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Swamp Foxes volunteer to help Tyndall AFB recover from Hurricane Michael

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Caycee Watson
  • 169th Fighter Wing

A team of nine South Carolina Air National Guard Airmen volunteered to help nudge Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida toward recovery after Hurricane Michael left the base in near complete destruction this past October.

Within 24 hours of receiving the request for support, personnel from the 169th Civil Engineer Squadron and Medical Group were on the road, ready to take on any task.

The Swamp Fox team hit the ground running upon arrival at Tyndall. They initially focused on 1st Air Force, removing furniture, insulation, carpeting, ceilings and anything water-damaged inside the headquarters building.

“First Air Force suffered significant water damage and mold was spreading. We had to remove objects to prevent mold from growing and spreading further,” said Chief Master Sgt. Bruce Thompson, the 169 CES squadron chief.

1AF (Air Forces Northern) has the sole responsibility for ensuring the aerospace control and air defense of the continental United States, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

 “Day one there was a full-bird colonel and one-star general working right beside us. Moving furniture and insulation. Everyone was pitching in wherever needed, regardless of rank,” said Chief Thompson.

Relief efforts eventually shifted from the 1AF headquarters building to homes in the community outside of Tyndall AFB.

In the community, the Swamp Foxes helped retirees and 1AF personnel remove downed trees and debris from their homes and yards. Broken windows and metal roofs were repaired, refrigerators with spoiled goods were removed and families began to see a way to move forward from the destruction Hurricane Michael left behind.

Former 169th Fighter Wing commander Lt. Gen. Scott Williams is commander 1AF and commander of the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, headquartered at Tyndall. He said, “I was not at all surprised that the Swamp Fox were among the first to arrive in the days following the storm. The team hit the ground running and had an immediate impact on our efforts to regain our footing. Thanks in part to the McEntire team’s hard work, we’re well on our way to returning all First Air Force missions to Tyndall by January.”

The Swamp Foxes put in more than 500 hours of labor to support the need to have 1AF back up and running as soon as possible and speed the recovery process for affected personnel.

Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Rector, the facility manager at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, said they filled five 40 cubic yard dumpsters with debris and damaged items. That’s about 80 pickup truck loads of materials removed during their week at Tyndall.

“Absolutely most gratifying TDY [Temporary Duty] I’ve ever been on in my entire career, we were actually able to go out and make an impact. Even though we were barely scratching the surface of how big the damage was there. The gratitude from the people we helped was amazing,” said Rector.

The nine Swamp Foxes with career fields varying from heavy equipment operators to superintendents, firefighters and medical staff were grateful for the opportunity to make a difference and help their fellow Airmen and wouldn’t hesitate to answer the call again.