JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The nearly 200 firing ranges in the U.S. Air Force desperately need improvement and Senior Master Sgt. James Eselgroth, Air Force Security Forces Center, or AFSFC, program manager, knows this firsthand.
Eselgroth, along with a hard-working squad of AFSFC personnel, spent the past two years developing a data program called the Small Arms Ranges Dashboard – a comprehensive, business-data model that ranks and prioritizes all Air Force firing ranges by vital statistics such as size, design orientation, mission importance and potential hazards from overuse or age.
The dashboard’s goal is to give Air Force senior leadership an effective tool to prioritize funding all future firing range improvements and repairs, Eselgroth said. In an ideal world, Eselgroth estimates the Air Force would have about $1.2 billion to cover the costs of upgrades for every single firing range, although that’s not a realistic goal.
When you consider how best to use a more modest amount of funding, the dashboard has proved invaluable, Eselgroth noted.
“This model basically tells you, if you had a dollar to spend, where you need to spend it the most,” he said. “And we need to start spending.”
The dashboard produces a scoring system that takes into account number of users, age, risk factors and range type.
Ranges can be indoor fully contained, mobile indoor, outdoor fully contained baffled, outdoor partially contained (baffled), non-contained impact or specialized ranges for grenade launchers and machine gun tubes. Each one of these range types comes with its own different set of risks, needed upgrades and maintenance quirks.
After producing a score for each range, AFSFC personnel relay the dashboard info to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center and the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, or AFIMSC. Senior leadership at these levels will then use the dashboard to make a better-informed decision about where to direct funding for firing range improvements.
For Eselgroth, this isn’t just a budgetary concern. The Air Force’s complement of firing ranges are aging rapidly and many can pose health risks to users.
“Ranges are supposed to last about 20 years,” Eselgroth explained. “Our average age for a range is now 26 years old.”
Many older ranges, in turn, were built before the U.S. government fully understood the dangers posed by bullet particles – lead and other metal residue – floating through the air. Some of these ranges need better ventilation systems, while others need a complete overhaul.
Eselgroth, himself, developed a respiratory health condition from spending time in a range with insufficient ventilation. For Eselgroth, this issue hits close to home.
“Even in 2017, we’re still learning about what these particles can do to your lungs,” he explained. “We’ve got to get better – to get smarter – about solving this problem.”
“Smarter” and “strategic” have been the operative words during the development of the dashboard, according to Col. Thomas P. Sherman, AFIMSC Protection Services Division chief.
“This dashboard allows for a holistic, enterprise-wide look at the health of these ranges,” Sherman said. “This will ultimately improve ranges across the Air Force thanks to a very deliberate effort to rank ranges by need first.”
Ranges, like all buildings, get older, Sherman said. But unlike other facilities, ranges have a defined lifecycle that, if stretched too far, can prove hazardous.
“We must be deliberate in planning and managing the lifecycle of our ranges,” Sherman noted. “That’s the key to managing health issues before they present themselves. This isn’t to say that emergencies will not occur; but preventative maintenance and planned upgrades will help us reduce emergencies as much as possible.”
Eselgroth’s work on the dashboard hasn’t just been seen as a security forces asset, Sherman continued. The entire Air Force could potentially start adopting similar models to the dashboard for other engineering and planning projects.
“The ingenuity to learn from others is a tremendous attribute of our Air Force culture,” Sherman said. “In the spirit of improving ourselves … across our service, there are certainly going to be future opportunities to not only benchmark this process, but improve what we are doing across the Installation and Mission Support portfolio.”