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MIGHTY CULTURE
Airman Brooke Moeder

How the Air Force's 'Dirt Boyz' keep bases working and jets soaring

(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Zoie Rider)

Continuously working out in the sweltering Arizona heat, pouring concrete and maintaining the flight line, the airmen assigned to the 56th Civil Engineering Squadron here are nicknamed the "Dirt Boyz" — and for a good reason.

"We get dirty and run heavy equipment," said Tech. Sgt. John Scherstuhl, 56th CES horizontal construction section chief. "We have stockpiles of dirt and many dump trucks. We do a lot of ground work for building pads and sidewalks."

For Luke's mission of training the world's greatest fighter pilots and combat-ready airmen, the runways have to be clear for the jets to takeoff and land. "Dirt Boyz" assist in keeping the runways clear of foreign objects. They also continuously monitor for cracks in the runway's concrete, repairing any damage they discover in approximately three hours.

"Our main priority is the airfield," said Airman 1st Class Anibal Carrillo-Farias, 56th CES constructions and pavement heavy equipment craftsman. "We have to keep those jets in the air. Our mission to keep the runway in perfect condition so it doesn't hurt the jets in any way, shape or form."


Along with maintaining the runways, the "Dirt Boyz" build sidewalks, manage Luke's drainage systems, fix potholes and repair any damages to the barriers along the base perimeter.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Aaron Jones, a 56th Civil Engineering Squadron pavements and heavy equipment operator, shovels dirt, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Aug. 12, 2019.

(US Air Force/Airman Brooke Moeder)

There are approximately 100 annual projects. Depending on the project, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to complete.

Airmen assigned to the 56th Civil Engineering Squadron fill an obstacle with water before the 56th Force Support Squadron's 2018 Jump in the Mud 5K, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, June 22, 2018.

(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid)

Assisting in the process to complete a project, The "Dirt Boyz" use various pieces of equipment including excavators, airfield sweepers, dump trucks, road graders, shovels and a crane to assist in the process and complete a project. Junior enlisted airmen are permitted to operate all of the machinery except the crane.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Newton, left, and Tech. Sgt. Ronnie Jamison, right, 56th Civil Engineering Squadron pavements and heavy equipment operators, use an asphalt road cutter to remove chunks of asphalt, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Aug. 12, 2019.

(US Air Force/Airman Brooke Moeder)

"The crane is a highly sought-after job," said Scherstuhl. "There are two weeks of formal training and you're refreshed on the course every three years."

Tech. Sgt. Ronnie Jamison, 56th Civil Engineering Squadron pavements and heavy equipment operator, uses a mini excavator to dig in the road while Staff Sgt. Robert Newton, 56th CES pavements and heavy equipment operator, ensures the mini excavator doesn't cause damage during a valve-replacement project, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Aug. 12, 2019.

(US Air Force/Airman Brooke Moeder)

The "Dirt Boyz" are constantly informed on safety standards. Ear protection is worn while working with loud equipment and gloves are worn when required. Ice and water machines are always provided on a project to help stay hydrated in the Arizona heat. When a situation is deemed unsafe, the project is immediately stopped.

Staff Sgt. Winston Spears, 56th Civil Engineering Squadron heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning technician, checks his soldering work at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, July 20, 2018.

(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Zoie Rider)

"Anybody, no matter their rank, is allowed to call a safety stop on the job," said Scherstuhl. "Anything they feel is dangerous can shut the job site down and everybody has to abide by that rule."

Firefighters from the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron and Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, prepare to participate in a joint aircraft and structural live fire training, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 14, 2018.

(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid)

The mission is not only performed stateside. The Luke Airmen deploy frequently and maintain a high operations tempo at deployed locations too.

Airmen from the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron participate in a drill testing the BAK-12 arresting system at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Feb. 22, 2019.

(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Zoie Rider)

They average three deployments every four years or so for six months at a time. While deployed they usually work six days a week with 12-hour shifts, laying concrete and asphalt to set a foundation for the runways and houses, said Carrillo.

Luke firefighters assigned to the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department and Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, listen to a safety brief before igniting a training structural fire at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, November 14, 2018.

(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid)

"Their work while deployed is laboring and intensive," said Scherstuhl. "We build the bases from the ground up. We're usually the first ones at the base with the Army to start the construction."

Firefighters with the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron and Gila Bend Fire Department spray water onto a fire during training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Dec. 7, 2016

(US Air Force/Senior Airman James Hensley)

According to Carrillo, here at Luke the "Dirt Boyz" are relentlessly rebuilding, digging, paving and maintaining the base and are working on something new every day.

Fifty-sixth Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters use a rapid intervention vehicle to respond to an aircraft fire during training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Dec. 7, 2016.

(US Air Force/Senior Airman James Hensley)

Senior Airman Jerrad Bailey, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron operations management journeyman, works on the Interim Work Information Management System at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, July 15, 2016.

(US Air Force/Senior Airman James Hensley)

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.