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Airfield Management: ruling the runway

Airfield Management performs their duties on and off the airfield.

Airman 1st Class Evelyn Lopez, Airfield Management Operations lead from the 18th Operations Support Squadron, scans the airfield at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 18, 2021. The runway is regularly monitored for wildlife, foreign objects and anything that could pose a safety hazard to pilots and aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

Airfield Management perform their duties on and off the airfield.

Tech. Sgt. Laramie Combs, the 18th Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of Airfield Management Training, practices reassembling a Remington Model 870 shotgun at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 20, 2021. Pyrotechnics and M870 weapons are used to neutralize or disperse birds and wildlife, which can pose a hazard to aircraft on the airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

Airfield Management performs their duties on and off the airfield.

Tech. Sgt. Enrique Raya-Medina, the 18th Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of Airfield Management Operations, makes a phone call at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 20, 2021. Airfield Management routinely identifies, marks and reports issues they find to the correct agency to repair, ensuring the airfield remains fully functional. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

Airfield Management performs their duties on and off the airfield.

Airman 1st Class Evelyn Lopez, Airfield Management Operations lead from the 18th Operations Support Squadron, uses a measuring wheel to calculate the size of a paint marking at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 18, 2021. One element of keeping the runway safe for pilots and planes is inspecting the markings on the airfield to ensure they were painted accurately and within regulation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

The Air Force is sometimes thought of as being made up of pilots and planes, but without a working runway, the mission stalls. Enter Airfield Management, guardians of the runway, their objective: ensuring a safe environment for aircraft to take-off and land.

For an air base like Kadena, an operational runway is vital to ensuring peace and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific, and the dedication required to keep an airfield running 24/7 shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Our job does more than what people recognize it for,” said Airman 1st Class Evelyn Lopez, an 18th Operations Support Squadron Airfield Management Operations lead. “When I first came in, all anyone could tell me about Airfield Management is that they pick up rocks, and shoot birds.”

In order to ensure operations run smoothly, Airfield Management conduct runway checks, respond to emergencies and stay in close communication with the Air Traffic Control tower throughout the day. All aspects of the airfield are monitored and recorded – every detail from grass height to surface conditions of the runway.

While it may only be a small part of their job, foreign object debris checks and Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard checks are an important part of ensuring a secure runway. These checks are regularly conducted to look for birds, rocks or any object that could potentially get sucked into and damage an engine.

In the event bird dispersal is necessary, pyrotechnics called bangers and screamers are fired to create a noise loud enough to scare the birds into flight, and live rounds are only used as a last resort, explained Tech. Sgt. Enrique Raya-Medina, the 18th OSS NCO in charge of Airfield Management Operations.

“The birds like to pick up crabs and drop them on the runway, and then they crack and just leave the shells,” Raya-Medina said. “It can destroy the engine, take an aircraft out of service for a while and then maintainers have to go look at the blades. It’s a lot of man-hours putting an aircraft back into service.”

The challenges of running an airfield don’t stop at BASH checks, however. The administrative aspect involves coordinating with a variety of different agencies and branches of the military to ensure a safe, working runway.

In the case of emergencies on the airfield like a landing gear malfunction or smoke in the cockpit, Airfield Management is often the main source of information on the airfield for agencies responding to the scene, Lopez explained.

“We’re not a first responder, but we’re one of the first ones on the scene,” she said. “We have the ability to close runways, suspend them and reopen them.”

Another significant part of airfield management is making sure flight plans get filed. A flight plan details the route an aircraft will take, and if something goes wrong, Airfield Management can pull their flight plan and track the aircraft’s location.

From detecting necessary repairs, to certifying new drivers, Airfield Management plays a key role in maintaining the air power capabilities of air bases around the globe.

“This career field is unique; you’ve got to think outside the box every day,” Raya-Medina said. “Knowing all the hard work that we actually put in … and then seeing our end product, which is our jets taking off of a fresh, renovated runway is really rewarding.”