JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Standing in a field under the warm, afternoon sun, a U.S. Air Force Airman breaks his gaze as he squints one eye before looking into a device which resembles an oversized Polaroid camera.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ryan Mundt, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron engineering technician, was beginning to perform an optical site survey, one of the many duties of the 633rd CES mapping section. The camera he looked through is actually a Total Station, a surveying device used by engineer Airmen during the cartography process.
“Our main function in CE is for location purposes; we provide support with our maps that we build ourselves,” said Willalfredo Torres, 633rd CES geographic information officer. “We are also like historians—this base is 100 years old, so we have over 45,000 drawings that we keep and maintain.”
According Torres, the section produces 35 individual maps on a day-to-day basis that range from utility to airfield and environmental maps or any space that can have a location tied to it. The team also keeps track of more than 45,000 maps of all on-base facility floor plans and utilities, to include records of all renovations and floor plans of demolished buildings, and items on base, including hunting stands, electrical and telephone lines, abandoned lines, water, sewage and stop signs.
Along with their day-to-day tasks, the mappers assist in saving time and money by taking the guess work out of projects. They work with customers to fulfil requests, such as finding appropriate locations for projects and estimating the resources needed for them.
For example said Torres, if a customer wanted to construct a parking lot, the mapping section would determine if there was enough room, what types of utilities would be under the facility and its proximity to other facilities.
They also work hand-in-hand with base architects by drawing floor plans and performing site surveys for future buildings.
“Inside CE, we sit in the same section as the engineers and architects. If they wanted to lay out a building, first, they need to know where, so we’ll go out and find a site, tell them where exactly that site is and how big it is, then, they can start designing that building,” said Torres. “We have a knowledge based system that helps you make informed decisions—that’s the power of geographic information systems.”
The job doesn’t stop there though, these Airmen also keep track of items not visible to the eye, often working with local area experts to prevent mishaps with U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft that provide freedom each day.
“For the pilots we have imaginary surface areas for approach and departure. We keep track of those, so if someone wants to erect a facility—they won’t build it in the flight path,” Torres explained. “Langley Air Force Base owns the airspace five nautical miles out, so outside cities contact us if they want to build [something outside of base].”
According to Torres, through partnerships with local environmental agencies the mapping team also provides safety for local habitats and creatures by identifying wetlands and tracking the Bird and Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard maps. This helps agencies protect natural resources and study the Osprey’s, a bird that frequents JBLE, flight pattern.
“Right now we also have storm water data and we’re going to track how much rainfall lands on the base, where it goes and how much of it goes out into the bay without being treated,” Torres continued. “That’s on a federal and state level to protect the Chesapeake Bay, so we’re actually modeling our storm water system so that we know how much water actually makes landfall here and is treated before it goes to the bay to try to make it a better and cleaner place.”
According to Torres, the section has an article, which enables them to see what facilities are affected when there is high water on base. This information is also shared with surrounding cities to protect their assets as well.
While these Airmen work to support many aspects of the base and local area while stateside, their focus is more distinct when in a deployed environment.
Torres explained, while deployed the Airmen are trained to determine where structures, such as tents, bathrooms and cafeteria should be located however, the airfield becomes their main focus.
“When we’re deployed, I’d say our mission is more expeditionary—the airfield is our number one priority,” said Mundt. “We do stuff like finding out the minimum operating surface for an airfield because aircraft need a certain amount of distance to take off and land. Let’s say part of the runway is demolished, our job is to go out there and see what airfield we have left and make it a minimum airfield operating strip. Here at Langley you don’t really have to worry about someone bombing the airfield, but if you’re downrange, it can be an actual real world issue, it’s one of our main focuses.”
Whether stateside or deployed, these Airmen play an integral part of JBLE and the community by ensuring each Airmen has the facilities and ability to carry out their piece of the mission and by helping protect and improve the environment through local partnerships.