301 FW base civil engineers build lasting impact every day

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman William Downs and Mr. Jeremy Roman
  • 301st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Visitors to this base, enjoy the various structures, airfields and utilities, but may not give much thought to how they came to be, or what it takes to maintain them.

The 301st Fighter Wing Base Civil Engineers are one of the most invaluable installation units and without them mission accomplishment would be in jeopardy. They are not only responsible for all Air Force real property [approx. 100 structures plus five foot radius] maintenance on the base, they also build for the future, safeguard the environment and train their Airmen to be combat-ready within the unique dynamics which come from working on a joint base.

“We range from day-to-day operations, then migrate to large capital investments/facility renovations, while abiding by the National Environmental Policy Act which takes into account any endangered species, historical artifacts, water supply/pollution prevention, recycling, and permits needed to partner with the cities and state,” said Mr. Brett Williams, base civil engineer. “Being on a Navy led Joint Base, we must align the 301 FW mission requirements with our mission partners which include Army, Navy, Marines, and Air National Guard on a single installation with limited space and resources.”

Operating within a joint environment relies heavily on teamwork.

"It's a very broad brush of organizations involved since we are on a joint base. We partner with the Navy and we get direct support from AFRC A4C," said Williams. "We also work with civilians, veterans, Air Force Reservists as well as guardsmen. We truly are a joint military service."

BCE consists of 17 people from across two sections—engineering and operations. The engineering section works independently from the Navy, while the operations section works in collaboration with them. On the operations side, the Navy functions like a contractor where BCE requests and pays them to complete work orders. BCE must request permission to build new, or change current, facilities. Before any project ground is broken, there are many considerations taken into account to include potential impacts to the environment, any endangered species, historical sites as well as legal compliance. The 301 FW hasn’t had any compliant enforcement action from a regulatory agency in close to 25 years.

“The main focus I have is getting out to the flight line folks who are turning aircraft wrenches and those driving vehicles out there and establishing a relationship with them,” said Mr. Randy Varner, BCE compliance command chief. “Where they can come to me and ask questions like ‘I have this [task] to accomplish, what do we need, how do we establish the process and notify the right people ahead of any potential environmental issues.’ Communication is important.”  

When it comes to compliance, the most impacted organizations specifically are maintenance, fuels and transportation (logistic readiness squadron). These are important tactical units within the 301 FW needed to accomplish the mission. The more units involved, the more dynamic the mission becomes.

“There are no two days that are the same,” said Mr. Rick Nemetz, engineering technician. "We can be designing a $30 million facility in the morning, isolating frozen water mains after lunch and conducting training later in the afternoon.” 

Strategic communication is critical in order to accomplish their mission, especially when working with the variety of organizations they do. Williams described a recent challenge BCE faced during the winter storm earlier this year, and how their team took care of people and the mission, while saving time and money.

"In February, a major polar vortex happened, and we suffered over $1.5 million worth of damage to several buildings. Our team had to respond, while their own families were under the same stress, and they isolated and minimized as much as they could," Williams said. "The operations team made sure to isolate the damage and ensure it was minimally operational. While the engineers, in partnership with our environmental flight, came up with the projects and executed them in two short months, which would normally take six months to a year."

Jeffrey Irby, BCE maintenance mechanic, also played a vital role in the polar vortex response.

"I knew the freeze was coming so I started hitting pipes with insulation,” said Irby. “The pipes I couldn't get to froze and busted, but those I got to saved us a massive amount of money and maintenance costs."

Experience also plays an important part within the BCE enterprise.

“Because our team has been doing this for the last 30 years, they’ve gotten really good at making sure the mission moves forward which is very important,” said Williams. “All of [these BCE shops] gets molded together because what these folks do every day impacts the mission every day.”

Additionally, BCE works closely with the 301 FW Civil Engineer Squadron, providing them with materials and troop training projects to enhance their skills during home station training. Over 90% of the BCE team is prior service and yet many of those members who have not served in uniform have either gone overseas in support of deployments or trained CE Airmen to accomplish the wing’s mission—to train and deploy combat-ready Airmen.

“[In terms of civil engineers who train and maintain facilities on Active Duty Air Force bases,] the Air Force is the only service which uses its military and civilians to work and train together to improve their skills. The other branches use civilians only to work on their bases,” Nemetz said. “Although we work on a naval installation, we are trying to incorporate that same Air Force combined effort when it comes to our base responsibilities while also training our TRs on drill weekends. This helps the wing here because the TRs can practice on good work while bringing in their civilian experience to help increase their readiness to be proficient downrange.”

On January 8, 2021, the former Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett selected the 301 FW as the F-35A Lighting II operational beddown location. The eight year process started in 2016, with the selection releasing funds to the wing to build structures, retrain Airmen and get the base ready to receive the F-35 in 2024. Throughout the entire process, BCE continues to be hard at work to ensure a seamless transition and coordination will be key.

“Not only are we sustaining F-16 operations, our entire team is spending significant effort to convert us to the F-35,” said Williams. “We are three years ahead of [the wing] because construction takes that long when sustaining current F-16 mission operations.  Where maintenance Airmen are still thinking F-16s, BCE is thinking F-35 right now.”

BCE has 80% of their design program done this year and are on track to achieve their milestones.

“Construction preparation is going well. We started F-35 facility planning about three years ago, and will break ground on our first project later this year,” Nemetz said. “We have two military construction projects and 10 major remodel projects slated over the next five years for the F-35.”

BCE has also made progress on the wing’s headquarters building project, where they have pushed over 13,000 square feet of operational space in this $8 million investment. It will house the wing command’s section, force support squadron, and wing staff agencies such as financial management, installation deployment readiness cell, and civilian personnel among others. They are projecting a move-back-in date at the end of this calendar year. Additionally, many of the maintenance buildings will see improvements especially with the HVAC system repairs in the next three to four years to help day to day operations. They have also built two new facilities in the past couple years for the wing’s explosive ordnance disposal unit and wing’s munitions unit.

Although this BCE team has been recognized by the state in areas such as pollution prevention, industry of the year awards as well a long list of achievements and projects completed, Williams shared the key to their success.

“The members of this team want to be here to support this wing and I am most proud of the organization’s teamwork. I’m pleased with the team that I’ve got and the faith they have in themselves,” Williams concluded. “CE is a fairly complicated enterprise where things may not always be straight forward or things take a lot of time sometimes, but we are proud to be here and over the past three years, we’ve gotten dramatically better at what we do for the wing and its members.”

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