SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Enough snow fell during a Thanksgiving Day eve storm in Western Iowa to cause Master Sgt. Dave Twohig, the 185th Air Refueling Wing's "Snow King," to kick-start his plan for clearing snow from his Air Guard unit.
With the season's first snow, Twohig traded his ball cap for one of his many other hats, or "crown" in this case, as the unit's primary person responsible for organizing snow removal at the Air National Guard unit in Sioux City.
Each winter the Snow King and his court of a dozen deputies from the unit's Civil Engineering Squadron help clear snow. Civil engineering is made up of people who specialize in vocations like carpentry, plumbing, electrical and power production. During the winter, however, people from each shop also serve at the behest of the Snow King.
When it is not snowing, Twohig works as the state supervisor in the Air Guard's Civil Engineering Squadron. Additionally, as a traditional member of the Air Guard, Twohig works weekends as the Civil Engineering Squadron superintendent.
Twohig says the snow crew's No. 1 priority is clearing the ramp – the "parking lot" for the unit's airplanes. The key difference from a traditional parking lot is that with a half-dozen KC-135's parked on the ramp, it is a really big parking lot filled with very expensive airplanes.
Twohig said there are a lot of considerations when moving large equipment around during dark early morning hours, especially when it is still snowing or blowing.
"We have a training plan for all of the equipment but there is a lot of OJT (on-the-job training) because everything changes when it is dark and the snow is flying and you can't see, It is like driving in a whiteout," Twohig said.
In particularly snowy seasons, Twohig said piling the snow around the ramp presents concerns for the KC-135's as they taxi in and out of the area.
"We have to watch how big the piles get near the ramp because if we get a lot of snow, there are concerns about minimum wingtip clearance," Twohig added.
The squadron has about $2 million worth of snow removal equipment that includes Oshkosh H-series blowers, front-mounted broom trucks and H-series plows.
Twohig says the newer, more reliable equipment allows them to spend more time moving snow and less time repairing equipment than when he first started working for the Air Guard. He says clearing base parking lots, roads and the ramp area quickly is especially important when trying to ensure 24-hour air operations.
Twohig says that every snow event is different but the goal is to have a place for people to park and a clear ramp in time for the typical workday to begin. All this means a 3 a.m. start for the snow crew.
"Once cars start flowing in it starts to get a little dicey when we have machines that are throwing snow. The visibility is terrible. You have to be very careful when people start showing up," Twohig said.
After the main part of the base is cleared, equipment is dispatched to roads leading to the unit's paint facility, munitions and firing range.
"We have been doing it so long we have got it down to a system. What throws a wrench into it is, what kind of snow it is, whether it is wet and heavy or if it is blowing." Twohig said.
The operation is coordinated with group commanders in maintenance and operations and airfield management. He says the most important factor is the flying schedule.