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Commentary: People are at the heart of the Tyndall rebuild effort

Air Force family: Taking care of Tyndall, displaced Airmen

The aftermath of Hurricane Michael is viewed from an air traffic control tower at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Oct. 15, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz)

A construction crew demolishes the steeple at Chapel 2 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Feb. 15, 2019.

A construction crew demolishes the steeple at Chapel 2 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Feb. 15, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Javier Alvarez)

A construction worker carries a cross after an excavator demolished the Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, chapel in February. The Tyndall Chapel was unable to be restored after sustaining immense damage from Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A construction worker carries a cross after an excavator demolished the Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, chapel in February. The Tyndall Chapel was unable to be restored after sustaining immense damage from Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — October 10, 2018, is a day no one in the Florida Panhandle will ever forget. It was the day that saw the area struck by the full force of Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 161 mph.

The storm wreaked devastation on Tyndall Air Force Base, as well as its long-time community partner Bay County. While all concerned have been bloodied and bowed, they remain united and resolute in their conviction that the best is yet to come. Besides funding support to rebuild the base, it’s the unified people’s prodigious effort, sacrifice and planning that will make it happen.

A scant few days after the storm, the work of many dedicated Airmen quickly began. The first task was to assess the damage. It was a daunting task. Not just because of the severe damage but also because of the conditions under which they were working. Constant Florida heat, living in tents, no hot food for a while —you get the picture and it isn’t pretty.

The initial assessments covered 485 buildings plus 209 other facilities. Of these, 100 percent required some level of repair work. About half were rated as “demolish and replace,” roughly 2.3 million square feet. The associated debris removal was a monumental task. The numbers are staggering but they don’t really capture the full gamut of the destruction. It’s something one has to see in person to fully understand.

The Tyndall rebuild effort would not be in full effect without the unrelenting work of the people. As it stands, there aren’t many permanent people on the Tyndall Program Management Office staff yet, but there has been a long line of talented people from all across the country who have pitched in mightily to help. They have been Reservists, active-duty Airmen, civil service employees and contractors. Some have come for as short a time as two weeks, some for months and others for increments of time in between.

The lifeblood theme of the PMO is to pitch in immediately and go hard until you leave Tyndall. There isn’t enough meaning in the word “thanks” to truly convey the gratitude owed to the folks who have done and are doing, the tremendous work.

Sacrifice is definitely the word of the day, every day. Sacrifice comes in many forms with the Tyndall rebuild effort. The unselfish people who have deployed here from other locations left their families, jobs and the comfort of their homes behind. The local people are putting in herculean effort as well, despite some not being able to live in their own homes yet.

Almost all are still dealing with the painful process of repairing their houses and getting their lives back together. Both courageous groups have been undaunted by the sacrifices specific to their own dire circumstances and have remained steadfast in pursuit of the mission.

Thanks also go to the many commanders and supervisors who have allowed their people to volunteer in support of the Tyndall rebuild. There’s some inherent pain to allowing team members to participate in these efforts. Many career fields within civil engineering are already undermanned, so the decision to let someone volunteer to help Tyndall isn’t without cost. But none of that has mattered — dedicated people all across the spectrum have willingly shouldered more work in order to help Tyndall, in whatever ways they can. There are other organizations, while not technically a part of the PMO, that have been linchpins to enable continued progress of the planning and work.

The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael ravaging Tyndall and the surrounding area is here, and the path to get here has been long and arduous. But this long, difficult road has seen many gains, both large and small. The commitment of the people has made those gains possible.

There isn’t much time to pat each other on the back or for breaks and holidays because there’s still a long, difficult road ahead. Tyndall’s mission and its people have meant a lot to our nation’s defense over the decades. One storm, albeit an extremely powerful one, isn’t going to change that. The secret is the patriotic people, fully stocked with dedication and devotion to see the mission done. To see Tyndall not just come back, but come back better than it was.

These people understand that the Air Force, Bay County and our nation need Tyndall and its mission. The exact nature of the mission may change, but the importance remains critical. Even more critical is the absolute necessity of having stouthearted, well-trained people doing the work. Stalwart people who meet difficulty head on, shove it aside and make the mission come to life.