Misawa runway closure provides time to train, repair, unwind
Stars and Stripes June 22, 2003
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The airspace around Misawa’s sole runway has been so quiet this week, you could practically hear the sea fog roll in.
Birds outnumber jets as work nears completion on the annual repair of the 10,000-foot landing strip.
Some Air Force troops are capitalizing on the respite by taking time off, while others are refocusing on tasks that may have been on the back burner.
“We’re taking advantage of it,” Capt. Connie Van Hoesen, airfield operations flight commander, said. “It gives us time to focus on things we can’t when we have our normal day-to-day activity of running the flight line.”
Manning has been reduced on some work shifts because troops involved with flight-line operations are temporarily “out of a job” during the weeklong closure.
“We bring people in during the day for training like first aid, buddy care and airfield inspections,” she said. “It’s kind of nice to be able to do this.”
Each day before flight operations begin, Van Hoesen said her troops spend about an hour checking the airfield for such things as pavement conditions, grass height and presence of birds. They also look at the condition of lighting fixtures along taxiways.
“When we’re in normal operations, we can’t always bring our people out to train them how to do this. This week, we can,” she said.
Van Hoesen said planning for the runway closure starts a year in advance.
“Coordination must be done not only with Air Force units here, but with the Naval Air Facility flying the P-3C patrol aircraft and Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces units based at Misawa,” she said.
Japan Airlines System, which serves the Misawa airport, must also be consulted. This week, they’re operating daily flights from the Aomori airport, 45 miles northwest of Misawa.
“We’re already looking at next year’s planned closure for more repair work,” Van Hoesen said. That will mark the fifth time the runway shuts down for a week while contractors repair sections of the heavily used real estate.
Master Sgt. Richard Vogel of the 35th Operations Support Squadron’s weather flight said manning at the weather office was significantly affected by recent deployments to Southwest Asia.
“We were short four people, and we’re undermanned, too,” he said. “Our people had a high operations tempo working 24 hours a day seven days a week.”
Many of the station’s troops had to close ranks and worked ungodly hours, meaning they couldn’t take leave for months on end. With this week’s runway closure, Vogel some of his people are able to take well-deserved leave.
North of the runway, where Air Force F-16s nest, maintenance crews are preparing for a major Pacific Air Forces readiness inspection, scheduled for November.
“We’ve been able to form teams of our people to practice the tasks we’ll be doing during the inspection,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Mical, the 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit’s production superintendent. “Because of the runway closure, it’s the first time we have been able to do this.”
Minus the pressure of launching and recovering fighter aircraft returning from training sorties this week, Mical said troops can focus solely on maintenance efforts.
“It’s like doing assembly-line work. We just move from aircraft to aircraft without interruptions,” he said.
But the quiet days are numbered. The runway is set to reopen Monday at 6 a.m. That suits Mical just fine.
“It’s not good to keep fighters on the ground for more than a week,” he said. “Then we start running into problems with accounting for down days, and that’s not good.”