Jess Kougher, from DuBois, recently returned from a four-month deployment overseas where he assisted the U.S. military at eight military installations in five countries. Kougher is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (WS) and is based in Poland, Ohio.
Kougher, a WS employee for eight years, volunteered to serve overseas from November 2017 until April 2018 to “serve the men and women of the U.S. military.” While overseas, Kougher was honored with an “Outstanding Performer” Award by the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Safety Working Group for his work in identifying hazards and preventing mishaps. He was recognized for controlling the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) threat to aircraft and strengthening relationships across one of the military installations at which he served.
When asked if he would do it again, Kougher responded with a hearty “I would very much like to do it again. I’m very grateful to been given the opportunity to provide assistance to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Since November 2009, the Airport Wildlife Hazards Program of the USDA WS has been sending at least two wildlife biologists to conduct hazard assessments and manage wildlife hazards at military bases in the Southwest Asia region of military operations. Each biologist volunteered for these four-month assignments in either Kuwait or Afghanistan.
USDA assists at more than 125 military airbases in the U.S. and has worked with the military since 1990. A single bird strike at Bagram Airbase in 2007 cost the Air Force more than $1 million in repairs. Maintenance costs for U.S. military aircraft are reported to have decreased due to a reduction in wildlife strikes. During the first four months of the program strikes decreased 77 percent at Balad in Iraq, the other site for USDA biologists. Among the bird and mammal concerns identified as potential hazards are raptors, scavenging birds, waterfowl, European starlings, and jackals.
Wildlife strikes cost the U.S. military more than $101 million annually and have accounted for at least 34 deaths and 21 aircrafts lost since 2000.