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Engineers dig deep to fix broken pipe

Mr. Mark Posey, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron utilities operator, works to free a cross-cutter hose from a blocked sewage pipe at the Magnolia dining facility Thursday.  A blocked-up pipe caused the Magnolia to be closed this week so that vital repairs could be made by the 81st CES.  (U.S. Air Force photo by SrAmn Carlos Rodriguez)

Mr. Mark Posey, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron utilities operator, works to free a cross-cutter hose from a blocked sewage pipe at the Magnolia dining facility Thursday. A blocked-up pipe caused the Magnolia to be closed this week so that vital repairs could be made by the 81st CES. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Carlos Rodriguez)

Tech. Sgt. Emmanuel Lopez, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of interior utilities, "digs deep" in trying to clear dirt and debris from around a broken sewer pipe at the Magnolia dining facility Thursday.  A blocked-up pipe caused the Magnolia to be closed this week so that vital repairs could be made by the 81st CES.  (U.S. Air Force photo by SrAmn Carlos Rodriguez)

Tech. Sgt. Emmanuel Lopez, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of interior utilities, "digs deep" in trying to clear dirt and debris from around a broken sewer pipe at the Magnolia dining facility Thursday. A blocked-up pipe caused the Magnolia to be closed this week so that vital repairs could be made by the 81st CES. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Carlos Rodriguez)

Airman First Class Nathan Whatley, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator, "drills down" into the floor of the Magnolia dining facility in an attempt to find the cause of a blocked sewage pipe Thursday.  A blocked-up pipe caused the Magnolia to be closed this week so that vital repairs could be made by the 81st CES.  (U.S. Air Force photo by SrAmn Carlos Rodriguez)

Airman First Class Nathan Whatley, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator, "drills down" into the floor of the Magnolia dining facility in an attempt to find the cause of a blocked sewage pipe Thursday. A blocked-up pipe caused the Magnolia to be closed this week so that vital repairs could be made by the 81st CES. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Salanitri)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MISS. -- At 7:04 p.m. Thursday evening, the air in the Magnolia dining facility filled with the unmistakable aroma of sweat, dust and sewage and a cadence of "Pull! Pull! Pull!" emanating from the dirt-covered members of the 81st Civil Engineer Squadron.
 
It was about 10:30 a.m. the day before that trouble first started to brew in the kitchens of the facility. 

"The sinks and drains were blocked up and water started coming through," said Al Watkins, 81st CES deputy chief of operations. "We had a stopped-up line somewhere."
 
The civil engineers were called in to solve the problem and quickly determined that a buildup of grease in the sewage pipe was the cause of the blockage.
 
"We ran a snake hose, with a cutter-head attached, through the drain and pipes to try and break through the grease," said Watkins.
 
Unfortunately, their problems were just beginning.
 
The grease had corroded the pipe to such an extent that the cutter head broke through the pipe and started drilling into the ground -- taking the hose with it, said Watkins. 

"The cast-iron pipe starts out approximately ¼-inch thick," said Robert Manter, 81st CES utilities flight work leader. "It had corroded down to paper thin -- almost nothing." 

"It was then that we had to close the dining facility to dig and excavate," said Watkins. "We had to cut out the bad pipe and put in the new pipe." 

Using jackhammers, shovels and sheer manpower, the engineers dug three separate holes, each roughly four feet in diameter, in the floor to pull out the bad pipe and also to retrieve the hose and cutter head that had drilled into the ground. 

The engineers worked all day Wednesday until late that evening, then returned first thing in the morning to resume their operation, once again working into the night. Col Greg Touhill, 81st TRW commander, even stopped by Thursday to coin some of the hard-working Airmen. 

"This is just a small example of (the engineers') can-do attitude," said Maj. Patrick Breaux, 81st CES operation flight commander. "They're always willing to stay late to get the job done. They're some of the hardest-working CE guys in the Air Force."