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Face of Defense: Air Guard Exterminator Handles Pests

By Army Sgt. Mike Getten
Nevada National Guard

RENO AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Nev., Sept. 15, 2010 – “Pest” is a four-letter word to Air Force Staff Sgt. Damien Falconer of the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Civil Engineering Squadron.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Staff Sgt. Damien Falconer is the lone pest management specialist in the Nevada Air National Guard. It is his job to eliminate all of the creepy-crawly nuisances on his base in Reno. The mice were used for illustrative purposes and were safely returned to a pet store. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Getten
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

As the lone pest management specialist in the Nevada Air Guard, it’s his job to eliminate all of the creepy-crawly nuisances here.

Falconer continually works to get rid of insects, rodents, weeds and an occasional bird from the base’s environment to prevent the pests from calling base equipment and facilities their permanent home.

“A pest is a plant or animal that’s out of place,” Falconer said. “We currently don’t have a lot of problems with pests on base. My biggest problem here is wasps, which can build a new home overnight. But those are even a small issue.”

Falconer spent 10 years in food service before cross-training into pest management last year.

“When I first joined, I just wanted a quick school and to enlist,” Falconer said. “About a year ago, I found I wasn’t having much fun in food service anymore and just wanted a change. I began looking for something else and discovered the pest control job and decided it could be interesting. Pest control is a big piece of food service, so I thought this would be a good fit.”

During his initial training period, Falconer received classroom and field instruction in how to conduct surveys for and identify pests and how to select and apply proper management techniques to control or eliminate infestations.

“We always look for the least impact on the environment,” Falconer said. “If a frightening device or other nonpollutant can be used, it is the preferred method.”

Working with pesticides can be dangerous to the environment as well as individuals. Falconer is required to obtain a state hazardous materials handling certification. The Air Force also requires Falconer to attend regular military certification training at various air bases throughout the United States.

“Most people don’t realize the stuff you buy at the hardware store can pollute the environment if used improperly,” he said. “We are trained to properly mix the chemicals as well as properly apply the soup.”

Air Force Master Sgt. Pat Speth, one of squadron’s supervisors, said Falconer must stay on his toes even when there are no pest invasions on base.

“Falconer has one of those jobs where he must keep his skills sharp at all times,” Speth said. “Then, when [he] deploys, he is the subject matter expert and must be ready to deal with any type of situation.”

Falconer is at the apprentice level in the pest control management specialty, and he said he expects to attend his next school late this year to become a journeyman.

Like many other airmen in the squadron’s utilities section, Falconer performs other utility-related jobs and spends a significant part of each drill working on tasks besides pest control.

“I spend most drills helping the utilities airmen wherever I can,” he said. “But there are those times during drill I receive the call to take care of a wasp infestation or something.”

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