Hurricane Irma: prepared and ready to ride out

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing

“It was 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, and the entire base was empty except for a handful of security forces members and the 6th Mission Support Group commander. My team joined them and convoyed off base. We stopped so they could lock the gates behind us. It seemed just absolutely foreign to not see anyone moving about the base, to know there was no one left on it, yet so rewarding to know that we played such an integral part in making that possible,” said Tech. Sgt. James Davis, the NCO in charge of command and control systems assigned to the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

While many members of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, evacuated out of Hurricane Irma’s path, several teams remained and weathered the storm.  

One team, the Hurricane Ride-Out Team, is made up of members who are given the role of ‘mission essential personnel’ and are designated to ride out passing storms at Raymond James Stadium. Members of the ride-out team remain at the stadium until the storm has passed and return to base to begin making initial assessments and bring it back to mission-capable status.  

“The team is made up of civil engineers, airfield management, electricians, command post personnel, security forces, and medical personnel,” said Link Collier, an airfield manager with the 6th Operations Support Squadron. “We were at the stadium from Saturday night, Sept. 9, until the following Monday morning before making our way back to the base.”

According to Collier, a lot of planning and late nights were invested running through various scenarios.

“Our job was to provide information about the base in our respective fields to the Crisis Action Team, Emergency Operations Center, the 6th MSG commander, and to the 6th Air Mobility Wing commander,” said Collier. Davis added, “We also submitted reports and provided constant updates to the Pentagon, Air Mobility Command Center, as well as the Air Force Reserve Command Center.”

With the path of Irma creating so much uncertainty, Collier said the HURCON exercise from March played a key role in the success of the ride-out team.

“In March, we practiced the entire evacuation piece where we relocate to Raymond James Stadium,” said Collier. “Lo and behold, we would be putting that practice into play, and as a wing, we did a great job communicating.”

Despite the exercise providing many lessons learned and the ride-out team being ready to execute, they only needed a fraction of the team to successfully complete their mission.

“Typically, there are 300 people in the ride-out team, but Col. April Vogel, commander of the 6th AMW, wanted to have a smaller footprint, so we only went to the stadium with about 50 personnel,” said Collier.

Regardless of how inconvenient it may seem to put in so many extra hours and take on a larger work load so others could evacuate, personnel from the ride-out team found a sense of accomplishment.

“I have spent nearly 12 years of my career as a first responder (security forces) and now as a command and control specialist, so it was amazing to put those years of training to use and work alongside such skilled and talented leaders,” mentioned Davis. “It was their direction that made the evacuation and ride out so successful.”

For Collier, seeing all 11 KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft return and ready to pick up the mission again proved to be the most rewarding part.

“Knowing we can return to work and get our planes to the islands to help with the hurricane relief really is a great feeling,” said Collier with a smile.