Squadron of the Month: Team that keeps JBC operational, responds to emergencies

From building military bases to mapping out land and buildings, these heroes do it all, including fighting fires and disposing of bombs.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 6:50 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:30 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - From building military bases to mapping out land and buildings, these heroes do it all, including fighting fires and disposing of bombs.

The 628th Civil Engineer Squadron at Joint Base Charleston keeps the air base here at home and others across the world operating smoothly.

Every month, they do a training called “Prime BEEF Day.” It’s a monthly training they go through to ensure the squadron’s readiness to carry out the mission at the home station and deployed locations.

“It’s an opportunity for us to step away from what our day-to-day mission, taking care of the installation and actually working on our wartime task,” Commander of the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron Lt. Col. Paul Julian says. “We talk about building warriors not worriers. We want folks who are confident in their abilities to go down range and execute the mission regardless of the environment.”

The 628th Civil Engineer Squadron has more than 500 personnel in the squadron which includes a mixture of civilians, military and contractors.

“The verb from Air Mobility Command mentality is to create a warrior-ethos,” Lt. Col. Julian explains. “We talk about engineers leading the way and so we need our engineers to be lean, effective, adaptive and dynamic. That way, as they get into a contested environment, we know that they have a bias toward action and a confidence to be successful.”

The 628th Civil Engineer Squadron is responsible for maintaining the air base, naval weapons station, North Auxiliary Airfield and Short Stay Recreational Area-- which means design, construction, maintenance and repair activities covering 6,500 acres, 5-million-square feet of floor space and 3.7 million square yards of pavement. All to say, there’s a lot of surveying and a lot of maps.

“We help support in any kind of way whether it’s on base, but we also have our deployments,” Technical Sergeant Jammie Catoe says. “We go out overseas once we’re called upon and help support that.

Engineering Assistants do surveying, cartography and drafting, construction inspection and airfield damage recovery support. Geospatial engineering provides capabilities and activities that portray and refine data about the geographic location and characteristics of natural and constructed features and boundaries. Geospatial engineering requires highly technical and specialized capabilities.

There are also things you might not think about, like installing and maintaining utilities like energy and water and keeping buildings and living quarters functioning properly.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure we maintain the airfield so that the aircraft can take off,” Master Sergeant Tyson Jensen says. “We maintain the facilities that those pilots live out of and stay out of so that they’re ready to go and physically ready to go do their mission. Same with our other mission partners. We maintain gym, we do dining facilities. So, all those pieces that come together for the big puzzle. We’re there to keep it all moving and going.”

Engineers with the Operations Flight operate and maintain the infrastructure necessary to support missions. The requirement is to balance mission effectiveness versus the efficient performance of infrastructure supporting base activities. They provide functional real property installation assets with utilities such as energy, water, and disposal of wastewater, and provide contract and real property management, pollution prevention, and other essential services.

And then there are the emergency services and responders. The Readiness and Emergency Management is critical to recovering the base after natural disasters, man-made incidents and terrorist attacks. To assist in doing so, they provide ample training opportunities to the base populace in the form of Base Emergency Preparedness Orientations, Emergency Operations Center/Control Center Operations courses, and Unit Control Center courses. For personnel deploying, they provide Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Survival skills training. During training or real-world incidents, they utilize a common operating picture called the Command and Control Incident Management Emergency Response Application. It allows them to track multiple incidents across multiple operational periods while simultaneously completing the checklist required to recover the base to its ready posture.

“It gets really complicated at times when you have different mission sets that you’re trying to complete simultaneously,” Technical Sgt. Matthew Bryles says. “The hardest part really is just trying to make sure that we keep those different priorities organized and ensuring that, again, we’re completing those checklists like we should.”

They also have the Fire Department which provides protection for the Joint Base Air Base and Weapons Station and mutual aid response to North Charleston, Goose Creek and City of Goose Creek Rural. They also provide aid to the Charleston International Airport.

“I’d say it’s pretty much daily occurrence where we provide Mutual Aid or at least a request to go out outside the gates and provide that,” Joint Base Charleston’s Fire Chief Carmel Lumia says.

They’re in the process of getting a new fire station and looking ahead to what’s next.

“It’ll be a huge difference on a day-to-day,” Lumia says. “We’re dealing with the challenges of maintaining that building and the cost that goes into that. The new facility will kind of take care all that for us long-term for us. We’re looking at a marine firefighting. It’s kind of a big thing in the area now with the port expanding and all the traffic going through there. So we’re looking to up our training and our capabilities to provide fire protection to the waterways.”

There’s also the Explosive Ordinance Disposal flight. Explosive Ordinance Disposal mitigates hazards to personnel and property posed by weapons and explosive materials in all physical domains, at the home station and in the contingency environment. Their responsibilities range from small arms cartridges to nuclear weapons. Explosive Ordinance Disposal serves roles in defense support of civil authorities response as they execute military units’ requirements to dispose of all military munitions discovered in the community, as well as the Joint Explosive Ordinance Disposal Very Important Person Protection Activity, providing counter-explosive search teams in support of the United States Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security and Department of State.

The Explosive Ordinance Disposal is similar to what you see in the movie The Hurt Locker.

“Like with anything, that’s Hollywood putting their spin on it,” Staff Sgt. Evan Richardson explains. “There are some things in that movie that are realistic but other parts of it are not realistic at all. The realism is like the PPE that they use, so like the bomb suit, that’s realistic. We would wear that in scenarios like that. You see a robot getting deployed in that movie and we do utilize robotic platforms during our operations. But other than that, all like the blast sizes and certain ways they go about doing things -- it’s not how we do things.”

The Explosive Ordinance Disposal team gets called out a few times a month for a cannonball or military ordinance found around the area. They also get called out a lot for things found during dredging in the Harbor Deepening Project.

There are a lot of pieces that make up the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron, but all working together to make a great puzzle.

“I am blessed with I’ll say award-winning folks,” Lt. Col. Julian adds. “We have the Air Force’s best fire department this year. We were also recognized with the Air Mobility Command’s best engineering flight plus a multitude of individual awards. And so this team is full of superstars that get after it every day. But, more importantly, create a team environment where they pull each other along and despite the challenges of aging infrastructure or geographically separated mission partners, we’re able to overcome those obstacles to deliver the mission.”

The 628th Civil Engineering Squadron is nicknamed the “Most Wanted” on Joint Base Charleston because of the wide array duties they have and what they do as civil engineers.