Prime BEEF aids in hurricane rebuild
By Airman 1st Class Kelly Walker, 1st Combat Camera Squadron
/ Published November 05, 2018
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Airmen from all over the country have joined Tyndall Air Force Base on the road to recovery. For some, the call of duty comes from right next door.
Airmen from the 23rd Civil Engineering Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force Squadron, Moody AFB, Georgia, narrowly escaped Hurricane Michael themselves and were some of the first to come to Tyndall AFB’s aid.
“Driving into base, we were shocked because we were told that it could have easily been our base,” said Senior Airman Kyle Chui, 23rd CES water and fuels systems maintenance technician, “We saw the destruction, and we were like ‘oh, that’s why we’re here-we really need to help this base out.’”
Prime BEEF Airmen from the 23rd arrived at Tyndall Oct. 16 and immediately set to work to build tents, restrooms, showers, and shaving facilities for Airmen who had previously been bedding down in unoccupied offices, fitness centers, and hallways.
“Coming and seeing destruction of this magnitude on an Air Force base, it’s kind of surreal,” said Tech. Sgt. Raymond Oliver, 23rd CES WFSM lead technician. “I’m from Kansas and I’ve seen destruction from tornadoes, but building a bare base—there’s nothing I can compare that to.”
The aftermath of a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane devastated the base, but the hard work and dedication of civil engineer Airmen from Prime BEEF, Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer, and Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources Base squadrons, have restored critical facilities and provided housing for what has grown to 1,000 personnel.
“We were told what our mission would be, but since the situation is what it is, we had to adapt,” Chui said. “We basically did what RED HORSE and BEAR Base were tasked to do and helped them out. All CE were interchanging jobs, we all had a hand in everything.”
The first night they were at Tyndall AFB, he said there were roughly eight to 10 tents. With the help of RED HORSE and BEAR Base, they put up another 26 to 30 tents, and over that week the total rose to more than 80.
“We are making a huge difference,” Chui said.
From the first nights of complete power loss, the absence of potable water, and no available lodging to a sprawling tent city fully equipped with high-voltage power, shower and shave facilities, and much needed air conditioning, CE Airmen have transformed life on Tyndall.
“We all had the notion that we needed to do our job,” Chui said. “Not only are we representing the Air Force, we’re also representing the unit that we’re coming from, and we all wanted to do our part to help this base get back on its feet.”
Airmen from the 23rd CES have worked day-in and day-out to ensure the facilities they built stay up and running while Tyndall AFB continues to rebuild.
“If it wasn’t for a Prime BEEF unit, there wouldn’t be anyone maintaining all this,” Oliver said. “It means a lot to me, it gives us a reason why we joined the Air Force. Once we help build it, we stay and maintain it. We make sure it’s ready for the long haul.”
While the work is far from over, Tyndall AFB is making progress every day. The sacrifices made by Oliver, Chui and hundreds of other Airmen have been the backbone of Tyndall AFB’s improvement.
“Since we put up the laundry, shave and showers, I can see the relief on people’s faces and that is a huge push for me personally to keep going,” Chui said. “I know this base still needs help.”