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Road trip to restoration: An Airman’s perspective

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

When I first heard I was going to Tyndall Air Force Base, I was apprehensive. After a little more thought, I realized this was probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I should make the best of it; after all this is what I train for. Being tasked to support the relief efforts in Tyndall was the first time in my military career I felt like I could make a difference and leave an impact on those affected by Hurricane Michael.

Eleven of us from the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron packed up our bags and headed out on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2019. When we were 10 minutes outside of Panama City, we were struck with how massive the devastation was. The thing that stuck out to me the most was the trees. Most, if not all, were bent at a 90-degree angle that stretched on for miles in all directions.

As we pulled into base, we could see how badly it was impacted. The base was just a total mess. No one could have explained to me how much destruction there was. It was something you had to be there to believe. Every single building had some sort of damage; some buildings had their entire roofs with the trusses blown off, others had walls completely blown over exposing the interior, and every single building had this musty, heavy mold smell from sitting water. 

The first day on site I was actually pretty nervous. This was my first temporary duty, and I had no idea what to expect. Due to the amount of damage to the area, we ended up staying on base in a tent city called "Camp Meredith."

Our team from Little Rock Air Force Base ended up sleeping in the same tent, so it wasn’t hard to get to know everyone. I was amazed by how friendly and welcoming everyone was on the civil engineer team. My first job was a roof repair where all the shingles were ripped off by the high winds. There was already a team of four Airmen working, so we just hopped up and joined them. That first day was probably the hardest day of the entire trip, and after that it was a breeze. You just get used to the schedule of always working, always something to fix, and always something to do. Keeping busy made the time fly by and before we knew it, it was time to head back home.

When we first heard we would be heading back to LRAFB there was some discontentment since we would be missing Thanksgiving with our families. However, by the time we left, no one seemed to mind. After witnessing what our fellow Airmen at Tyndall had to endure, it made our grumblings seem trivial. Those affected didn’t have access to things like running water, heat, or even a bed to sleep on. These are things we take for granted every day, and now we all have a greater sense of appreciation for them.

I think if you ask anyone on the team if they would go back to Tyndall, they would all have the same answer. The chance to help out fellow teammates, knowing they would do the same for you brings a deeper meaning to “one team, one fight.” I would go back to Tyndall in heartbeat if I could.

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