FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan — Despite high temperatures, sudden rain storms, blowing sand and, at times, indirect fire, the Airmen of the 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group, 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Forces Squadron, spend each day on the flight line of Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, removing the rubber built up from constant contact with aircraft.
Prior to the team’s arrival, the center line of the runway was so coated in rubber, it was almost invisible. This issue has been eradicated, thanks to the Prime BEEF airmen.
“When the rubber builds up, it gets really slick, and aircraft don’t have a good amount of traction for landing,” said 1st Lt. Salvatore Randazzo, 1st ECEG, 577th EPBS officer in charge of special capabilities. Randazzo is deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and hails from Galloway, N.J. He joined the Air Force because of 9/11 and is the first in his family to serve.
The removal process involves spraying the runway with Avion 50, a compound designed to separate rubber from concrete. Once the area is sprayed, two members of the team begin the agitation process, using Tool Cats with angle brushes on the front to gently mix the Avion 50 into the rubber.
The crew members make several passes over an area, continuously spraying it with water to keep the area wet.
“The two major things we need for this process are water and time,” Randazzo explained. “Those two things are very hard to come by in Afghanistan.”
The team covers about 25,000 square feet every day, in a matter of four and a half hours.
“After several passes, the brushes start to push what looks like black snow,” Randazzo said. “That’s how you know the rubber is being removed.”
The crew uses two and a half 55-gallon barrels of the Avion 50 for each day of rubber removal. They are optimistic with the progress made so far, and said they have learned a lot during the process.
“It shows we can be self-sufficient in airfield maintenance,” said Senior Airman Jessie Rivera, 1st ECEG, 577th EPBS.
This Denver native is deployed for the first time from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
“The toughest part about this is being away from my family,” Rivera said of his wife and two children. “I love my job and I love the Air Force, but it’s challenging being here when you have a family back home who needs you.”
He said he gets to talk to his family regularly, which helps him stay focused on the job he needs to do here.
He explained this job is typically contracted out. However, he feels some areas require military members for the job.
“I think at smaller FOB’s you really need the military to get the job done,” he said. “We’re showing capabilities that the Air Force can do this. In emergency situations, people can call on us and we’ll get it done.”
The team has also had the opportunity to do a myriad of jobs, sometimes very different from the ones they do at home station.
“I’ve been able to travel a lot,” Rivera said, “three countries in four months. I’ve done paint striping, rock crushing, cement pads, built a 4K dome
structure; time has really been flying.”
Although airfield maintenance isn’t the primary stateside job for many of the team, they have learned the process quickly.
“It’s humbling to see a crew with minimal experience and not the best equipment make it happen,” Randazzo said of his team. “To see an aircraft land safely and have pilots come up and say ‘thank you’ — that’s very humbling.”