TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – By wind and water it came. Before leaving, it nearly took with it what had taken more than 70 years of history to build. In its wake, Hurricane Michael left behind a historic tragedy – although 12 months have passed, remains evident.
Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, began with a Tyndall Air Force Base, several nearby towns and the people who live and work there, intact. By dusk, life had dramatically changed. The base and surrounding communities took a direct hit from the third-largest hurricane to strike the continental United States.
The storm damaged 95 percent of installation buildings and 100 percent of housing, many beyond repair. The streak of avoiding significant storms had snapped, just like the pine trees, which used to stand tall throughout Tyndall’s 29,000 acres of land.
In the early hours after the storm, the enormity of the recovery task began to unfold for the Air Force people assessing the damage. Cell service was down for most. Power was out. The perimeter fence surrounding the base was a twisted ribbon of metal, leaving the base open. Hangars were ravaged. No part of the base was spared.
“I got to Tyndall around oh-six-hundred on Friday morning,” said Grant Kincaid, Civil Engineering Maintenance Inspection and Repair Team power pro foreman. “When I reached the CEMIRT compound, I saw the damage to the facilities was extensive.”
The CEMIRT team, along with others from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, were among the first to respond. Once recovery efforts began, getting around town, including the base, was an enormous task.
“Many of the roads were blocked with downed trees and debris,” said Kincaid. “I had to use a chainsaw and cut trees out of the way, so we could get through with our equipment.”
The recovery and rebuild of Tyndall AFB was pushed to full throttle by the support from the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center. To help ensure the strategic recovery of Tyndall, AFIMSC employed boots on ground with the mission of leading the base into the “Air Force Installation of the Future.”
Immediately following the storm, AFIMSC dispatched five personnel – three engineers, one security forces defender and one emergency management subject matter expert – to fuel the Detachment 8 presence in the Air Combat Command Crisis Action Team.
On Oct. 15, five days post-hurricane, debris removal officially began. The Air Force Security Forces Center came forward to assist in the security of the installation, a high priority in the storm’s aftermath.
AFIMSC’s other primary subordinate units: Air Force Installation Contracting Center and Air Force Services Center, which was responsible for shipping 1,000 meals ready-to-eat to Tyndall immediately following Hurricane Michael, came through when called upon to help the base, its people and the surrounding community heal and rebuild.
An essential component of the base recovery effort, led by AFCEC, a widely diverse team of military, civilian and contractor personnel who were displaced from their homes for several months. One year later, some still have not been able to return home.
“My biggest observation was how the AFCEC team was eager to return to work after the storm,” said Col. Bryan Opperman, AFCEC readiness director. “We understood that we all had personal issues to deal with, but the desire to get back to work, to support the CE (Civil Engineer) enterprise, was apparent.”
Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing commander, rode out the storm and was among the first to see the remnants of his base after Michael passed. Despite the overwhelming damage and destruction, Laidlaw is buoyed by the resiliency of the Tyndall team and the local community.
“It’s been a long year for Tyndall and for our community. There have been far more hard days than easy ones,” said Laidlaw. “By any reasonable standard, though, things are improving. Our persistence and grit have fueled and even accelerated our massive rebuilding effort.”
Over the past year, the surrounding community has become accustomed to seeing large debris-removal trucks driving through the Bay County streets. To date, 1.5 million pounds – 792,450 cubic yards – of debris have been removed from Tyndall AFB. A total of 220 facilities have been recommended for demolition.
The rebuild is just beginning. The Tyndall Project Management Office is leading the effort to rebuild the base to meet the missions of today and tomorrow. In September 2019, the Air Force awarded the first two military construction contracts to begin the rebuild of Tyndall AFB – $11.8 million to construct a fire station and $17.6 million for an Air Battle Manager F-15 simulator building. To date, the Air Force has obligated $679 million to redevelop the base, said Brig. Gen. Patrice Melancon, Tyndall PMO executive director.
“We’ve had the best and brightest from AFIMSC and the Air Force at large, including active, Reserve, Guard and civilians, working diligently this past year to get Tyndall’s day-to-day missions back online,” said Melancon.“ We have completed the master plan, which will ensure Tyndall will become the 21st century digitally integrated base of the future, ready to receive the first F-35 by October of 2023.”
A year after Hurricane Michael, the Tyndall team, the fight to heal and recover continues.
“This base and this community are better today than we were yesterday, and tomorrow we’ll be even better,” said Laidlaw. “We have a long way to go, but momentum is ours.”