NAS Whiting FieldCommunity
Gas, Guns and a Gulfstream 5
Story by SSgt Brycen Guerrero on 09/04/2019
CHIVRES AIR BASE, Belgium — An engine roars, willing a dark truck past marker after marker on an unusually flat landscape as an Airman rips across the airfield in the otherwise quiet Belgian evening.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Rodwick is an Airfield Management Specialist from the 424th Air Base Squadron at Chivres Air Base responsible for ensuring runway safety. His team’s mission is to provide world-class airfield operations for the NATO alliance. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe, currently Air Force General Tod D. Wolters, is scheduled to arrive in just under an hour.
“That’s what it’s all about. Making sure the [SACEUR’s] Gulfstream 5 jet can land or take off to go take care of business. Think about how many peoples’ schedules hinge on him being on time,” Rodwick said, gazing over the landscape surrounding the runway. “If his flight is delayed even five minutes, well, multiply that by however many other people are working to support his mission.” Something on the horizon catches his eye.
One serious threat to operations at an airbase is wildlife causing safety hazards on the runway. According to Rodwick, Chivres Air Base is unique because of the active agricultural farm on it, which attracts a lot of rabbits and birds. Airmen from the 424th ABS share the role of executing the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program, focusing on deterring wildlife away from the runway.
“We have passive measures like the BASH cannons and omni-directional speakers that play recordings of predator animals, but we also take active measures against [the wildlife]. Usually honking the truck horn works, but we also fire “screamer rounds” and other specialized ammo designed to scare them off without hurting them,” Rodwick said, loading a blank into a “screamer round” launcher that resembles a small pistol. He takes aim at the air above an approaching rabbit and fires.
Even with ear protection, the sound is truly piercing and the nearby rabbit sprints away, leaving Rodwick with a satisfied smile. He checks the ground for debris before continuing his patrol of the runway. Most times, the animals begin to leave as soon as they recognize his truck approaching. “They’re smart,” he says with a chuckle. “Don’t get me wrong, I like animalsjust not out here.”
With just 68 Airmen, the 424th ABS relies on close-knit communication between various sections to overcome challenges and keep operations running smoothly. Rodwick says the team looks out for each other’s well being, which helps them stay ready for whatever comes their way.
As the sun sets on Chivres Air Base, a bright white light in the sky approaches from the east and Rodwick stands proudly outside his truck watching the jet touch down safely on the cleared runway. “Yeah. That’s what it’s all about.”