When Hurricane Michael struck Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., a year ago Oct. 11, the prospect of recovery for the major installation appeared daunting, according to a Military.com feature article Wednesday.
Of 484 buildings and structures on the 14.5 square mile base, 50% were destroyed or suffered damage making repairs unfeasible, while the installation’s flight line became rubble. The control tower’s top three floors sustained severe flooding when windows blew out, and most of Tyndall’s 663 housing units were flattened or seriously damaged by wind and torrential rain.
In addition, debris and hundreds of downed trees clogged streets as most of Tyndall’s 11,000 service personnel and family members became storm refugees, wisely evacuating before the Category 5 Michael struck, according to the article.
The 130-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rain all but destroyed the 78-year-old base as its commander and a small team remained in an underground shelter.
An image from a weather satellite superimposed on a computer map of Bay County, Fla., revealed the full magnitude of the storm as it scoured the county’s eastern terrain, according to the report.
“The photograph showed the entire 15-mile wide eye of the storm,” Col. Brian Laidlaw, commander of the 325th Fighter Wing before and after the storm, told Military.com. “It completely encompassed Tyndall…the 29,000 acres of Tyndall are in the middle, and the runways are smack dab in the middle,” he said.
In the year since Hurricane Michael, Laidlaw said he has witnessed an uplifting response to what happened at Tyndall as thousands of military personnel and civilian contractors have labored 24/7 to resurrect the installation. Laidlaw says the resilience and dedication of the Tyndall community has supplanted the mere images of destruction.
Hopelessness was not embraced by Laidlaw, his leadership team or their Air Force superiors, according to the report. Closing Tyndall was not considered with its vital location near the Gulf of Mexico and sharing an extended air combat range with Eglin Air Force Base, Laidlaw said.
With Air Force chain-of-command support, Laidlaw and a civil engineering began the initial steps to rebuild the base, resulting in a committed effort over the past 11 months is showing results, the report said.
Up to $700 million has been spent on Tyndall repairs and renovations, and this month’s fiscal 2020 is expected to deliver another $577 million from June’s disaster aid supplemental appropriation bill. The remainder of up to $3 billion in military construction funds is expected during FY 2020 and FY 2021, according to the report.
“We’re getting the job done,” Laidlaw told Military.com. “We’ve got a lot of people working just like they were prior to the storm. We’ve got airplanes flying off the runways like they did prior to the storm.”
In addition, contractors have nearly restored more than 240 damaged buildings. “The recovery is going very, very well,” Laidlaw said.
He is proud that despite the work ahead, most of Tyndall’s core missions have fully resumed and described the overall recovery as being in “the first or second inning,” according to the report.
The bulk of building a state-of-the-art installation remains, including designing, planning and constructing more than 200 offices, shops and other facilities.
“We are running fast,” Laidlaw said. “We are repairing quickly, and we are building quickly here on the base.”
Tyndall and Bay County resiliency efforts from Hurricane Michael are spotlighted in ADC’s “Spirit of Resilience | Bay County, Florida” video.
Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes