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Building an ice bridge
Airman 1st Class Caleb Hurley drills a hole in the Tanana River Nov. 24, 2008, Fairbanks, Alaska in the first phase to building an ice bridge. Airman Hurley is with the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron. The ice bridge provides the 354th CES members access to perform annual maintenance on Eielson's training and bombing ranges. The process of building the ice bridge takes six to 10 weeks and will later melt back into the river in the summer months. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Laura Max)(released)
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Eielson Airmen build ice bridge to bombing range

Posted 11/25/2008   Updated 11/25/2008 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Nora Anton
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/25/2008 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The temperature was ten below zero and the weather was calm the morning of Nov. 24: perfect conditions to build a bridge of ice from Fairbanks to the Blair Lakes bombing range in the Pacific Alaska Range Complex. A unique feat that will allow maintenance that can't be done without the bridge because of the logistics of getting equipment there.

"The colder it is the better it is [to build]," said Tech. Sgt. Tim Broderick, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron NCO in charge of range maintenance.

The ice bridge is "built" every two years from the end of S. Cushman St. to the bombing range. It's referred to as "the Ice Bridge" but is actually a series of frozen ice plateaus five feet deep across the Tanana River.

"It needs to be at least 60 inches thick to be able to support the heavy machinery that will be traveling over it," said Sergeant Broderick.

Normally, supplies and equipment are brought to the Blair Lakes facilities via helicopters but when the range needs heavy-duty maintenance, said Sergeant Broderick, the helicopters simply cannot support the multi-ton utility vehicles needed for the job.

The bridge normally takes six to 10 weeks to build by manually drilling holes in the already frozen river and installing pumps that spray river water on the surface to freeze gradually until it reaches the appropriate depth, said Derek Copeland, 354th CES engine and equipment operator and former U.S. Soldier.

The range's facilities include dormitories, an air traffic control tower, an air field and everything else needed to support short-term one-week on, one-week off, excursions of the base personnel who maintain the range.

Despite the frigid temperatures and isolation of the meandering Tanana River, the range maintainers kept their spirits high with hot coffee and small talk.

"This is my office," said Mr. Copeland in the midst of a serene landscape that one of the only places on earth can offer. He and his crew work eight-hour days standing on top of a river in sub degree temperatures creating a bridge of ice. "I wouldn't change this for the world."

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