Contingency response Airmen assist in Wake Island storm recovery

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexander W. Riedel
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Airmen with the 36th Contingency Response Group at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, arrived on Wake Island July 20 to assist uniformed and civilian staff in critical storm recovery efforts.

In anticipation of possible storm surges from Typhoon Halola, all base members had been evacuated from the small atoll to Andersen AFB. To allow the teams to return and airfield operations to resume safely, special tactics and combat search and rescue Airmen from the 353rd Special Operations Group were the first people to arrive on the island in the early morning of July 20.

Accessing the island per static line parachute drop, the special operators performed an initial survey of conditions while on motorcycles, that were simultaneously airdropped.

After being cleared for landing, a small team from the 36th CRG and two explosive ordnance disposal experts then assisted Wake Island Airfield members in re-establishing airfield safety and various services on the island.

"We are constantly training to open and stand up airfields that have no services at all, that's our core mission," said Capt. Christopher Weaver, the 36th Mobility Response Squadron assisting director of operations. "Specifically, in this case, we brought in a pavement evaluation team, which Wake Island Airfield does not have as part of its permanent-party personnel."

Wake Island is a coral limestone atoll made of three small islands, and has the longest strategic runway in the Pacific islands at nearly 10,000 feet. Operations were transferred from the Navy to the Air Force in 1972, and the current mission of the Airmen is to provide support for operations in the Indo-Asia Pacific theater as a refueling and emergency divert field for transiting aircraft.

The assessment team began their initial pavement evaluation with a visual survey of the condition of the airfield surface. The experts looked for cracks, potholes and other signs of deterioration, said Master Sgt. Iain Morrrison, the 36th CRG superintendent of operations, plans and programs.

After the initial survey, the team drilled holes on select locations of the runway. Using a device called a dynamic cone penetrometer, they tested the ground beneath the airfield's asphalt surfaces.

"Every location we tested out here on Wake (Island) turned out to be well above the necessary safety parameters," Morrison said.

With low elevation above sea level and a large lagoon directly bordering the runway, experts feared the storm may have affected the integrity of the flightline, yet the team could quickly and confidently give the runway their approval to resume regular operations, Morrison added.

"We had good, current information on this airfield, so our check went very smoothly," he said. "We simply had to make a few spot checks to make sure pavement strength was still there. Based on our tests, and given how strong it was, we don't have any concerns at this point."

From power generation to food facilities as the initial focus, followed closely by potable water supply, the Wake Island Airfield managers were able to quickly re-establish most station operations.

"The mission here on Wake Island has been conducted seamlessly," Weaver said. "All of the technical experts connected and worked well together."

While the safety inspection of the airfield is only the beginning of a larger effort to resume regular operations, Master Sgt. Yusef Saad, the Detachment 1, Pacific Regional Support Center, contracting officer and one of only four active-duty Airmen assigned to Wake Island, said the help from the experts of the 36th CRG was vital in expediting the airfield reopening.

"The support we received was important," he said. "Once we were evacuated to Guam they made us feel (at) home and were always there to lend a helping hand. With their help, we will be able to resume normal operations sooner than expected."