FORT CARSON, Colo. — Avalanches present a drastic safety risk for not only skiers, snowboarders and other outdoors enthusiasts, but they can also destroy structures, block roadways and create major transportation issues for emergency services, residents and passing motorists.
In response, state transportation agencies and other organizations, like ski resorts, have been taking actions to mitigate avalanches since the 1960s. One way they do this is by using a howitzer to create impacts on mountain slopes. The impacts, in essence, create smaller avalanches in areas that are prone to produce heavy snowpack.
Unknown to most people, a group of Fort Carson civilian personnel play a key role in helping transportation officials mitigate avalanches in eight western states.
Tasked by U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command to assist in the endeavor, Army Field Support Battalion-Carson has been sending howitzer maintenance crews to most western states since June to maintain and repair state-owned howitzers in Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado.
“We’ve been sending crews to places in Colorado for the last 20 years, but TACOM asked us to take over maintenance of the howitzers in the other western states three years ago, so we’ve been doing those, as well, ever since,” said Frank Grulkowski, Installation Maintenance Division chief, AFSBN-Carson.
The AFSBN-Carson gunsmith III crew — Josh Harless, Josh Johnson and Hiraldo Rodriguez — just returned from the Telluride area last week.
“They seem to enjoy these temporary duty (TDY) assignments,” said Grulkowski. “They get to see a lot of interesting places.”
Since the transportation agencies use former military howitzers to perform their avalanche mitigation, they need maintenance and mechanics who are familiar and proficient at repairing them. That’s where the AFSBN-Carson crews come in.
The artillery weapons are M101 Towed Howitzers, and they fire 105 millimeter rounds that provide quite a punch, effectively impacting mountainsides and producing the desired effect.
“Our maintenance contractors normally work on Army weapons, so it’s nothing new for them,” said Edward Bryan, Support Operations deputy, AFSBN-Carson. “For the howitzers, the teams typically conduct annual scheduled maintenance, any other preventive maintenance, inspect equipment and repair anything they may find broken.”
Carson teams will maintain everything on the weapon, which includes the chassis and gun barrel. They can even train individuals to operate the Howitzer if state transportation teams have acquired new staff members since the team’s last visit.
Summertime presents the best opportunity for maintenance as transportation and resort crews prepare for the winter snow season. The Carson team began its trip around the western U.S. in June, when team members visited Alaska. From there, they moved on to the west coast before stopping in Wyoming and Utah on their way back to Colorado. Maintenance and repair time is dependent on the number of howitzers in an area and the complexity of repairs at each stop.
“This is a unique way that Fort Carson can get out there in the great community and do these types of unique services,” Bryan said. “Not a lot of people can work on this equipment.”