a couple more things; the millions of square feet of concrete and asphalt happens to be the largest airfield in the U.S. Air Force Central Command Area of Responsibility, where a large number of massive aircraft of different varieties take off and land daily; all in support of the fight for freedom and democracy against extremism in the modern world. Well, regardless of what you think about the airfield environment, this is exactly what the 379th Airfield Management section of the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron does 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Airfield Management has three requirements; provide a safe, efficient and effective airfield,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Sigmon, airfield manager, 379 EOSS, “no matter how we operate day to day, no matter how we do it, we must meet those three things.”
A complete inspection of the airfield needs to be conducted daily to include inspections of aircraft parking, airfield markings, general pavement and infrastructure and the runway arresting system. While inspecting the airfield, personnel are responsible for keeping an eye out for drivers who don’t follow proper airfield driving procedures. According to Senior Airman Thomas Smith, shift lead assigned to the 379 EOSS, the inspections take a few hours to complete. In addition smaller scale inspections are conducted approximately every 3 hours, or as needed which is typically the case according to Sigmon, resulting in more frequent inspections.
“The ever flowing nature of Al Udeid definitely keeps us busy and on our toes” said Sigmon.
In addition to overseeing the safety and integrity of the airfield, or “weapons system,” as you may hear the airfield referred to by airfield management, the organization is also responsible for the oversight, implementation, training and enforcement of the airfield driving program. Tech. Sgt. Santino Sustaita, airfield driving program manager for the 379 EOSS explains, “Just like the Division of Motor Vehicles where you have to go to get licensed, trained, certified, and tested.” Airfield management does the same type of thing with the focus of driving on the airfield.
Sustaita is responsible for training representatives from each of the several airfield driving programs across the base. The representatives return to their work and areas and in turn, train the 4,000-plus licensed airfield drivers. After each new driver has completed the necessary training, to include a drive across the entire airfield with an instructor during day and nighttime hours, Sustaita issues them an airfield driver’s license.
“We want to make sure people are trained and qualified and know exactly what they are doing out there, because it’s really more than a driving area, it’s an operating space for aircraft,” said Sustaita. “The main thing we stress is the controlled movement area and preventing runway incursions,” he added.
On the runway, airfield management is the “end all, be all,” according to Smith. Airfield management is responsible for the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of the runway and that weapons system’s ability to support the mission, as well as making sure those using the runway are following the rules.
Last but not least, airfield management is responsible for filing flight plans for all outgoing aircraft and distributing the flight plans to all control centers in need of the information.
The next time you stop to watch an aircraft take flight, or descend from the sky and taxi to safety after completing another successful mission, don’t forget about the runway beneath it. The runway and the team that is tasked to maintain it are critical to all air operations that take place here. Hoorah 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron. Airfield management, we salute you and all you do.