MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. —
Recently, April 12-14, 2022, people at Minot Air Force Base and the surrounding North Dakota communities witnessed a massive amount of snow during the historic late-winter storm, Blizzard Haley.
The blizzard bombarded Minot AFB for over 48 consecutive hours, leaving the area with a whopping initial 36 inches of snowfall. The ensuring snow drifts reached over 6 feet tall covered vehicles and left many temporarily stuck in their homes or dorms, before another system moved in a few days later, adding at least another 10 inches of snow to the total.
When many people think snow removal, shoveling a sidewalk or driveway may come to mind; however at Minot and other Northern Tier bases, whether through repairs, planning, or action, snow removal is a year-round consideration.
The initial snow removal team consisted of over 54 Airmen from many different agencies, including the 91st Maintenance Group, 5th, 91st Operations Group, and 5th Maintenance Group, however by the end of the storm, well over hundreds were involved at all levels, clearing roads, parking lots, access ways, sidewalks, and digging ditches to mitigate the flood and mud impact caused by melting snow.
The Airmen and civilians conducting snow removal efforts used multiple types of equipment, to include front-end loaders with different attachments like blowers, street plows, box blade pushers and buckets. Additionally, they employed graders and airfield plows, brooms and blowers.
Overall, more than 50 pieces of equipment played a role in the fight to keep the base operational.
“I’ve been in Minot since 2005 and this is the most snow we’ve gotten,” said Mike Grady, Work Leader Equipment Operator for the 5th CES. “The longevity of the storm, the wind and the amount of snow, stood out from other storms, it’s something to be reckoned with.”
During the storm Grady worked 12 hour shifts, consisting of driving plows and blowers to remove the snow. Conditions from Tuesday evening to Wednesday were whiteout with very low visibility and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour. At one point, Grady and his team paused clearing snow for safety reasons until the storm died down.
Even though the storm remained constant for 48 hours, families stuck in their homes and in need of emergency were still accessible if the need arose, which it did.
During the second day of the storm, on-base first responders received a dispatch call to respond to a non-life-threatening, medical emergency at around 3 a.m. The ensuring, combined response proved the team’s effectiveness to prioritize their efforts to reach a common goal.
The 5th CES snow control team cleared a path for Emergency Medical Services from the medical facility to the patient’s residence. Upon evaluation, the EMS crew determined the patient required further medical treatment not typically provided by first responders.
Additional assistance from the snow control team then plowed a safe route for, Lt Col Nicole Croley, MD, Chief of Medical Staff for the 5th MDG, from her residence to the medical facility.
“I followed the snow plow as they cleared a way to the hospital to treat the patient,” said Croley. “It was completely surreal to drive through what was essentially a tunnel of man-sized snow drifts. The wind was so forceful, it seemed like the path filled in almost as soon as it was cleared.”
She also stated that without the efforts of the emergency medical team and the snow control members, this patient would not have received the additional treatment necessary for their wound.
“Thanks to the 5th CES snow control team, we were able to provide uninterrupted medical care in spite of the road closures and white out conditions,” said Croley. “It was truly miraculous!”
Many Airmen have had to endure longer work hours than normal and extreme cold, and biting winds, but there was a bright side to things. Their support system.
Due to proper preparation for the storm, the Airmen had temporary lodging at the hotel on base, and on cots in common areas to minimize the drain on low density snow clearing resources, or for some, in of the residents on the opened their home for their fellow Airmen to stay.
Finally, members of the spouse network banded together to help support the Airmen on shift by providing cooked meals, sandwiches and snacks.
One of the most impacted groups by the storm were those who still stood alert, both in the 91st MW missile fields where people continued the nation’s 24/7, 365 ICBM alert status, and on the main installation with the 5th Security Forces Squadron defending the base.
“The men and women of the 5th SFS stand watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said Chief Master Sgt. Janee Walker, 5th SFS command chief. “The recent blizzard was no exception, and they endured long hours in harsh conditions while remaining steadfast in their duties.”
During the storm, several Airmen were credited with going above and beyond their requirements, pulling duty for more than 30 hours at their post, rotating sleeping times with others on post with them. According to Walker, they were offered the option to come in from their post, but the result would have left the base’s inbound gate closed to any who might seek shelter from the adjacent traffic artery, Highway 83. The Airmen opted to stay on shift and fight through the weather together in case someone needed their help.
“We are grateful for the resiliency, the professionalism, and the grit of our Defenders bring to the table every day,” said Walker. “Take a moment to thank our team when you see them. Without them, the critical mission here at Minot would not be possible.”
All-in-all, one might assume a blizzard of this magnitude might weigh on the morale of their Airmen, however for many, quite the opposite seemed the case.
“The morale of the team was great,” explained Tech. Sgt. Ryan Powell, noncommissioned officer in charge of Pavements and Equipment. “The whole team ensured everybody was good and helped each other stay motivated to accomplish the snow removal efforts.”
Recently, the 5th Civil Engineering Squadron earned recognition as the runner up for best Large Civil Engineering Squadron in the U.S. Air Force, however they’re already looking forward to earning top spot next year with such an impressive start to 2022.
Jim Hillstead, Army photo 1943 In a way, Jim Hillstead’s story about military service is much the same as other veterans, but in another way, it is completely different. Hillstead, who is 103 and lives quietly with his son Kelly in Kenmare, took on a significant...