Commentary: Unsung heroes of freeze ‘18

White Rope

Airman 1st Class Lydia Kamps, Lead Sheppard White Rope, stands with her team during their weekly meeting at the Solid Rock Cafe on Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 26, 2018. Airmen in training at Sheppard AFB can earn the privledge of wearing a white rope on their uniform to signify they are student leaders for the base chaplain corps. Kamps and her team manned the Solid Rock Cafe during the ice storm Feb. 21-22 to ensure other Airmen had a fun place to go during the storm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Robert L. McIlrath)

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Leadership from the 82nd Force Support Squadron and employees from the Work Services Coorporation who operate the Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Dining Facilities pose for a group photo in front of the Mesquite DFAC here, Dec. 13, 2017. 82nd FSS and WSC members stayed on base for the duration of the ice storm Feb. 21-22, 2018, to ensure Airmen were fed and cared for. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alan R. Quevy)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

If it takes an entire village to raise a child, it takes an entire base to train an Airman.

In the Air Education and Training Command world, sometimes it’s hard to understand how your role fits into the big picture. Take it from me, the “experienced” lieutenant at her first assignment.

Whatever.

We don’t generate combat sorties here. Our pilots don’t drop bombs on bad guys day in and day out. We deploy individuals often but haven’t stood up a full deployment line in more than three years.

More than 60,000 Airmen are trained by the 82nd Training Wing each year in more than 900 courses. We host the Air Force’s premier pilot training program and churn out pilots for 14 NATO countries. Some of the fiercest women on Earth come out of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program and men with mustaches so impressive they’d make Col. Robin Olds start a slow clap.

I know these stats like the back of my hand. Our mission is a huge footprint in the grand scheme of airpower. Do you remind yourself of this every morning as you lace up your boots? I don’t.

Every now and then when the Air Force gods can tell we need it most, they send a strange reminder of our value to the fight.

An ice storm Feb. 21-22, 2018, swept through some of the country’s most southern states and kept all but essential personnel from reporting for duty at Sheppard AFB.

For someone who grew up in the apocalyptically frozen tundra of Chicago, like me, the inclement weather in Texas seemed strange for sure.

“Essential personnel,” what exactly does that mean anyway? Surely I’m not essential, but who is? Is there a list somewhere? Is it a secret club that only meets in the shadows of Bldg. 402 in one of those rooms without windows?

Are any of us really essential? This is AETC after all.

Turns out membership numbers in the exclusive club are greater than I thought. While most of us spent the ice storm Netflix-ing for 48 hours straight, certain folks sprang to action.

Miguel Copeland and his team from Work Services Corporation held up on base the entire time to ensure they could operate the dining facilities and keep Airmen fed.

Carl Kaylor and the snow removal team got started at 2 a.m. Feb. 21 and didn’t leave until every last road and troop walk was safe and clear.

Brianne Chamney manned the fitness center all day Wednesday and slept at the Sheppard Inn just to make sure she’d be able to reopen first thing Thursday morning.

Airman 1st Class Lydia Kamps and her team of white rope-sporting Airmen in training ran the base’s worship center all but independently with only a few check-ins from the chapel staff. They devoted their days off to making sure other Airmen had a fun place to go during the storm.

No, we didn’t load that air-to-ground missile onto an F-16 yesterday. No, our pilots didn’t deploy those weapons in the Middle East today.

But we fed those Airmen, kept them safe, and we’ve been their wingman from the start. Not a single Air Force jet could leave the ground without an Airman who began their career at Sheppard AFB.

The senior airman who’d never touched a screwdriver became a B-52 crew chief at Sheppard AFB.

The Airman who grew up homeless earned enough money to buy her first car at Sheppard AFB.

The airman first class who had a hard time adjusting to the military and contemplated suicide was saved by a military training leader at Sheppard AFB.

The fruits of your labor at a training wing may not always be tangible, but they’re long lasting.

I guess sometimes all it takes is a little ice and snow to show this place is much more than meets the eye.

You may not be essential personnel during an ice storm, but you are always essential in training the future of America’s Air Force.

So, about that AETC gig, you feeling it yet?

Yeah, me too.