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Airmen ready to rapidly repair runways

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Staff Sgt. Charles Cahoon (left) and Master Sgt. Kevin Donovan remove debris from a damaged runway before making repairs.  The rapid runway repair team practiced fixing a runway damaged by "enemy" bombings during an exercise here recently.  Sergeant Cahoon is 796th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and construction equipment operator, and Sergeant Donovan is the 796th CES rapid runway repair team chief.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Williams)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Staff Sgt. Charles Cahoon (left) and Master Sgt. Kevin Donovan remove debris from a damaged runway before making repairs. The rapid runway repair team practiced fixing a runway damaged by "enemy" bombings during an exercise here recently. Sergeant Cahoon is 796th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and construction equipment operator, and Sergeant Donovan is the 796th CES rapid runway repair team chief. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Williams)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Staff Sgt. William Weber guides a truck during runway repairs here.  He is the 796th Civil Engineer Squadron's noncommissioned officer in charge of the crater repair team.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Williams)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Staff Sgt. William Weber guides a truck during runway repairs here. He is the 796th Civil Engineer Squadron's noncommissioned officer in charge of the crater repair team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Williams)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Staff Sgt. Charles Cahoon guides a front-end loader as it fills a crater.  He is a 796th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and construction equipment operator.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Williams)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Staff Sgt. Charles Cahoon guides a front-end loader as it fills a crater. He is a 796th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and construction equipment operator. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Williams)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Whether from a natural disaster or an enemy attack, when a runway is damaged, a dedicated team of civil engineers rapidly spring into action to make that landing strip usable.

Known as a rapid runway repair team, the group comprises a crater team, a mat team, an airfield lighting team and a mobile aircraft arresting system, or MAAS team. Each team is equally important to ensure a minimum delay for aircraft returning to base, officials said.

Staff Sgt. Charles Cahoon is a pavement and construction equipment operator with the 796th Civil Engineer Squadron. He said the 15-person crater team works mainly with heavy equipment to repair craters.

Master Sgt. Kevin Donovan, team chief, said his team uses a combined day and night shift to get the job done. They can get the craters filled in one hour and 58 minutes, 10 minutes off the Air Force record, officials said.

“One hour (and) 47 minutes is our goal,” Sergeant Donovan said.

Staff Sgt. William Cross, a 796th CES heating and air conditioning craftsman, is part of the nine-person mat team that lays out a protective cover once the craters are filled. This mat is like a welcome mat for the aircraft, only on a much larger scale.

“The mat is folded fiberglass, 60-by-45 feet,” Sergeant Cross said. “It comes in two pieces and is anchored into the runway with bushings.”

The mat is carried on a tractor-trailer, and the Airmen use a forklift to unload it and drag it into place.

Master Sgt. Kevin Hedman is the 796th CES electrical section chief with 18 years experience in high voltage. He is in charge of the airfield lighting team. The lighting system uses six trailers with 30 kilowatt generators, enough to light a 10,000-foot runway with a strobe and approach lights. It takes 20,000 feet of cable to get the job done; the Airmen took one hour and 15 minutes to complete the job while wearing their chemical-protective gear.

“Without it, we could do it in 27 minutes,” Sergeant Hedman said.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Rogers is a 796th CES electric power production craftsman. He works on the six-man MAAS team. They install the aircraft barriers to allow battle-damaged planes to land safely.

“(The aircraft) drop the tailhook, and it slows them down,” Sergeant Rogers said.

Sergeant Rogers said the most difficult part of his job is the physical demand of using a jackhammer to install 19 4-foot stakes into each side to anchor the system. It is also a challenge to maintain calibration to ensure the planes slow down at the right time and do not go off center.

The engineer assistants are critical to getting the job done, Sergeant Donovan said.

“They plot what part of the runway we use, (and) they plot what craters to fill,” he said. “They determine the minimum operating strip needed for planes to land and where the runway has the least amount of damage.”

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