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Andersen team prepares Wake Island for aircraft

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo
  • Air Force Print News
After Super Typhoon Ioke's 155 mph winds and driving storm surge devastated Wake Island Aug. 31, members of the 36th Contingency Response Group at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, made up the initial assessment team sent to the island.

"Prior to the storm the experts were all saying there would be no runway left to assess," said Maj. Pat Poon, the team commander.

"The thought was the waves and storm surge were going to erode the runway or at least cause some major damage, so we had to come by ship on the USNS San Jose out of Guam," he said. The ship left on the 1,500-mile journey Sept. 4 and arrived at Wake Sept. 8.

With 16 members, the team's primary objective was to check for structural damage in the runway, taxiways and parking ramp on the island's airfield. If they were deemed suitable for aircraft operations, team members were to begin clearing the airfield to allow landings. 

The team was also tasked to determine if the military infrastructure on the island could be salvaged. They looked at power, utilities, structures, fuel and support equipment. 

The team included specialists in explosive ordnance disposal, engineers, airfield management, communication, power production and more. Since the team had to be lean and efficient, each Airman wore two hats. Along with their primary job they drove forklifts and front-end loaders, unloaded aircraft, cleared houses and even marshaled helicopters.

After five days of work, the airfield was opened Sept. 13. A C-17 Globemaster III from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, was the first aircraft in. The C-17 brought in a 53-person team of 15th Airlift Wing Airmen, Defense Department employees and contractors to replace the Andersen people.

The Hickam team's mission is to put a price tag on the damage and report the findings back to Gen. Paul V. Hester, Pacific Air Forces commander.

"One of our greatest assets in the (contingency response group) is we are a one-stop shop for all of your base opening needs," Major Poon said. "With 16 people we were able to open a base (previously) run by 188 people."

When the new team and their equipment were safely on the ground and acclimated, the Andersen team boarded the C-17 to go home to Guam.

"The team worked very hard to get the airfield ready for operations. We went at it for five days. I can't say enough about the men and women from the 36th CRG," the major said.

"We also got a lot of help from the Navy (military detachment) on the San Jose. They came over three days. They helped drill holes and cleaned up a lot of the runway and surrounding area. We would not have been able to open the base so fast without their help," he said.