Snow removal process runs like well-oiled machine

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Every winter, the 786th Civil Engineer Squadron fights an uphill battle to keep Mother Nature at bay. To keep the mission going, the "snow team," which includes the 786th CES Heavy Equipment shop and volunteers from other CE shops, stands ready to face the blustering winds and bitter cold in order to keep our runways and streets clear of snow and ice. This team's commitment to the mission is so fierce that they were able to keep our base and runways fully functional throughout the 2012-2013 snow season, even when international airports were forced to shut down.

Their unrelenting effort resulted in the reception of 12 diverted aircraft from surrounding bases. A high-caliber operation of this magnitude requires diligent planning, proper coordination, and a flexible, dedicated labor force.

Long before the snow starts falling, information and records are gathered and presented to the Snow and Ice Control Committee. The S&ICC is made up of the 786th CES heavy equipment team and commanders from the squadrons, groups and wing.

The S&ICC meets twice annually; the first meeting of the calendar year is the post-season brief which is typically scheduled between April and May. In this meeting, the S&ICC reviews the previous season outcomes, highlights the best practices and identifies improvements to be implemented before the next season. For example, changes to the priority areas or route classifications are addressed in the post-season brief.

After this committee adjourns, the snow team subject matter experts prepare a budget and execution strategy to present at the second annual meeting, called the pre-season brief. This meeting shows 86th Airlift Wing leadership the snow team's readiness's to tackle the upcoming winter. The pre-season brief is used to identify shortfalls and work around strategies for dealing with unpredictable snow events.

A critical piece to the snow team's efficiency is their equipment, and the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron plays a vital role in this process. Every year, VRS ensures the snow fleet is properly maintained to handle the rigors of plowing and sweeping throughout the winter season. By providing timely snow equipment delivery, VRS ensures the 786th CES can properly train its personnel on the equipment to face the upcoming season. Additionally, VRS provides 24/7 on-call service response to downed snow equipment to keep the mission going. The basic snow fleet includes plows, brooms, blades and blowers, which are attached to heavy equipment.

Enduring five to seven months of 24/7 coverage for the airfield, roads and parking lots is a daunting task for the personnel. To ease this burden, the snow SMEs gather support from other shops within the 786th CES. They create and implement a working schedule to provide extra manpower from the squadron. Together, the snow team completes annual familiarization training, which includes equipment operation, maintenance procedures, formal instruction, airfield familiarization, line badge acquisition and safety.

When winter finally makes its mark, the snow team springs into action, operating 24 hours a day until the roads are free and clear. The pattern in which every area is cleared is driven by an established priority plan that is approved by 86th AW leadership. All paved areas will eventually be cleared, but it is important that the highest priority routes are tackled first to maximize safety and maintain mission capability.

It is important for Airmen to keep in mind that everyone plays a role in snow removal. While the snow team is out clearing our airfield and streets, it is everyone's personal responsibility to ensure their household sidewalks and driveways are clear of snow and ice. Facility managers are responsible for areas within 100 feet of their facilities, to include all sidewalks, stairs, fire hydrants and dumpsters. Be sure to have shovels, brooms and salt stocked in your facility before the forecast predicts snow.

Snow preparation and removal is a year round, non-stop process that continues well after the end of one winter season and into the next. When the snow is flying, the team runs like a well-oiled machine. When the skies are clear, the team is still busy preparing for the next weather event. So, this coming season when you see the plows coming through, wave to the operator or to the folks with the shovels to show them your appreciation.