JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. –
Despite a heavy snowfall in the early days of January, the base’s mission had to continue. And, it is members of the 316th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Pavement and Equipment section, known during the winter months as the "snow barn", who are entrusted with the duty of ensuring inclement weather does not stop operations on base by clearing America’s Airfield of snow and ice.
Every year, Airmen and civilians from the section are tasked with making sure the base's aircraft, including Air Force One, are able to take use of its taxiways and runways. Preparations for this snow season began as early as spring 2023.
“Once we get an inventory of everything we have and don’t have, we can start ordering what we need and have it by the summer,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Sargent, 316th Civil Engineer Squadron Pavement Center Equipment journeyman. “Whether that be brooms, plows, or blowers, maintenance can use all of this time that we call our summer rebuild, to look over every piece of equipment and make sure there are no major discrepancies.”
After the summer rebuild ended, the snow barn team began its preventative maintenance cycle. This included checking fuel levels and making sure equipment tires are properly inflated. This ensured the team was ready for snow as early as fall.
“Air Force engineers are charged with building, maintaining, and recovering our power projection platforms, and that takes a team of multi-capable engineer Airman serving wherever and whenever called upon,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Graham Auten, 316th Wing Civil Engineer Squadron commander. “The 316 Civil Engineer Squadron has a slogan, ‘Just give us something hard to do!’. The multi-craft team of engineers stand ready to recover Joint Base Andrews from any snow event to support our nation’s leaders in achieving our national objectives.”
By October, the snow barn called upon augmentees to participate in their annual, one week snow school. These augmentees are Airmen sent from each civil engineering shop to work night shifts with the snow barn to increase the number of available operators, snow controllers and pit crew.
“The snow school is by far the most important thing we do each year,” said Sargent. “We get a new set of augmentees each year and a lot of these guys have never touched a piece of equipment, let alone a big snow broom or plow. A lot of them have never even been on the runway so it is great that we can bring them to the snow school and teach them everything they need to know to be prepared for the mission.”
The school teaches the augmentees about operator maintenance, snow removal procedures and how shifts work. On the last day, they are able to practice real world scenarios on the flight line.
By the beginning of January, snow fell across Andrews and it was time for the snow barn to accomplish what they had been preparing for during the previous months. The snow barn was on the clock for as long as it would take to clear the airfield of snow and ice.
“There is a lot of sacrifice that goes into it,” said Sargent. “People are having to work nights, work these 12 to 13 hour shifts, and they come in and do their job for days on end to make sure the mission stays going.”
While the snow barn works to complete their mission, they also begin preparations for next year’s winter season and the snow it may bring. As they break up the snow and ice, they check their equipment along the way, fixing equipment as needed and tracking inventory in anticipation of the next snowfall.
“I am so proud to serve with the professionals in the 316th Civil Engineer Squadron,” said Auten. “This team proves time and again that they are ready always, whether it is a snow event here at Joint Base Andrews, or serving around the globe at deployed locations; this squadron leads the way.”