COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Tucked away by the Kortiz Clinic, the 14th Civil Engineer Squadron Entomology team rarely sees the spotlight, but the work they do keeps Team BLAZE safe and comfortable.
Two men, Craig Hoke and Robert Miller, 14th CES pest controllers, are the frontline defense against insects, snakes, raccoons, skunks and any creature that could harm Airmen or damage Air Force property.
“The best part about my job is you never know what kind of call you’re going to get,” Hoke said. “It keeps me busy and on my toes.”
The team has a wide-range of responsibilities which involves spraying U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved chemicals on base infrastructures to fighting weeds and invasive plant life, removing wasps nest or beehives from buildings and setting traps for wildlife that disrupts the mission.
One of the major jobs that the team does is fogging for mosquitoes by using a fan that mists EPA-approved chemicals in the air. 14th Medical Operations Squadron Public Health Flight will do a test to see how many mosquitoes are in the area and if there are too many, they give the green-light to the team. Columbus Air Force base was built on a low lying area that tends to hold water, which is prime habitat for the tiny nuisances. While the team may never be able to stop all mosquitoes from flying around, they keep the numbers in check.
Another job, and in some cases a more dangerous one, is keeping wildlife away from the populated portions of the base. The team is not responsible for family housing due to it being contracted out, but they are in charge of all Air Force and government facilities, such as the enlisted and officers dormitories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skunks, foxes, raccoons and coyotes are the terrestrial animals most often infected with rabies. In the last year and a half alone, the team removed 92 skunks from the base … without getting sprayed.
“The first time I caught a skunk, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I was going to get sprayed,” Miller said. “We developed a method which involved holding a bed sheet in front of us and easing up to the trap. When we were close enough we would drape it over the trap, pick it up and load it in the truck.”
Certain calls hold precedence over others, for example a stinging insect job is more important than weeds in a road. Some people can be fatally allergic to insect stings, so the team fixes the biggest and most dangerous problems first, and after they are resolved they return to their daily tasks.
Hoke said summer is the peak pest season but not because the pests all of a sudden grow in numbers it’s because people do more outdoor activities during the summer increasing the chance of a pest encounter.
With a combined experience of 33 years, Hoke and Miller are the unsung heroes of Columbus Air Force Base, ensuring that our lives and jobs are safe, comfortable and free of pests.