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CE Airmen help keep Yokota operational

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- From keeping the flightline mission ready to maintaining the roads and sidewalks, the behind scenes work done by a small group of Airmen known as the “Dirt Boys” keeps Yokota Air Base's mission going.

The 374th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and equipment shop understand aircraft operations depend on their ability to ensure the flightline remains fully operational.

"Our number one job is to maintain the airfield," said Master Sgt. Frank Uecker, the 374th CES pavements and equipment shop section chief. "Through heavy rain, hail or snowfall, ensuring that the airlifting mission here at Yokota is not infringed on is why we're here."

Cement spalls are the most notable obstacle the Dirt Boys face when working to keep. A spall is broken up, flaked or pitted concrete. Environmental factors stress the concrete, causing it to become damaged and often creating spalls.

"Removing the small breaks as soon as they appear on the airfield is a key part of our preventative maintenance practices," said Senior Airman Richard Mora, a 374th CES pavements and equipment apprentice.

Additional preventative maintenance practices include clearing storm drains to prevent the runoff of rain or melted snow from flooding the airfield, removing weakened trees that threatened structures and cutting grass.

"Nobody would ever think that cutting the grass would be an important task to accomplish," Mora said. "However, doing so prevents birds from nesting as well from grass from becoming overgrown and roaming onto runways."

The pavements and equipment shop also works to eliminate foreign object debris from the airfield.

"Whether it is propeller or jet engines, aircraft on the airfield have the potential to suck in FOD," Uecker said. "By eliminating FOD, we prevent unnecessary wear and tear to the engines."

From shovels and jackhammers to cranes and bulldozers, the duties of the Dirt Boys require them to be experts of a wide assortment of machinery. Their expertise allows the shop to assist other shops and squadrons around base.

"We assist any and every one on base that needs a helping hand," Mora said. "From helping the heating and ventilation shop install a unit to supporting the maintainers with our cranes to hoist an engine, we do it all.”

Mora admitted that the most challenging part of his duties was staying up to date of job knowledge.

"You have to be knowledgeable and have a hunger to learn if you want to be successful," Mora said. "You can't doze off or get sidetracked. People's lives can't afford it. From pedestrians and traffic to the Airman standing next to you, their safety and yours depends on your awareness."

From repairing cement spalls on Yokota's airfield to sawing down trees that may pose a threat to structures around base, their dirt covered uniforms at the end of the day is a small sacrifice to ensuring the base’s mission is not negatively impacted.