Air Force Vet Receives Award for Preventing Bird Strikes to Aircraft

A view of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan from the Air Traffic Control Tower's catwalk after a recent rainstorm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)
A view of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan from the Air Traffic Control Tower's catwalk after a recent rainstorm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

An Air Force veteran originally from Fisher, Minn., has received an Air Force Award for Civilian Achievement.

Dionne Beiswenger Orr, who is employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services in Lincoln, Neb. was honored for developing a comprehensive safety plan to reduce the risk of bird strikes to military aircraft.

Orr, a former Air Force medic, volunteered to travel to Afghanistan last fall, where she spent five months with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, Bagram Airfield in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Freedom's Sentinel.

The hangar and airfield attracts a lot of different birds, including mynas, pigeons, sparrows, larks, gulls and raptors, according to a news release.

"While deployed, Orr was able to disperse or remove more than 60,000 birds from the airfield, which contributed to the lowest bird strike rate in Bagram Airfield's history. This allowed the wing to safely fly 5,800 combat missions," according to the the release.

USDA-Wildlife Services is part of the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

"We use habitat manipulation, exclusion," Orr said in a telephone interview. "We harass them, trying to get them to move out of the area. A lot of what we do is just common sense. You remove the trash, remove their source of food, remove any source of shelter. You make it unattractive to be there, so they choose to go someplace else."

While some commercial companies do similar work in the U.S., APHIS is the only agency that performs the tasks at military airports in the U.S., Orr said, working in all 50 states, as well as two military bases in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait.

"It's especially important over there," she said. "Over here, they have resources to fix it faster and have back-up aircraft at the ready. If a bird strikes a plane over there, there is no quick back-up. So it's critical that they sustain no major damage."

Orr, a 1988 graduate of Fisher High School, served as an Air Force medic from 1991 through 1997. After a few years of working at various jobs in the medical field, she returned to school, earning a degree in wildlife biology for wildlife damage management.

"I chose wildlife damage management because you still will be helping people, helping people deal with wildlife conflicts," she said.

Orr, who has been stateside since March, has volunteered for another tour to Afghanistan. She'll leave in November for a year-long deployment.

"It's pretty neat. We're totally imbedded over there," she said. "We stay at the base, take meals with them, sleep in the same accommodations, have they same access to resources. They really appreciate us over there."

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