by Ryan Labadens, U.S. Navy Public Affairs

If you’ve lived in the South long enough, you’ve probably noticed that things can not only get a little muggy sometimes, but a little buggy too – especially during the summer.

For the base Public Works Department (PWD) pest controllers, keeping pesky critters at bay is a constant battle not only during the summer, but throughout the year onboard the Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) in Gulfport, Mississippi.

The two pest controllers onboard the Seabee base, Al Castiglia and Scott Cornell, each both have more than a decade of experience in pest control, with Cornell having 11 years of experience and Castiglia having 13.

Cornell originally started off as a painter in Detroit, Michigan, before taking a job onboard NCBC in the same career field.

Two years after arriving here he decided to turn in his paint brush and make the switch to pest control.

“I just found it interesting,” said Cornell, when asked about what made him decide to swap careers from being a painter to a pest controller. “The old pest controller that was here, he kind of just took me under his wing for a while, and I just kept asking him questions – kept being inquisitive and showing interest in learning, and finally when a position came open I applied for it.”

Castiglia had some prior experience in pest control working at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

He eventually took another position over at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, before making the move next door to the Seabee base in Gulfport.

“It was something I originally just happened upon, career-wise, and then once I got into the business and learned more about it, the more I began to like it,” said Castiglia.

Sometimes when people think of pests, the main ones that come to mind are bugs – and the pest controllers said they can see their fair share of those, such as all different kinds of ants (fire ants, mainly), flies, cockroaches, wasps and fleas – but they’ve also had to deal with spiders, snakes and even pests of the furry variety, such as rats, mice, racoons, opossums and bats, just to name a few, and the occasional alligator in Seabee Lake and in drainage ditches on base.

As with all wildlife people might encounter on the installation, the pest controllers advise people to leave gators and other critters alone and instead just report the sitings.

Mosquitos, especially during the summer, are one pest they are constantly looking out for. Cornell and Castiglia treat water sources on base with larvicide twice a year to help keep mosquito populations down, and they coordinate with Harrison County to determine when it’s a good time to spray for mosquitos on base.

Cornell said in their jobs, it’s important for them to know how to identify pests, and where they usually tend to live and move. The controllers practice what they call integrated pest management.

“Our success as pest controllers is based largely on proper identification of the pest, since that can help us determine where else we need to look for it and decide on what equipment we need to use, and the proper application of pesticides, if needed,” said Cornell.

“We try to use as little actual pesticides as possible,” said Castiglia. “We teach the facility managers here on base what to look for as well as preventive maintenance they can do to try and help keep the pest population down.”

Sanitation is the number one prevention method – just keeping homes and workspaces clean and clutter-free is important, said Castiglia, as is taking out the garbage and not letting it sit too long in trash containers indoors. For housing residents, keeping lawns mowed and raked, and ensuring there are no areas or containers where standing water can accumulate (since mosquitoes love to lay their eggs there) are all good practices.

If they do have to resort to pesticides, the chemicals the pest controllers use on base are sprayed with ultra-low volume (ULV) foggers, thermos-foggers, pump sprayers, powered sprayers, dusting bulbs and spreaders. For racoons, opossums and other varmints, they mainly use traps to try and catch them, and the pest controllers work with other outside agencies who will take the animals and release them into wildlife areas when possible.

Identification of the pests is key for determining the proper treatment and/or pesticide to use, especially when it comes to ants.

“If you just go ahead and spray without knowing what you’re dealing with, for some kinds of ants it’ll just make them grow bigger!” said Cornell, who spread out his arms and opened his eyes wide when he said that.

“You have to know what ant you’re treating before you actually go and treat it.”

Because of the importance of knowing what pest you’re dealing with, they also wanted to stress that, here on base, only the pest control operators are allowed by law to use pesticides.

Marks Mills, NCBC Public Works Production Division Director, NAVFAC SE, PWD Gulfport, who is getting ready to go through the training process on pest control, expressed his eagerness to learn what he can to help out on the base.

“These guys have a great reputation and work really hard, and I’m pleased to be able to have the opportunity to join up and work with them,” said Mills.

Castiglia also mentioned the importance of letting him and Cornell know as soon as possible about pests before they get out of hand, having building or facility managers put in work requests so they have an idea of what they may be dealing with before going out to do a job.

They also cautioned people to steer clear of wildlife pests if they do see them on base, especially alligators if they do happen to see any at Seabee Lake, and instead report the siting. If it’s an emergency (like a housing resident finding a snake in their home, or something like that), then the pest controllers can be contacted directly at 228-871-2711 or 228-323-1070.

“The sooner they contact us, the sooner we can get on top of it and stop it before it becomes a full-blown infestation,” said Castiglia.