When Hurricane Michael recently approached Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing commander released an evacuation order in an effort to keep the base’s most important assets, its people, safe.
With exception of the ride-out team, comprised of nearly 100 Tyndall AFB members, everyone left. Among the mix of those remaining were first responders, base leadership and command post personnel.
The base was devastated Oct. 10 when the hurricane made landfall after upgrading from a category two to a category four overnight.
The initial assessment of the aftermath was bleak, but in the weeks since, the outlook has taken a turn for the better. The base has built back up to more than 2,000 personnel with nearly half on the ground originally from Tyndall AFB. Though many Airmen from across the country are contributing to the cleanup and reconstruction efforts, Soldiers, Sailors, government civilians and contractors have offered their assistance and expertise and continue to work toward rebuilding the base.
Air Force leadership, along with Tyndall leadership, quickly reacted after the storm to determine which missions would remain at Tyndall AFB and which would move to other locations.
The secretary of the Air Force announced Nov. 2 that a number of important missions will resume at Tyndall AFB in the next few months and others will shift to other locations for the time being. All but approximately 500 Airmen will return to the Florida panhandle.
“We are focused on taking care of our Airmen and their families and ensuring the resumption of operations. These decisions were important first steps to provide stability and certainty,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “We’re working hard to return their lives to normalcy as quickly as possible.”
Wilson said the units that will remain at Tyndall AFB include the 601st Air Force Operations Center, the 337th Air Control Squadron, the Air Force Medical Agency Support team, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the 53rd Air-to-Air Weapons Evaluation Group, the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, the 823rd Red Horse Squadron, Detachment 1 and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
“The announcement that the secretary of the Air force made ... became a forcing function for some of our timelines and how we prioritize our recourses,” Laidlaw said. “Based on those timelines, we would like to have the mission support group and the medical group up and running in December.”
Following the storm, the base stood up three task forces in response to the destruction of the base.
Task Force Raptor, led by Col. Argie Moore, Air Combat Command combat aircraft division, is made up of more than 40 maintainers from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, who have been working 24-hour operations to make the F-22 Raptors flyable.
“With the jets almost all gone, we would like to downsize the Task Force Raptor team to 13 maintainers, so they can return to Langley,” Laidlaw said.
Task Force Phoenix, led by Col. Patrick Miller, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center vice commander, and comprised heavily of civil engineers, was developed to coordinate efforts between the Air Force and its joint partners. The task force is concentrating on infrastructure, clearing debris, and ensuring that buildings are preserved while permitting decisions on what aspects of Tyndall’s missions go where.
Within its 13 units are Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers. More than 100 Soldiers from the Army’s 687th Engineer Construction Company traveled from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to assist with the reconstruction efforts.
The Navy deployed Sailors with two Naval Mobile Construction Battalions to clear debris and demolish buildings that are beyond repair. They cleared debris from 600 acres to make way for military personnel and contractors to begin rebuilding what was damaged and lost.
Task Force Phoenix Airmen include members of the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron from Scott AFB.
“They have completed 100 percent of their initial assessment of 693 buildings,” Laidlaw said. “They have removed about 40 percent of the debris from the support and flightline side.”
Finally, Task Force Harp, led by Col. Seth Frank, AFIMSC force protection generation director, is focused on the base’s most important asset—its people.
“They have nine personnel here and 28 at Eglin Air Force Base at the Tyndall Reception Center,” Laidlaw said. “The center has answered over 2,000 calls, completed 600 Transportation Management Office transactions, assisted 100 families with legal issues and over 300 families with schools.”
They are also concentrating on working assignments and housing.
Less than a month after the storm, the 325th Medical Group moved from a mobile medical clinic which was set up within days after the hurricane, to a more permanent facility. Initially, medical care was provided by Airmen from Eglin AFB, Florida and Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, but the team transitioned to Tyndall AFB medical personnel within weeks, allowing the original team to return to their assigned bases.
During a visit to Tyndall AFB Nov. 7, Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, noted the hard work and perseverance of service members.
“The recovery efforts, these things you have done, these three task force teams, the mission support group, the medical group and the commander’s action team—I don’t think you could have done it any better,” Holmes said. “I really don’t.”
Tyndall has a long road to full recovery, but with the combined efforts from Tyndall members and helping hands from across the nation, Tyndall will recover.