Walking on the wild side
By Staff Sgt. William Banton, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 03, 2017
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Faint discordant growls and barks drifted across the dry weather-boned landscape.
Master Sgt. Fabian Becerra, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron pest management and entomology flight noncommissioned officer in charge, deployed from the 507th Air Refueling Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., pulled over his truck to find the source of the noise coming from outside the base.
“The Rock [386th Air Expeditionary Wing] has had a few stray dogs here and there,” said Becerra. “Actually, yesterday morning we had a pack of dogs here on base, there were six of them."
Becerra and his assistant, Senior Airman Lucas Argo, 386th ECES pest management journeyman, also deployed from the 507th ARW, have been up since dawn traveling the dirt roads of the installation perimeter; checking live traps and trying to capture wildlife that could pose a threat to the base population.
“We trap for feral animals and anything that can be considered a danger to the safety of the populace,” Becerra said. “We get calls from [coalition partners] at night reporting packs of dogs running through their base and underneath their trailers.”
Dogs cause damage to perimeter fences by digging holes, which can cause security issues. The animals are also prone to fighting and become very protective of their young, which exposes base residents to the risk of animal bites.
The goal for pest management and entomology is to keep the base's insect, rodent and feral animal population at a manageable level, Argo said. To do this they use a variety of control measures; such as setting up traps for feral animals, utilizing rodenticides and pesticides and employing local animals.
Feral cats are occasionally rehabilitated and used as rodent deterrents to scare rodents away from buildings.
“There are some on base that are pretty tame, but some will go berserk if you catch them – it’s like a Tasmanian devil in a little cage,” Becerra said. “[Most] are not dangerous. But if units want to keep them, the cats will have to get their shots, in case [someone] gets sick from a scratch or bite.”
Pest management works with military veterinarians to ensure these animals are appropriately vaccinated prior to letting them stay. They caution units to remember that these animals are tools for pest control and are not pets.
“I think it’s a problem whenever cats become comfortable and lazy,” he said. “They’re just not really doing their job anymore if people feed them all the time and keep them inside.”
Pest management is also responsible for controlling and identifying snakes and scorpions. Southwest Asia is home to many venomous snakes and scorpions, including the Black fat-tailed scorpion. The scorpion is an extremely toxic, fast moving and aggressive species which has the potential to kill a human within an hour of being stung.
“With snakes, scorpions and other pests, it’s our job to reduce and remove those populations from significant areas, like tent cities,” Argo said. “Any time there is a disturbance, it is considered an emergency call for us. I’m pretty happy we have response times within 10 minutes.”
Though their day-to-day job is important, their main focus is educating service members on what they can do to prevent problems from starting in the first place, Becerra said.
“We try to fix a problem before it becomes a problem,” he said. “We try to be proactive instead of reactive. We tell people that sanitation is key; you know if they keep their areas clean it will help prevent [pest problems].”
As the faint growling subsided, Becerra put the vehicle into drive and headed to check the nearest trap.
A few miles away, animal tracks could clearly be seen alongside the road; a tell-tale sign their day’s work had just begun.