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Sheppard | Know your enemy: Air Force Pest Management defends health, critical infrastructure

  • Published
  • By Julie Svoboda
  • 82d Training Wing

The Pest Management Air Force Specialty is roughly 200 active-duty members strong dispersed to 48 bases worldwide. Technicians defend critical infrastructure and public health while battling biological agents that fly, crawl, slither and grow. The apprentice Pest Management course at Sheppard is the first step into the career field for Airmen in Training.

According to Pest Management course instructor Tech. Sgt. Aaron Rasch, there are three courses here at Team Sheppard. The apprentice course, which lasts 37 days, and courses for certification and recertification. The schoolhouse was the first on Sheppard to have an upgraded “sixth generation” classroom that fosters increased engagement with both technical improvements like interactive whiteboards and non-technical improvements like multifunctional seating that increases students to sit in multiple ways.

Sitting in one of the multifunctional chairs, Rasch explained the progression through five blocks of instruction while one of the school’s corn snakes, Scarecrow, slowly coiled around his arm.  According to Rasch, the students begin with basics and then go on to learn about equipment, vegetation, and finally disease-causing pests like mosquitos, ticks and mites, and then vertebrates, where Scarecrow or another snake is used to teach snake handling.

By the time AiTs finish the course, they are prepared to identify, survey and control pests. Airmen receive additional instruction to meet career field education training plans as well as training specific to conditions in their location.

“There’s local training. At Moody, we coordinated with local wildlife people who relocated alligators to bring some on base one day to train with, and at another base we looked up local experts for venomous reptile handling,” Rasch said. “The Air Force is really good about getting the training our people need. They want us to be safe and do a good job.”

Although Rasch landed in pest management after enlisting as open general, it didn’t take long before he came to love the job because of the constant flow of new information and opportunities to make a positive impact on health and quality of life beyond the bases where he’s worked. 

“We do things on a base and wing and even county level,” he said. “Sometimes we can work with the counties to help with all of these disease vectors to prevent malaria, encephalitis and West Nile virus.  We do things to protect the people on base, our military, our structures, and even our aircraft that can be assets worth millions of dollars. We’re also talking about the food supplies for all these people to protecting all the actual agriculture and the products and the commissaries, the BX and everything else.”

Additionally, Airmen in pest management often work with foresters, wildlife biologists and bird aircraft strike hazard teams.

Lawrence Robins, an Air Force pest management retiree, is now an instructor for Team Sheppard. Like Rasch, he was unsure about the career field when he was initially assigned but went on to have a fulfilling career.

“I've just enjoyed the career field,” he said. “I was more or less like Sgt. Rasch when I first went to Korea. I had no idea what it was and I figured well, I'll give it a shot. After I got my first duty station and after being there for a few years and doing this job, that's when I started to enjoy it when I actually got to go out in the field and actually do the work.”

For Rasch, one of his most important duties as an instructor is to help shape the future of pest management, which includes explaining the benefits the career field.

“I always tell everyone this is the best kept secret in the Air Force,” he said. “We deal with so much cool stuff. There's so much a variety of things and different trainings we can do. The way we do our job, we're very lucky compared to some other fields.”