Exterminators eliminate pests, weeds, badgers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
It's 6 a.m. on a typical spring morning.

Two staff members from Malmstrom Air Force Base's 341st Civil Engineer Squadron pest management team are prepared to work until 7 p.m. Fully decked out in hard hats, respirators, rubber gloves, boots and coveralls, Michael Shotwell and Thomas Maclean, pest controllers, are getting ready to spray a missile site with chemicals to prevent the growth of invasive weeds.

Then they discover winds are moving at 12mph. The job is cancelled.

Weather, temperature and humidity are just a few of the many factors that determine whether or not a pest controller can accomplish their job.

"There are many variables that go into effect before we can apply chemicals," said Dale Huscha, 341st CES infrastructure systems chief superintendent. "If the wind picks up and it lands on a farmer's crops, we're held liable."

In charge of more than 26,000 acres, which includes the missile complex, Malmstrom's pest controllers are anticipating a busy spring and summer season as the grass starts to turn green.

"The bulk of what we do is weed control," Maclean said. "We maintain the airfield to ensure it is free of weeds to eliminate the attraction of birds and pests to ensure they don't hinder the flying mission."

In addition to supporting the flying mission, they also prevent and maintain overgrowth of unwanted foliage at all missile sites.

"Even if a site is inactive, we're responsible for preventing the spread of noxious weeds onto other people's property," said Senior Airman Randall Crippen, 341st CES pest controller.

But invasive plants aren't the only thing Malmstrom's exterminators reduce.

"We eliminate mosquitoes, control ground squirrels, pick-up dead animals, feral cats, snakes, raccoons and badgers," Shotwell said. "We also inspect and maintain pest-free food handling facilities on base every month."

Although Balfour Beatty is now responsible for eliminating pests for base housing residents, Malmstrom's pest controllers support the dormitory complex when insect or rodent problems arise.

"Although the majority of pest issues can be solved simply by going to the Self Help Store, if there is an on-going problem for multiple residents, we will absolutely step in and solve the problem," Maclean said.

Malmstrom pest controllers are always in demand because the chemicals being used are less potent, therefore requiring frequent spraying.

"The classifications of chemicals are being replaced by synthetic materials," Maclean said. "They're much safer and less carcinogenic. Our goal is to reduce the use of pesticides by 10 percent every year and to use the least toxic chemicals to the environment."

Malmstrom's energized exterminators can be seen spraying chemicals in the missile complex and controlling squirrel overpopulation around the base. Some may not be able to stomach some of the things they touch, smell and do, but for these guys, they wouldn't have it any other way.

"I can't think of any person who would ever want to cross-train out of this job," Crippen said.