Keeping pests out, personnel safe

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sondra Escutia
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Inside the garage of one 49th Civil Engineer Squadron shop, the tails of three rattlers shake in unison. The snakes sit in their well-kept cage -- completely still except for their trembling tails -- creating an almost peaceful sound. That peaceful atmosphere quickly changes, though, once the lid of their cage is opened.

Richard Graham and Staff Sgt. Henry Pringle, two pest control technicians with the 49th CES Pest Management shop, carefully take out one of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes using snake tongs, let it go and demonstrate the proper way to catch it again. One bite from this creature has the potential to kill, but the technicians must know how to handle them -- dealing with these and other dangerous creatures comes with the job.

"How else are you going to teach somebody how to catch a snake?" said Mr. Graham, a pest control technician of 30 years. "Yesterday we caught four snakes in one small room so usually we're out in the field."

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is one of many species residing in the area along with Prairie Rattlers, Bullsnakes and others, they said, but snakes are not always their biggest concern.

"Another species of concern on the base is Africanized Honeybees," said Sergeant Pringle, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Pest Management. "They are more dangerous than the rattler because they will swarm victims in large numbers and attack."

But this does not stop the members of the Pest Management Shop from removing the occasional bee-hive if they are called to do so.

Also on the list of pests they control on base: mosquitoes, rodents, spiders, scorpions, predatory animals, weeds and any other species of wildlife that could be dangerous to Holloman personnel or have adverse affects on the base mission.

"Our mission is to control disease vector, structural and nuisance pests. In other words, our job is to prevent, control or reduce pests that may impact human health and personnel readiness," said Sergeant Pringle. "We accomplish this by utilizing Integrated Pest Management techniques and, most important, educating our customers through awareness."

Along with creating an awareness of dangerous pests, a big portion of their job lies in prevention. During mosquito season, the pest management guru's travel the base to larvicide and then monitor the adult mosquito population at different sites throughout the base, said the Pest Management shop foreman, Paul Balajadia.

That information is then gathered, and the appropriate amount of fogging ensues in an effort to keep the mosquito population to a minimum across the entirety of the base. In fact, the only area on the 50,000-plus acres of base the 49th CES shop is not responsible for is privatized base housing, unless it is an emergency situation.

The team also directly supports the flying mission at Holloman with the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard program -- a program designed to reduce wildlife hazards to aircraft operations and to preserve war-fighting capabilities.

"The things we do here for the BASH program are remove birds from hangars and take preventative measures," said Sergeant Pringle.

Although the Air Force Safety Center is primarily responsible for the BASH program, Sergeant Pringle said the Natural Resources and Pest Management personnel are an integral part of the BASH program at every installation.

Because these technicians are responsible for responding to calls about birds in hangars, or other dangerous animals spotted on base, they work day and night to keep Team Holloman personnel safe.

"We keep pretty busy around here. In the winter time it slows down but during the summer time we are very busy," said Mr. Graham.

He added that while their job is pretty demanding, they enjoy a trade that is different with every day. Sergeant Pringle agreed.

"The best part of my job is getting to see different species of wildlife and insects," said Sergeant Pringle. "It's something new every day and you'll never know what you'll encounter."

So while the rattling tails of the Western Diamondback may be enough to scare some folks away from an Air Force environmental management career, the pest management technicians believe it is a good fit for any adventurous person who enjoys the outdoors, nature, and according to Mr. Graham, a solid supply of adrenaline.

"Is it exciting? Those things are trying to kill me!" he said. "It gets your adrenaline going, that's for sure."

For more information about a particular pest, call the Pest Management shop at 575-572-0426, or to report a pest problem, contact the 49th CES Customer Service at 575-572-5849.