BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) --
Kettles filled with scalding tar, 300-degree asphalt, concrete chemicals that can burn skin are the tools of the trade for heavy equipment operators who labor here under a scorching Iraqi sun.
Airmen assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, known as "Dirt Boyz" know their duties are indeed dirty and dangerous, but understand aircraft operations depend on their ability to repair and expand the flightline.
In less than four months, Balad Air Base Dirt Boyz have placed and finished more than 12,460 feet of concrete and added approximately 90,000 square feet of pavement to the airfield.
"Our job directly impacts the flying mission on Balad -- by expanding the concrete ramps and giving the aircraft that are parked in front of the (hardened aircraft shelters) more room, in turn means more space for more aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Adam Brothers, a 332nd ECES heavy equipment operator. "We look at it this way -- without us, the flying mission could possibly be hindered because there wouldn't be expansions to the parking ramps in front of the (shelters) and the maintainers would have limited work space."
Without the extra pavement courtesy of the Dirt Boyz, fewer aircraft would be able to be positioned and maintained at Balad AB. Having fewer aircraft at the base would directly affect the Air Force's ability to place surveillance assets in the air and to drop munitions on targets, Sergeant Brothers said.
The ongoing flightline projects at Balad AB consist of concrete pad extensions that will provide occupation surfaces for multiple aircraft of various types.
"Knowing that we have worked on the airfield, which allows the planes and (unmanned aerial vehicles) to fly their sorties and ultimately save some innocent American or coalition force (servicemember's) life is truly the most rewarding feeling of all," said Master Sgt. Brian Nolan, a 332nd ECES heavy repair NCO in charge.
Since January, the Dirt Boyz have also completed projects to benefit the quality of life for the servicemembers deployed to Balad AB, including laying sidewalks and spreading more than 9,840 feet of gravel to reduce mud-related problems during Iraq's rainy season.
"When people walk or drive on the concrete or asphalt I laid down, or through a field we graded, they don't think about it, but if the road or sidewalk weren't there and they had to walk through mud, they would wonder why no one had placed one for them," said Sergeant Brothers, who is deployed from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
Because of the inherent dangers in operating heavy equipment, working outdoors and pouring "crete," as the Dirt Boyz call it, they are careful to take safety precautions when conducting their work operations.
"We deal with a lot of big equipment digging holes and moving earth," Sergeant Brothers said. Some of the hazards that accompany these activities are chains breaking, wire ropes snapping, pinch points on equipment, hole cave-ins and heat-related problems.
"There is always the proper wear of protective equipment to include steel-toed boots, ear and eye protection and gloves," said Sergeant Nolan, who is deployed from Ellsworth AFB, S.D. "Since our jobs are almost always completed outdoors, we supervisors are always reminding our folks to hydrate, use sunscreen and allow them time to take a break from the heat periodically to ensure their physical well-being is being taken care of."
Though the hours are long and the work is hard, the Dirt Boyz know the fruits of their labors are worth their efforts -- and under the feet and wheels of Balad AB people and vehicles every day.
"Seeing an aircraft launch from the runway, watching a truck roll down the taxiway, or simply seeing someone walk into their building on a sidewalk that we constructed are some of my simple pleasures in this job. All of these things share a common factor -- we, the Dirt Boyz of the 332 ECES made it all possible," Sergeant Nolan said.
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