‘Dirt Boyz’ keep jets soaring, infrastructure operating

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Jones, 56th Civil Engineering Squadron pavements and heavy equipment operator, shovels dirt Aug. 12, 2019, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Jones spend about five hours laying down rock and preparing the area for a newly constructed running track. (Air Force photograph by Airman Brooke Moeder)

Continuously working out in the sweltering Arizona heat, pouring concrete and maintaining the flightline, the Airmen assigned to the 56th Civil Engineering Squadron here are nicknamed the “Dirt Boyz” – and for a good reason.

“We get dirty and run heavy equipment,” said Tech. Sgt. John Scherstuhl, 56th CES horizontal construction section chief. “We have stockpiles of dirt and many dump trucks. We do a lot of ground work for building pads and sidewalks.”

For Luke’s mission of training the world’s greatest fighter pilots and combat ready Airmen, the runways have to be clear for the jets to takeoff and land. “Dirt Boyz” assist in keeping the runways clear of foreign objects. They also continuously monitor for cracks in the runway’s concrete, repairing any damage they discover in approximately three hours.

“Our main priority is the airfield,” said Airman 1st Class Anibal Carrillo-Farias, 56th CES constructions and pavement heavy equipment craftsman. “We have to keep those jets in the air. Our mission to keep the runway in perfect condition so it doesn’t hurt the jets in any way, shape or form.”

Tech. Sgt. Ronnie Jamison, 56th Civil Engineering Squadron pavements and heavy equipment operator uses a mini excavator to dig in the road while Staff Sgt. Robert Newton, 56th CES pavements and heavy equipment operator, ensures the mini excavator doesn’t cause damage during a valve replacement project Aug. 12, 2019, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Nicknamed the “Dirt Boyz,” these Airmen maintain Luke’s runways, sidewalks, drainage systems, and repair roads and any damages to the barriers along the base perimeter. (Air Force photograph by Airman Brooke Moeder)

Along with maintaining the runways, the “Dirt Boyz” build sidewalks, manage Luke’s drainage systems, fix potholes and repair any damages to the barriers along the base perimeter. 

There are approximately 100 annual projects. Depending on the project, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to complete.

Assisting in the process to complete a project, The “Dirt Boyz” use various pieces of equipment including excavators, airfield sweepers, dump trucks, road graders, shovels and a crane to assist in the process and complete a project. Junior enlisted Airmen are permitted to operate all of the machinery except the crane.

“The crane is a highly sought after job,” said Scherstuhl. “There are two weeks of formal training and you’re refreshed on the course every three years.”

The “Dirt Boyz” are constantly informed on safety standards. Ear protection is worn while working with loud equipment and gloves are worn when required. Ice and water machines are always provided on a project to help stay hydrated in the Arizona heat. When a situation is deemed unsafe, the project is immediately stopped.

“Anybody, no matter their rank, is allowed to call a safety stop on the job,” said Scherstuhl. “Anything they feel is dangerous can shut the job site down and everybody has to abide by that rule.”

Staff Sgt. Robert Newton (left) and Tech. Sgt. Ronnie Jamison (right), 56th Civil Engineering Squadron pavements and heavy equipment operators, use an asphalt road cutter to remove chunks of asphalt Aug. 12, 2019, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Asphalt was removed to enable easier access to an underground valve needing to be replaced. (Air Force photograph by Airman Brooke Moeder)

The mission is not only performed stateside. The Luke Airmen deploy frequently and maintain a high operations tempo at deployed locations too.

They average three deployments every four years or so for six months at a time. While deployed they usually work six days a week with 12 hour shifts, laying concrete and asphalt to set a foundation for the runways and houses, said Carrillo.

“Their work while deployed is laboring and intensive,” said Scherstuhl. “We build the bases from the ground up. We’re usually the first ones at the base with the Army to start the construction.”

According to Carrillo, here at Luke the “Dirt Boyz” are relentlessly rebuilding, digging, paving and maintaining the base and are working on something new every day.

“My favorite part of my job, other than learning heavy equipment, is that we never have a set schedule,” said Carrillo. “You come to work and you’re never doing the same thing. You’re always having fun.”