MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Dodging litter and animals while questioning the GPS’s directions to drive into a lake are some struggles faced during road trips. Without the Airmen from one support section, Moody’s fleet would face many of the same struggles on the flightline.
The safety of Airmen depends not only on aircraft, but also the airfields they use. The 23d Operations Support Squadron’s airfield management section is responsible for the upkeep of runways and other airfield components. Airfield management specialists ensure all Moody’s takeoffs and landings proceed without incident.
“That runway is ours,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shannon Walsh, 23d Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of airfield management operations. “We make sure that it’s as good as we possibly can so the [aircraft] can keep flying. Without us, they wouldn’t fly. There’d be no flight plans or safety on the airfield. Airfield management is like a mother that comes behind the other agencies and says ‘okay did you brush your teeth, you got clean underwear on?’”
Walsh followed her comparison by explaining that the airfield management team is tasked with maintaining and enforcing a collection of regulations for the airfield from how long the grass can grow to lighting the runway and even the thickness of the painted lines.
Due to airfield management’s attention to detail and constant scrutiny, Walsh maintains pride and confidence in Moody’s flightline.
“We have a high quality, well maintained runway, and that makes it a lot easier for aircrews [to perform],” said Walsh. “Say if you were driving, hit a pothole and blew your tire out. That same thing can happen here with taxiways and runways.”
Of course, as opposed to most cars, aircraft cost millions of dollars and as a result, the stakes are much higher.
“The other day someone reported a ‘remove before flight’ strip out on the airfield,” said Walsh. “Our Airmen got up, ran outside and found it. If they hadn’t gotten it, that could have been ingested into an engine. Instead, we were able to resume runway operations for six aircraft to land right after.”
Not only does airfield management play a role in launching and landing aircraft, but also the routes aircraft fly once airborne. Flight plans are written, mapped statements that must be prepared properly to ensure Airmen and Air Force assets arrive at their destination safely and in a timely manner.
“We have hundreds of maps here that pilots use to file their flight plans,” said Walsh. “We have to GPS route them in layman’s terms. It’s like pulling it up on MapQuest saying ‘the airplane starts here and needs to finish there so how do we get them there.’ That’s what the air-traffic facilities pull to ensure they’re on the right path.”
Although the majority of flights from Moody are routine training flights, occasionally multiple flights can flood the section at once. Even during these times, Walsh maintains confidence in her team.
“For Hurricane Matthew, it was a last minute decision to relocate aircraft so there were like 50 flight plans coming through and we were just sitting here handling them as they were coming through and taking off,” said Walsh.
Even though the workload can change in the blink of an eye, one senior airman believes in her role and impact.
“I feel like it’s extremely important that they can train and deploy,” said Senior Airman Kelsey Seroogy, 23d OSS airfield management shift leader. “Since we are a search and rescue base, we had [HC-130J Combat King IIs] taking off when a boat went down in Bermuda. That’s awesome that I can support them saving someone else’s life.”
Seroogy assured that anytime Moody has Aircraft movement, airfield management has Airmen on duty and Walsh agrees flexibility is key.
“We work a lot of weekends and anytime we have a deployment moving, we always support,” said Walsh. “If that means staying open till 4:30-5 o’clock in the morning, then so be it. We bend and flex our shifts as needed.”
According to Walsh, it’s all worth it when she sees Airmen return home.
“If we’re here on a weekend and a C-17 [Globemaster II] lands, we get to watch those guys come off that plane,” said Walsh. “They have parents, spouses and children and if we didn’t sit here for four or five hours for them to get here, that would be another day or two or however long they’re still not home, and everyone deserves to come home.”