Dirt Boy family pushes snow aside
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- As everyone who has been through a winter here knows, Misawa gets an abundance of snow. For those who don't know, it won't be long until another Misawa winter is in full swing.
Even after you bust out your shovel, ice scraper and start your vehicle 10 minutes earlier than usual, there may still be an obstacle in your way -- snow. Who's going to clear the way?
It's the job of the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron Snow Control team to clear all roads on base. But many people may not know they have a primary mission and may not get to certain parts of the base if the top priorities need tended to first.
"Our top priority is any portion of the airfield," said Airman 1st Class William Klein, a 35 CES pavement and construction equipment operator. "We try to maintain bare pavement as much as possible and keep the mission going. We have to ensure access to anything we need to maintain war readiness."
"Dirt Boyz" -- as they are more commonly referred to throughout the Air Force -- are the first to get the call when winter hits and the runway needs to be cleared.
Klein said this makes him and the rest of his team feel especially significant.
"It's a great feeling to know just how big of an impact we have on the base," said Klein. "There aren't a lot of opportunities for us to feel that way year-round, but during snow removal season it's very easy to see how we enable the base to perform the mission."
In some cases, their job can be a difficult task. From whiteouts, to clearing parking lots with cars parked idly on the snow covered blacktop, the snow control team has to find a way to fight through the white.
"A bad day out in the snow is when you are going to clear a parking lot and all of a sudden you get hit by a whiteout and you can't even move because you can't see anything around you," said Senior Airman Brandon Hotopp, a 35 CES pavement and construction journeyman, who has been in Misawa for three winter seasons.
There isn't much the team can do during whiteouts other than let it pass. But for the cars parked in their way while trying to clear a parking lot, Hotopp said they can call "Misawa's towing service" -- a forklift from the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron to move the vehicle.
"If people don't move their cars at the set times, we will call LRS and move it for them," said Hotopp. "I have seen them move plenty of cars during my time here."
It's important to adhere to the set times for parking lot snow removal so you don't have to face these consequences, he said.
With the holidays upcoming and snow sure to hit Misawa, Dirt Boyz have to be ready at a moment's notice to keep the roads and runways clear. For many, this may be a sign that more work is on the way -- which is true enough considering Misawa receives the most snow on average for any base in the entire Air Force.
Master Sgt. Daniel Draper, 35 CES NCO in-charge of pavement and construction equipment, said he thinks his team excels at the job because they don't stop working throughout the day.
"Although snow removal is at times tedious, I think the guys enjoy it because for the most part, they never have to get out of the equipment," said Draper. "They get to play in the equipment the whole time, whereas on a day-to-day basis in the summer, their piece of equipment might be a shovel. But now they're always in a piece of heavy equipment."
Snow removal is the primary duty during the winter season for Dirt Boyz and it can't hurt to enjoy the job.
"I think it's fun," said Hotopp. "Instead of sitting around and waiting for something, we'll be in equipment for eight hours of our day. It keeps you busy and allows us to focus on the job. I love being a heavy equipment operator."
The love he has for his work as a Dirt Boy carries outside his duties and into his relationship with his co-workers as well.
"When we get together, it's not just people getting together, it's Dirt Boyz getting together and we click pretty well," said Hotopp. "It has a kind of family feel."
Since the Airmen who make up this team can't take time off during the winter due to the amount of snow the base gets, having this family can greatly benefit them.
"We find the will to keep going through the job and each other," said Hotopp. "Being called in to me is like a teacher giving a student extra recess. It's not bad the fact I can't go home for Christmas like a lot of other people can. I have my Dirt Boy family here and we always try to have fun."
With each other, Dirt Boyz will continue to perform their duties and do their part to ensure the Misawa mission goes on.
"As Dirt Boyz, we feel we can do anything," said Hotopp. "No matter what scenario is thrown at us we will work together and find a way to get the job done."