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Hurricane Michael: One year later

Air Force family: Taking care of Tyndall, displaced Airmen

Days after Hurricane Michael, a view from an air traffic control tower at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Tyndall received severe damaged across the base by the category 5 storm that made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz)

Airmen from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, return to base housing on Oct. 17, 2018 for the first time since Hurricane Michael devastated the area one week ago.

Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., received severe damaged across the base by Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, after it made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. A week after the storm, Airmen from Tyndall returned to base housing. Support personal from not only Tyndall, but other bases as well, were on location to support Airman returning to their homes to assist damage and collect personal belongings. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes)

A FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Support Vehicle set up just days after Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida Panhandle.

A FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Support Vehicle set up just days after Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida Panhandle. The category 5 storm created mass damage at Mexico Beach, Fla., and other areas including Tyndall Air Force Base. On October 10, 2018, the 155 mile-per-hour winds established it as the strongest storm to hit the continental U.S. since 2004. The storm slammed coastal towns in the area, leveling buildings and structures, flooding streets and leaving a trail of destruction. (FEMA photo by K.C. Wilsey)

A destroyed civil engineering building on Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, was among 1,165 environmental assets evaluated by an environmental recovery assistance team Nov. 5 – 9.

A destroyed civil engineering building on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., was among 1,165 environmental assets evaluated by an environmental recovery assistance team in less than a month after the storm. Helping recovery and rebuilding efforts at the base, personnel from the environmental recovery assistance team (ERAT) included environmental experts from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center Environmental Directorate’s East Regional Branch and the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron. Tyndall received severe damaged across the base by the category 5 storm that made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, after it made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018 was the strongest storm to hit the continental U.S. since 2004.

Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, after it made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018 was the strongest storm to hit the continental U.S. since 2004. In the days after the storm, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors in Panama City, Florida, install reinforced plastic sheeting for homes benefiting from Operation Blue Roof, a program for homeowners or landlords affected by Hurricane Michael. The program, offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provides temporary covering of reinforced blue plastic sheeting to help reduce further damage to property until permanent repairs can be made. (USACE photo by San Luciano Vera)

The 325th Fighter Wing F-22 Flight Simulator Building roof at Tyndall AFB, Florida is nearing completion.

Following Hurricane Michael, the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center and its partners established a program management office at Tyndall to lead redevelopment and reconstruction efforts. The Air Force initiated several task forces to aid in recovery. One goal is to focus on installation facilities and infrastructure with a mission to assess facility damage, determine usability, and preserve capability. The PMO continues those efforts, which are expected to take upwards of five years and cost approximately $3 billion. Projects like the 325th Fighter Wing F-22 Flight Simulator Building roof were near completion in the few months after the category 5 storm made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

Air Force leaders met with professionals from construction and other industries to begin rebuild of Tyndall AFB.

Col. Brian Laidlaw, commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, along with leadership from the Program Management Office (PMO) at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., have hosted three industry days since Hurricane Michael swept through the base last October. The industry days have hosted professionals from construction and other industries to build a dialogue and partnership leading to the rebuilding of Tyndall as an installation of the future. Col. Laidlaw answers questions during the first industry day held Jan. 31 at Florida State University Panama City. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Michael Dunham)

Civil engineers of the 823rd REDHORSE Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., repair a roof at Tyndall Air Force Base just weeks after the Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018.

Civil engineers of the 823rd REDHORSE Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., repair a roof at Tyndall Air Force Base just weeks after the Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. Multiple major commands mobilized relief assets to restore operations after the hurricane caused catastrophic damage to the base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz)

A construction crew demolishes the steeple at Chapel 2 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Feb. 15, 2019.

An excavator demolishes a chapel at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, on Feb. 15, 2019. The chapel was severely damaged when Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. The demolition marked the beginning of a long process to clear out damaged structures to make way for new construction. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Javier Alvarez)

Airmen from the 823rd Civil Engineer Squadron (REDHORSE), from Hurlburt Field, Fla., construct bare-bones shelters as part of a multiphased plan to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
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Airmen from the 823rd Civil Engineer Squadron (REDHORSE), from Hurlburt Field, Fla., construct bare-bones shelters as part of a multiphased plan to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Just days after Hurricane Michael made landfall. On October 10, 2018, the 155 mile-per-hour winds established it as the strongest storm to hit the continental U.S. since 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Keifer Bowes)

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.”