MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
Master Sgt. Philip McAlpin, 5th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy repair superintendent, received a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement while deployed to Syria.
McAlpin’s deployed responsibilities were to oversee repair and maintenance for the Kobani Landing Zone, a semi-prepared dirt runway.
“As a heavy repair superintendent, I was responsible for the maintenance and repair of the landing zone after air operations commenced for the day,” said McAlpin. “Essentially, I was responsible for maintaining operational capability.”
When he first arrived, the Battle of Raqqa was underway. After Raqqa’s liberation from ISIS in mid-October 2017, the landing zone saw a three to four times increase of aircraft passing through.
“When we first got there, we were out on the strip doing maintenance for roughly 12, 14, and sometimes even 16 hours at a time,” said McAlpin. “We knew how important our jobs were so through thick or thin, long hours or not, we were going to make sure it was ready.”
Over time, McAlpin and his crew began to see the ways they could make the landing zone run better. Each day, they recorded issues within the zone and kept a running log for future endeavors.
“The quicker we were able to identify any issues, the quicker we were able to address them,” said McAlpin. “As we became more familiar with our practices, it inevitably shaved time off daily. By the time [the deployment ended], we were down to about 3 to 4 hours [on the strip], so it was a tremendous difference.”
McAlpin changed many things throughout the landing zone, including the way aircraft landed, created better contingency during rain operations and shaving unnecessary work from the plan, making his Airmen work faster and more effectively.
After rain fell in the area, the landing zone may be unusable for a couple of days due to the soil not being dry enough to prepare the strip. McAlpin discovered that if they placed an inch of soil down across the zone in preparation, they could effectively scrape that inch off afterwards and continue operations within the same day.
“What was critical for our team was to make sure that if there were any distresses apparent, we came up with a plan to address and correct them to ensure we maintained it operational at all times,” said McAlpin.
Another way McAlpin made the strip more effective was when they were required to move a helicopter pad from one side to the other.
“We would normally pack up the helicopter pad, move it, then set it back up over the course of a couple days,” said McAlpin. “With permission, we were allowed to find a new way to drag the pad to the other side. What would normally take us a couple days turned into just a few hours of work.”
Throughout McAlpin’s effective changes, word was quickly brought up the leadership chain and he was asked to help with the future writing of the Air Force Tactics, Techniques and Procedures 3-32.21, Semi-Prepared Runway Sustainment Operations (SPRO).
Not too long after, McAlpin began to hear rumors of his upcoming Bronze Star Medal.
“It’s rare to hear of someone receiving a bronze star,” said McAlpin. “It wasn’t until the morning [they presented it] that I realized it was actually happening.”
Although McAlpin was the recipient of the medal, he knew that it wasn’t solely for the work he completed.
“It’s more of a team effort, and I’m eternally grateful for being a part of it,” said McAlpin. “When we first arrived and were working long hours, I knew I wasn’t going to let my Airmen work up to 16 hour workdays for the duration of the deployment. One of my main concerns were making sure our Airmen weren’t burned out since they were the ones doing the job.”
Continuing forward, he knows that no matter what, he will never forget his deployment.
“The Airmen always had the mentality to help, no matter how long they worked,” said McAlpin. “I will be forever grateful. Anytime I look at this Bronze Star, I’ll remember my team out there.”