BAGRAM AIRFILED, Afghanistan --
The Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard, or BASH, program is a Department of Defense directive aimed at reducing the risk of aircraft striking wildlife.
The BASH mission at not just Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan but all airfields across the globe is to provide pilots with a safe operating environment by reducing the potential threat of wildlife strikes and maintaining combat capability.
“Really, where the rubber meets the road is patrolling the airfield,” said James Capps, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)and BASH forward operating base biologist. “I patrol the flight line and the area surrounding the flight line throughout the day seven days a week trying to ensure that the environment for flying is as safe as possible. My job is to ensure that aircraft can take off and land without any bird strike damage.”
According to Lt. Col. Andrew Congdon, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing chief of safety, safety’s mission is to protect people and preserve resources to enable delivery of decisive airpower.
“Our vision is zero mission impact due to preventable mishaps and the BASH program is a key aspect of accomplishing the mission and striving for our vision,” said Congdon.
Capps said that most of the bird strikes usually occur during takeoff and landing.
“Planes take off and land here at Bagram all times of the day,” said Capps. “The 455th AEW has a huge mission here, and my job is to make sure that they continue to defend, support and deliver airpower.”
“I am here trying to discourage birds and other wildlife from residing inside the perimeter fence of the airfield,” said Capps.
He constantly applies this pressure to make the animals decide to live or fly somewhere else, he said.
As the only BASH FOB biologist in the area of responsibility, Capps spends a lot of time on the flight line, ensuring the safety of all aircraft.
“It usually takes me about three hours to complete my rounds in the morning and then the process is repeated again in the evening,” said Capps. “On most days I spend majority of my time patrolling on the airfield and at least once a week I go out to the airfield at night to check for mammals and other nocturnal birds.
Being out on the flight line every day, you are able to see the trends of the birds and act on them in a quick and effective manner. You’re not letting the threat build up and you are being proactive to prevent strikes from happening.”
Since 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been present at Bagram Airfield, working diligently to preserve warfighting capabilities through the reduction of wildlife hazards to aircraft.
In fiscal year 2017, 345,912 birds and mammals were harassed removed at Bagram.
Capps has been working for the USDA for almost 10 years and is currently a staff biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Services program out of Raleigh, N.C.
To be selected for a BASH overseas position, there is a lot training you need to go through.
“In order to be a qualified airport biologist, you first get initial airport training,” said Capps. “Then youcomplete advanced airport training, followed by a wildlife hazard assessment which is a year-long study of the airfield wildlife. In order to be selected for the overseas position you have to have all of the airport trainings and participated in a wildlife hazard assessment and preferably be working on either a Department of Defense airfield or a Federal Aviation Administration 139 airport.”
Capps said he volunteered for this position because he really wanted to continue to make a difference for our service members and what better opportunity than to serve them while they are serving overseas.
“The state-side work is great, but here at Bagram is where all of the training and the nexus of all that work came together,” said Capps. “I wanted to see first-hand the combat theatre and feel like I was doing more to help the military.”
According to Capps, if he wasn’t here, there would most likely be an uptick in strikes compared to the current conditions at BAF.
“We are only here for four month rotations,” said Capps. “So it’s kind of tough to tackle everything. You just kind of chip away at it. The airfield now, compared to several years ago when we started this project, looks a lot better.”
Capps said hopefully, when his time is up, he leaves the flight line environment better than he found it.
“Mission safety is the biggest thing I’m trying to accomplish here,” said Capps. “Being able to ensure, to the best of my ability, that the pilots, aircrews, passengers, weapons, and everything that’s coming in or leaving this base is able to make it to its destination safely is what matters. Hopefully I am doing my job right and saving the Air Force money, saving the DoD money, saving them time and ensuring the safety of the pilots and aircrew.
“I would definitely come back to Bagram again. To me, it’s some of the most meaningful and visible BASH work that we are doing anywhere. It feels like it’s the big leagues.”