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Face of Defense: Airman Takes Up 'Sweet' Hobby

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan 22nd Air Refueling Wing

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MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan., May 19, 2017 — During his studies as an environmental science major, an airman here became interested in beekeeping.

Tech. Sgt. Garrett Wright, a personnel recovery specialist -- survival, evasion, resistance and escape -- with the 22nd Operations Support Squadron, obtained his first honeybees last year after attending workshops and doing heavy research on beekeeping.

Tech. Sgt. Garrett Wright, a personnel recovery specialist with the 22nd Operations Support Squadron, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., inspects emergency cells in one of his honeybee hives April 24, 2017, in Derby, Kan. Emergency cells are created by a bee colony to produce a new queen when the previous queen becomes injured, dies or leaves the hive. Photo by Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan
Tech. Sgt. Garrett Wright, a personnel recovery specialist with the 22nd Operations Support Squadron, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., inspects emergency cells in one of his honeybee hives April 24, 2017, in Derby, Kan. Emergency cells are created by a bee colony to produce a new queen when the previous queen becomes injured, dies or leaves the hive. Photo by Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan
Tech. Sgt. Garrett Wright, a personnel recovery specialist with the 22nd Operations Support Squadron, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., inspects emergency cells in one of his honeybee hives April 24, 2017, in Derby, Kan. Emergency cells are created by a bee colony to produce a new queen when the previous queen becomes injured, dies or leaves the hive. Photo by Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan Sweet hobby
Tech. Sgt. Garrett Wright, a personnel recovery specialist with the 22nd Operations Support Squadron, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., inspects emergency cells in one of his honeybee hives April 24, 2017, in Derby, Kan. Emergency cells are created by a bee colony to produce a new queen when the previous queen becomes injured, dies or leaves the hive. Photo by Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan

His first hive was acquired when he and another airman volunteered to remove a swarm from a Wichita man's yard. Swarming occurs when the hive raises a new queen. When the queen emerges and takes control of the hive, the old queen will leave with half of the bees. The departing bees stay in a cluster around the queen until they find a new home and Wright said that bees are very docile while swarming.

Removing the swarm was Wright's first real interaction with bees. He even had to stop on his way there to buy a suit.

"There was this cluster off bees like 20 feet up in a tree, and I mean a big, old ball of bees," he said. "I climbed up in the tree in my bee suit and lowered the branch down to [my partner]. He held a box to put the bees in, and I shook them from the branch into the box, dumped them into my hive and put on the lid.

"At that point, as long as the queen is in the box, the rest of the bees will come into the box to follow her, and they'll start up their own hive in this box that I introduced them into. They just kind of lined up, all came into the box, and I taped all the holes shut, put that in the back of my [car] and we drove it away," Wright said.

Since then, Wright's bee collection has grown. He now has five hives, one of which he procured by removing it from base housing, and plans to move them to a rural area soon.

"There's too many bees for a residential area right now," he said. "I didn’t know they would multiply the way they did, but they did. So, I'm trying to move a lot out to the country. Each one of those hives has between 30,000 and 70,000 bees at peak season. So, probably right now, I have [around] 150,000 bees in my backyard," Wright said.

Fortunately, honeybees are not typically aggressive -- all those bees actually make pretty good neighbors, he said.

"I think everyone experiencing this with us is realizing honeybees are not nearly as aggressive as some other types of bees," said Emily Wright, Garrett's wife. "Neighbors are continuously surprised to learn that we've had honeybees for over a year, which is usually followed by asking when we'll have more honey," she said.

"Thankfully, Garrett always tries to keep bees in the safest way possible, but the more you're around honeybees, the more you realize a lot of the common fears are likely a result of how you were raised, which may mean decades of misunderstanding honeybees," Emily said.

Honeybees have a huge impact on the environment. Not everyone is willing or able to take on beekeeping, but there are other ways to help out honeybees, Garrett explained. 

"The average person can always plant bee-friendly flowers in their yard," Garrett said. "Some flowers are utilized by bees, others are not, so just understand what bees like. A lot of herbicides, in addition to pesticides, can damage insects. Be mindful of what you put on your yard, because the implications could be fairly far-reaching," he said.