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Behind the scenes of exercise Sentry Aloha: Airfield Management

Senior Airmen Moana Melendez and Veronica Mendoza, airfield management specialists with the Hawaii Air National Guard 154th Operations Support Squadron, examine runway lights on their daily inspection before sorties begin for exercise Sentry Aloha at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 18, 2021. This small group of mission-critical service members helps to ensure the safety and success of HIANG flights out of Hickam Airfield and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Senior Airmen Moana Melendez and Veronica Mendoza, airfield management specialists with the Hawaii Air National Guard 154th Operations Support Squadron, examine runway lights on their daily inspection before sorties begin for exercise Sentry Aloha at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 18, 2021. This small group of mission-critical service members helps to ensure the safety and success of HIANG flights out of Hickam Airfield and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI -- Who do the pilots of the Hawaii Air National Guard (HIANG) depend on for mission success? Operating behind the scenes are the 154th Operations Support squadron’s airfield management specialists. This small group of mission-critical service members helps to ensure the safety and success of HIANG flights operating out of Hickam Airfield and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

But who the FOD cares? Airfield management specialists care. They clear the runway and taxiway of Foreign Object Debris which include everything that could pose a danger to an aircraft. This includes rocks and pebbles, aircraft parts, lost objects and the occasional dead animal. When the going gets tough, AMS personnel drop the shovels and utilize a tarmac sweeper or a tool they call the ‘FOD BOSS’ to quickly remove debris and get the job done.

“We like to go above and beyond by taking our FOD BOSS to the area and make sure it’s safe for our jets,” said Senior Airman Moana Melendez, an airfield manager with the 154th Operations Support Squadron. “We’ll take our FOD BOSS and we’ll run it over about 35 miles of tarmac every day before any kind of sortie or flight. Removing FOD is really important. If it gets into the engines of our aircraft or jets, it can really do some damage. If the jets are down, then they can’t do their job.”

The FOD BOSS isn’t the only boss on the airfield. AMS personnel are responsible for tracking all persons on the airfield. They have the authority to expel anyone, even security forces if they were not cleared to be on the airfield. Their sole responsibility is to mitigate all the dangers that pose a threat to an aircrew’s ability to take off and land aircraft. This includes preventing threats from the aircrew themselves, to include visiting participants of this year’s iteration of exercise Sentry Aloha.

“For Sentry Aloha, from start to finish, even before they come, we’re setting up and providing their airfield driving training,” said Senior Airman Veronica Mendoza, an airfield manager with the 154th Operations Support Squadron. “Everything they need for this base, from maps to where everything is located and who they need to contact for any of their needs. If they need maintenance support, security, file plans, base operations, you name it. They can get that information from us.”

Exercises, such as the HIANG’s Sentry Aloha, include visiting units from other airfields with different operating procedures. It is the responsibility of the AMS to provide aircrews with pre-flight briefings that educate them about the protocols and procedures specific to Hickam Airfield and the DKI International Airport.

In the event of in-flight or ground emergencies, airfield managers respond immediately to ensure emergency protocols are properly executed. They effectively communicate across multiple agencies to ensure a successful response to the emergent event.

“We are the first eyes on the ground to identify any kind of safety concern on the airfield,” said Mendoza. “We have to maintain communications with all agencies such as [civil engineering], wildlife, safety, maintenance crews, the tower and ground control. We have a hand in everything. We are the airfield managers and it is important for us to communicate everything that happens on the airfield to the appropriate agencies.”

Professionals such as Mendoza have developed a keen eye to detect safety hazards affecting the airfield. They perform daily inspections of the runways, taxiways, parking aprons and lighting equipment. It is due to their efforts behind the scenes that the HIANG mission is executed safely, efficiently and effectively in the airfield environment.

“I love working in airfield management,” said Melendez. “There is something new every day. We get to interact with other agencies. We get to interact with different units from all over the world. Our shop is wonderful and our supervisor is more of a mentor. He likes to say ‘it's our airfield, our domain.’ We take the airfield, our job is to make sure the airfield is safe for everybody. We make sure that everyone on the airfield is supposed to be there and that they know what’s going on in the airfield. There is nothing going on in the airfield that we don’t know about.”

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