Airmen ‘drop the ball’ on New Year’s Eve

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- A 2,000-pound New Year's Eve Ball lights up the sky over this desert base. The ball, sculpted from a sewage tank, was the work of 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron. They built it in about 72 hours. It was suspended approximately 100 feet in the air and lowered from a crane as the crowd counted down the seconds until 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- A 2,000-pound New Year's Eve Ball lights up the sky over this desert base. The ball, sculpted from a sewage tank, was the work of 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron. They built it in about 72 hours. It was suspended approximately 100 feet in the air and lowered from a crane as the crowd counted down the seconds until 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo)

1/3/2006 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- With inspiration from New York -- the city that never sleeps -- Airmen at this desert base that never sleeps got to drop the ball this New Year’s Eve.

In less than 72 hours, some 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron members constructed a New Year’s Eve Ball like the one dropped at New York’s Times Square every year.

“We’ve got New York beaten -- hands down,” said electrician Staff Sgt. Jacob Phillips, the New Year’s Eve Ball project officer.

New York’s ball is six feet in diameter. The one he helped build has a 12-foot diameter. The “Big Apple’s” ball weighs 1,042 pounds, versus the ton the desert ball weighs. But the New York ball has more lights -- 696 to 417.

“Two out of three isn’t bad,” he said.

Similar to the Times Square tradition, which dates to 1907, the squadron suspended the ball about 100 feet in the air and slowly lowered it from a crane on New Year’s Eve as the audience counted down the seconds until 2006.

When the last second ticked away, about 230 volts of electricity helped illuminate the 417 lights.

Sergeant Phillips said the flamboyant ball had humble beginnings.

“It was made out of an unused sewage tank,” he said. “The tank was ordered by our plumbing folks and was too big for what the shop needed it for. So they gave it to us and we sculpted it into (the ball),” he said. “This is the first time the base has ever done anything like this, so it’s really exciting to be a part of it.”

The civil engineers built legs for the ball and transported it by flat-bed truck from their compound to the base’s Memorial Plaza where the New Year’s Eve celebration took place.

“The entire squadron pitched in to help out on this project,” said electrician Senior Airman Joseph McGee. “From the electrical shop to plumbing, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) and structures, each shop contributed big time to make this a memorable New Year for everyone.”

There were skeptics, Sergeant Phillips said.

“When we came to our supervisors with the idea, they thought it was great but they didn’t think it could be done,” he said. “That gave us even more determination to do it. I said, ‘That’s okay, we’ll show them.’”

The unique project was, indeed, a test in creativity, said structures troop Airman 1st Class Ian Sthole.

“This is something brand new for us -- so we loved the challenge,” he said. “The hardest part was getting all the material together. But, the hard work definitely paid off. What we’ve created will probably be used for years.”

There was great camaraderie among the shops, electrician Staff Sgt. Jeremy Snowden said.

“It sure was fun to watch the finished product,” he said. “But what I found to be the most fun was working on this project with all of the other CE shops.

“We’re almost at the end of our rotation, and this was the first time the entire squadron worked sideby side on a single project,” he said. “The teamwork was amazing.”