OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) --
Offutt Air Force Base personnel have regained access to buildings and facilities to begin assessing damage and recovering items which were underwater less than a week ago due to record flooding along the Missouri River.
More than 20 buildings have been cleared for initial disaster recovery efforts, with more being opened by the hour.
“The weather has really been in our favor and we are taking full advantage by moving as quickly as we can to properly clear facilities for entry,” said Col. Michael Manion, 55th Wing commander. “Our bio-environmental and civil engineer teams, along with Offutt Fire and Rescue, have done an amazing job throughout this process.”
The ongoing efforts are led by the newly stood-up recovery operations center. This team is made up of professionals from across the wing focused on not only clearing facilities, but also getting displaced personnel into other facilities around the base to ensure the mission continues.
“The ROC essentially took over the recovery efforts from the emergency operations center, which had been operating since we first learned of the potential for flooding,” said Lt. Col. Vance Goodfellow, ROC director. “This team is more streamlined with regard to subject-matter experts who can make things happen quickly to ensure our recovery efforts don’t miss a beat.”
The runway, which is now clear of water and debris, is undergoing a thorough evaluation to ensure flight operations can resume safely.
“Everything we are doing is with safety in mind,” Manion said. “Obviously, our Warhawks are eager to begin flying operations from Offutt (AFB), but we want to make sure everything is safe before we start doing that.”
The commander praised the members of the 55th Wing as well as those other units affected by the flood for their resilience.
“I’ve just been in awe of how everyone has responded to this natural disaster,” he said. “I’m truly blessed to serve with these patriots who continue to amaze me daily with their resilience and can-do attitude.”
At 11 a.m. on March 15, Offutt stood-up the first commander’s action team meeting in response to impending flooding.
The base immediately went into 24-hour operations and the team agreed to meet again in three hours, giving key players an opportunity to come up with a plan of attack.
“In that time, a matter of hours, we already had a good 15-to-25 inbound trucks from various locations in the United States coming in for support,” said Staff Sgt. Luis Stump, 55th Contracting Squadron commodities flight chief.
With a very small window to prepare for a flood that would eventually take over one-third of the base, the 55th CONS and the 55th Comptroller Squadron got to work purchasing preparation supplies that would help fortify key infrastructure.
Within approximately 16 hours, the team accomplished 22 contract actions totaling $650,000. Among the purchases were 45 tons of sand, 460 barriers, 235,000 sandbags and 16 pallets of water.
What they couldn’t get from inbound trucks, they went out and got themselves.
“Since a lot of companies were closed Friday evening and into Saturday morning, at 2, 3 o’clock in the morning, finance came in with cash,” Stump said. “We sent a member of our team with a paying agent from finance and they were literally driving all around Omaha and parts of Iowa.”
Staff Sgt. Nikkolas Tessier, 55th CPTS, said the local business were very welcoming.
“All the businesses in the community were so supportive and we had a nice contracting team that did most of the legwork so were just driving around, loading up and paying people,” he said. “It saved us a lot of time.”
Stump echoes his sentiments.
“There were some stores who said we could take whatever we wanted for free,” he said. “We can’t do that, so they were giving it to us at bare cost to help out the base.”
For many of the 55th CONS and 55th CPTS team, this was the first instance they were working together in the field.
“It was a lot different because we normally just push documents electronically to each other,” Tessier said. “Now you are running around with them. It was nice.”
As the water recedes and the base turns to recovery mode, the work has slowed slightly but the purchases related to flood will continue for quite a while.
“In a situation like this, money has to keep moving so we can get the base back up,” said Master Sgt. Brandon Franklin, 55th CPTS, who also filled the role of paying agent during the flood preparations. “We are preparing for recovery now which will take time.”
While the cleanup continues and the finances flow, more than 3,000 Offutt personnel have been removed from their workcenters resulting in a break in communication.
While displaced units wait for their new offices to be equipped, they have a location they can go to access a computer and phone.
Following the flood, to maintain mission readiness and efficiency, the 55th Communications Group immediately started to build a cyber café in the Warhawk Community Center.
“The community center was decided to be the best place to provide communications support,” said Master Sgt. Kristoffer Golden, 55th CG network infrastructure section chief. “With the size of this facility, we have been able to properly prioritize where we can put a large amount of users.”
The team has set up more than 160 work stations for displaced members to use.
“It is important that we provide communications support to the wing because everything requires communications across the base and providing this capability is important to mission efficiency,” said Golden. “Users are able to come in and sit down at a laptop and login to their email, get work done and use phones.”
During the process of setting up the cyber café, the communications team was responsible for setting up tables and identifying where to place network switches to provide network connectivity.
While the cyber café is a great resource to many, the communications team is hoping their pre-flood preparations will help many Offutt members to be reunited with their former equipment sooner than later.
Over the weekend, the 55th CG dispatched technicians out to different facilities that are now underwater to move equipment before the flood came in.
“From Friday at noon we started talking about this flood, and throughout the weekend seeing the water rise and rise we were doing equipment removal through buildings and seeing water cover an area we were at a half-hour ago,” said Tech Sgt. Daniel Wyman, 55th Communications Group cyber transport NCOIC. “It’s an act of nature, and I feel for those who were impacted by the flood but as far the mission goes we are going to continue operations.”