354th CES snow barn wins award for snow and ice control excellence

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Carson Jeney
  • 354th Civil Engineer Squadron

The 354th Civil Engineer Squadron received their fourth Balchen-Post award for excellence on March 6, 2024, for maintaining Eielson’s flightline throughout the winter season.

Established in 1976, the award is based off evaluations of snow and ice control plans and pre and post snow season briefs. The award panel also takes into account tasks and accomplishments completed throughout the year.

“The award honors the dedication and excellence exhibited by airport snow and ice control teams in maintaining safe and operational airports throughout the winter season,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chaiya Thamvongsa, 354th CES horizontal construction mid shift noncommissioned officer in charge. “Eligibility extends to snow bases receiving an average of six inches or more of snow annually. During the 2022-2023 season, our region experienced a total snowfall accumulation of 93 inches over the course of winter.”

According to Thamvongsa, winning the award was a team effort, and took the work of multiple Airmen and civilians across various organizations.
“We depend significantly on the vehicle maintenance flight year-round to uphold the operational readiness of our equipment,” Thamvongsa said. “It took over 100 personnel comprised of 50 ‘Dirt Boyz,’ 15 civilians, 10 CES augmentees, 10 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve augmentees, and 20 wing augmentees, demonstrating our commitment to collaboration and excellence.”

The work behind the accomplishment exemplifies the unity within the CES and within the snow barn.

“Working in the snow barn gave me a wider picture of what we’re capable of as a unit and as an installation,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Pearl Laguana, 354th CES structural journeyman. “The biggest thing that changed my perspective was realizing how many moving parts go on to help support these aircraft and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command mission. With Eielson being the second longest runway in North America, it takes a lot of people to keep it up to regulations and safe for aircraft and ground crews.”

Eielson can receive multiple feet of snow every season and reach temperatures of minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which presents different kinds of challenges.
“The biggest challenge with our plows and brooms is the age of the equipment and the hours of nonstop usage in subarctic temperatures,” said Dustin Kelley, 354th CES engineering equipment operator. “We have been fortunate for the last few years with somewhat mild winters although we have seen short periods with temperatures between minus 20 and minus 60 degrees which aren’t ideal temperatures for any snow and ice equipment to sustain reliability.”

The teamwork that was utilized to win this award gives the Airmen and civilians who contributed a sense of accomplishment.
“Winning the Balchen/Post is a major accomplishment for the shop,” Thomvangsa said. “Seeing our team get recognition for their hard work gives everyone something to be proud of.”

Congratulations to the 354th CES for winning the Balchen-Post award.