Recovery and rebuilding continues on the Eastern Panhandle of Florida following the devastation of Hurricane Michael last month on October 10.
FOX10 News morning news anchor Eric Reynolds lived and worked at Tyndall while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Earlier this month on November 9th, he returned to Tyndall for the first time since Hurricane Michael. Tyndall Air Force Base and Panama City are places he has fond memories of.
“They’re also located in an incredible setting with unspoiled white sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico,” Eric said. Hurricane Michael changed a lot of that last month for the 11,000 service members and their families.
Two days before Hurricane Michael’s landfall Tyndall Air Force Base was in full preparation, running through its hurricane condition checklist.
“We prepped aircraft, we flew about half the fleet out on Monday. At first light on the ninth we launched out the rest of the aircraft that we had, so by 1500 hours, 3 pm on the ninth, this place was a ghost town and all that was left was the 93 of us who stayed behind,” stated Colonel Brian Laidlaw.
The 325th Fighter Wing, Air Combat Command, Tyndall AFB, Florida, is the largest F-22 Fighter Wing in the Air Force consisting of more than 4,400 personnel and 52 fifth generation aircraft.
Base Commander, Colonel Brian Laidlaw, Commander of the 325th Fighter Wing and the rest of the 93 in what he labeled the “ride out element” hunkered down in two of the strongest buildings on base.
"We lost our roof in the first half of the storm as the eye was passing overhead. We heard the roof peel off, we started taking on a bit of water. All told the eye was here about 20 minutes or so, but it was a good 3 or 4 hours where we were from start to finish,” said Colonel Laidlaw.
“Most of the buildings we could see were missing their roofs, most of the trees we could see were down at that point of time and much like the rest of this area it was just scattered with debris in every direction. I tell you we weren't really saying a lot, it wasn’t really a lot to say, it was really a pretty sobering picture to try and digest. We took as direct a hit as you could,” shared Laidlaw.
A satellite image shows the 29,000 acre Air Force Base in Hurricane Michael’s eye.
"Ten October was a tough day for this base, it was devastating, I mean it was catastrophic. Initial assessment said this base is 95 percent, right, that was the initial number,” stated Colonel Pat Miller, Commander Task Force Phoenix.
The Air Force quickly sent help task forces to assess, determine and preserve. Colonel Pat Miller, Vice Commander, Air Force Installation & Mission Support Center, Air Force Materiel Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, arrived from Texas.
"We're looking at the infrastructure, the water, the sewer, electric, gas, the roads, street lighting, so it’s more that just the buildings,” said Colonel Miller.
Less than 30- days after Hurricane Michael’s fury, Tyndall “is” getting back on its feet.
“I can tell you today water is good, electricity is good, sewer is good, gas is good, the airfield is good, 44 percent of our facilities on this installation are good. Because of the amazing work of the men and women that are here , both military and contractors, we are changing the landscape of this base by the minute. Walking onto this base three weeks ago, I would never thought we’d be where we are today,” shared Miller.
Tyndall Resident Engineer Jonathan Carr represents the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District.
“The debris that’s been cleared, the buildings that have been tarped and that have already started being repaired, just an amazing effort from everybody,” said Carr.
“Every single one of those people is here for a very specific purpose and they are working day and night to get this base back on its feet as quickly as they can. I'll tell you when I walked out of the building a month ago, and you would tell me the base would look like this 30 days from now, I would have found that pretty hard to believe,” said Colonel Laidlaw, Tyndall Air Force Base Commander.
Despite the unbelievable damage from Hurricane Michael, there is hope and optimism among the men and women of Tyndall Air Force Base. One thousand of them have already returned to their jobs. The Secretary of the Air Force has set timelines for resuming Tyndall’s mission. Everyone that I talked to said those timelines will be met!