786th CES keeps runways clear in winter months

by Senior Airman Katherine Holt
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In what was called one of the worst winters, 2010 saw more than 38 inches of snow — and no airfield closures here.

Members of the 786th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy repair team kept the airfield clear of ice and snow the entire winter, without a single aircraft being grounded for airfield conditions.

“Our objective is to keep the runway clear and dry for aircraft to take off and land,” said Staff Sgt. John Scherstuhl, 786th CES heavy repair. “We won’t lose a runway.”
For the past two years, Ramstein has been the only runway in the area that did not close due to winter weather conditions, Scherstuhl said.

“We have taken divert aircraft from many different bases in Germany, including Spangdahlem,” she said.

Keeping up with 24-hour snow-season operations is not an easy task. To alleviate the toll on personnel, the heavy repair team enlists the help of 40 augmentees throughout the 786th CES. Augmentees are required to attend an 80-hour snow school to qualify them on the equipment used to de-ice runways.

“These guys are not heavy equipment operators,” said Master Sgt. John Platz, 786th CES heavy repair superintendent. “Each year we have to put different augmentees through the school to have them certified on all the equipment they will come in contact with.”

Augmentees are put into a 24-hour rotation on a stand-by basis until winter is in full swing and they are needed. The heavy repair team is equipped with three de-icers. The newest deicer is a massive 70-foot machine capable of making one pass on the entire runway.

“Having multiple deicers is crucial to keeping the runways open,” said Tech. Sgt. E.J. Jones, 786th CES heavy repair section chief. “If we lose one or two, we still have one left to get the job done.”

Clearing the runway of ice and snow is not a one-time-a-day task. Members and augmentees of the heavy repair team are constantly on the runway ensuring aircraft are able to get on and off the runway as needed.

“We are always on the go. Our engine is rarely off,” Scherstuhl said. “Sometimes it feels like ice is forming as you are removing it.”

Though the winter months can be grueling and nonstop, they all agree that in the end having an open runway is worth it.

“Knowing that we haven’t closed a runway in two years keeps all our spirits high,” Scherstuhl said. “We have bragging rights. No base in the area has been able to accomplish what we have.”