Bug out: Entomology staff handles critter concerns

by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs

2/25/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Base personnel don't have to worry about bugs in their office or a raccoon in their trash. Bob Davis and his two co-workers at the base entomology shop have it covered.

"If it's detrimental to Air Force operations, we take care of it," Mr. Davis said.

For 19 years, Mr. Davis has specialized in pest control. The last ten of those have been in the Maxwell entomology shop.

Mr. Davis and his crew cover Maxwell and Gunter and specialize in removing any type of pest.

"We do weed control, animal control, pest control and snake removal. If it has to do with a pest on this base, the three of us handle it," Mr. Davis said.

Coordinating pest control for an Air Force base comes with a unique set of challenges.

"It's hard to say what we do because every day is different. One day I'm on the air field chasing a dog, the next day there could be a raccoon running through a building, bats that have to be removed, a possum in a garbage can or ants marching through a cubicle."

The entomology shop isn't just concerned with pest removal. It's also concerned about the environment and wildlife at Maxwell and Gunter. Chemical means of extermination are always a last resort.

"We try to not apply chemical [pesticides] if we can," Mr. Davis said. "We practice[integrated pest management]. You start with education, nonchemical means, and you end with chemical means to remove the pest."

The entomology shop does its best to prevent pests by inspecting each building, fixing any potential problems that could allow pests to enter and then educating personnel in that building on how to prevent further problems.

There may be days when Mr. Davis has to remove a deer from the flightline or an owl from a soccer goal, but he deals with certain animals on a more regular basis.

"The most common animal problem we have is probably possums and raccoons," Mr. Davis said. "We're our own worst enemy; we leave our garbage containers open, and they'll climb in."

When he and his crew have to deal with an animal, the policy is trap and release. They work closely with local conservationists and the Montgomery Humane Society to make sure the animals aren't harmed.

"We return the animals to the wild, and any dogs or cats we catch, we take to the humane society," Davis said.

The most common pest problem is ants inside buildings on base. Mr. Davis says the ants are generally drawn to food items people keep in their office.

"Some people set up a candy store in their desk drawer," Mr. Davis said. "Ants will even get through the lid of a peanut butter jar. It's amazing what they can do."

Entomology treats for ants and encourages workers not to keep food out in their office.

Mr. Davis and his co-workers check every building at Maxwell and Gunter once a year.

"In the winter months, from November to March, we try to check all the buildings," he said.

Even with that responsibility, Mr. Davis' first concern is customer service.

"We put the customer first; that's our biggest concern. We're not happy if you're not happy," he said.

Mr. Davis has seen the benefits of putting the customer first. They consistently receive the highest marks on evaluation forms.

Keeping customers happy is not a one-man job, though. His co-workers, Roosevelt Curry and Ernest Stoudemire, play a large part in making sure things run like clockwork.

"It's a challenge when people are watching you trying to retrieve an animal and remove it from the premises," said Mr. Stoudemire.

It's a challenge that entomology looks forward to every day.

Mr. Davis approaches that challenge the same way every day.

"Our job is almost like a doctor," he said. "You talk to the person, find out what the
problem is, diagnose the problem, and then you prescribe a treatment."