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Winter storms highlight Massachusetts Guard teamwork

The 102nd Civil Engineers after the winter storms of March 2018 at Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass.

The 102nd Civil Engineers after the winter storms of March 2018 at Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass.

OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. --

Punxsutawney Phil was on the money this year when he predicted six more weeks of winter.  And although they would never admit it, it probably felt a little like Groundhog Day for the 102nd Civil Engineers tasked to keep Joint Base Cape Cod up and running in the wake of four Nor’easters that struck the region last month. 

The 102nd Civil Engineer Squadron is not only responsible for maintaining most of the roads and parking lots on Joint Base Cape Cod, they also provide utilities to all the tenants doing business here, including water and electricity.  

 “This year February was mild as we know, and that lulls everybody into a false sense of spring,” said Rob Walsh, 102nd CES roads and grounds leader. “Then we had a series of events, the first one came with hurricane force winds, causing power outages and causing damage to buildings and structures.”

Master Sgt. Dennis Mills, 102nd CES production controller, described Winter Storm Riley. “The first storm hit during the March drill, and that was actually a blessing in disguise because we had our full shop here to respond to all the work orders coming in. The roads and grounds crew stepped right up.”

“With winds over 90 miles per hour we actually had a roof leave a building,” said Walsh, “and the drill status guardsmen responded to that while continuing to work on the rest of the storm issues.”

Winter Storm Quinn followed days later. “That was more of rain event for us. It wasn’t as hard hitting, but there was a lot of rain and because the ground was already frozen there was a lot of street flooding. The second storm wasn’t as bad, other than the fact that we had to scramble to get that roof repaired before the big rains came in”, said Walsh.

“It was the third storm that caused most of the damage to our electrical infrastructure,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Booker, 102nd CES operations manager. “We had snow and there were wind gusts in excess of 80 miles per hour.”

Walsh described the first night of Winter Storm Skylar, “We came in at midnight waiting for the rain to turn to snow. It didn’t flip until 1:30, but when it did it came down like gangbusters. We worked non-stop, resting when needed, but there was always somebody out there moving.”

“The entire base lost power for a period of time during the first and third storms. We lost nine utility poles,” said Phil Campbell, 102nd CES electric shop supervisor.

“Just getting around is the biggest challenge in snow events like these,” said Booker.  “It takes several hours to drive around to inspect the miles of pole lines on base to make sure there isn’t a tree leaning on a line and it’s safe to turn the power back on.”

Weather emergencies like these test our ability to pull together and work as one in order to make sure we are still doing our job, keeping our communities safe.

“With all the agencies on base, our work is critical because there’s multiple missions relying on us. From a 102nd Intelligence Wing perspective, our mission runs 24 hours a day, so maintaining a constant power supply is crucial,” explained Booker.

“When there’s deep heavy snow and trees down, the roads and grounds crew makes it possible for the electricians to get to the areas with the damaged infrastructure to return power. During the third storm the fueling station lost power, so the roads and grounds crew was relying on the POL (Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants) shop to deliver the fuel needed to run all the equipment,” said Booker.

“There’s no way we could’ve come back on line as fast as we did if we weren’t all working together,” said 102nd Logistics Readiness flight fuels superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. John Abril.

So just how nasty was it out there during the storms of March 2018? Nasty enough to break the flag pole.  Rumor has it nasty enough to move one of the F-15 static aircraft on display.  

Next time you’re out there in the swirling snow, remember the civil engineers who keep us going, and the heartfelt words of Bill Murray from the movie Groundhog Day, “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”