SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – A crippling winter weather that halted technical and pilot training here for a week is becoming an afterthought of sorts as snow and ice disappears from the North Texas landscape.
As assessments continue and repairs are made, leadership of the 82nd Training Wing and 80th Flying Training Wing prepare to have training up and running by Feb. 22, 2021. The familiar scenes of technical training Airmen turning wrenches, climbing power poles and loading bombs will resume while student pilots take to the skies.
About a foot of snow was dumped by the storm system as it moved over Sheppard AFB and North Texas, the first snowfall coming Feb. 14-15, followed by a short reprieve and another event Feb. 16-17. Low temperatures at or near zero degrees with wind chills well below zero complicated matters as Team Sheppard worked to dig its way out from under the wintry blast.
Brig. Gen. Kenyon Bell, installation and 82nd TRW commander, said he is thankful for the efforts made to get the base’s primary mission ready to go.
“Specifically to those essential workers that had no choice but to keep fighting through – fire department, security forces defenders, snow control and road crews, Work Services Corp. in the dining facilities, lodging workers, facility managers and many others – you made it happen and we are grateful,” he said. “Great appreciation to all of the volunteers that came in over the past three days to assist in relocating equipment and necessary items so we can get back to work on Monday providing combat capability to our Department of Defense.
“This is where it all starts and it’s great to be part of Team Sheppard.”
Col. Josh DeMotts, 82nd Mission Support Group commander, said close to 300 work orders associated with storm-related damage had been submitted by Feb. 21, 2021, affected almost 100 facilities on the installation. Work crews from the 82nd Civil Engineer Squadron and CE contractor Vectrus has gone throughout facilities identifying trouble areas and making repairs on a priority basis.
“Many of our facilities experienced burst pipes and as a result some flooding and water damage occurred,” he said. “As facility managers continue to inspect their buildings, the more they look, the more they find. We won’t have a firmer assessment of damage until next week, but at this time, we have at least minor damage in almost 100 buildings and new problems being found by the hour.”
Perhaps the most visible piece of the Sheppard AFB training mission outside the fence is that of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. Col. Robert Haas, 80th FTW commander, said the program’s infrastructure suffered the same damage DeMotts referred to, but on a lesser extreme than that where technical training takes place.
Haas said maintenance crews and staff are assessing any possible damage to the more than 200 aircraft used to train future pilots, as well as the high-tech flight simulators. They are also working to get aircrew and aircraft back on station that were at locations across the country when the winter storm hit, which requires clear runways.
He applauded the efforts of the 82nd TRW and MSG to make sure the airfield is ready for operations on Monday.
“This is something we don’t experience in this area too often, especially to this magnitude. We are fortunate to come out of it with minimal impact to Team ENJJPT and our families, as well as damage to our facilities and aircraft,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the support we have received from the 82nd Training Wing, specifically the 82nd Mission Support Group, to get us to a point to where we can launch aircraft and get back to the business of training NATO pilots on Monday.”
DeMotts said the MSG team – which manages functions such as civil engineering, lodging, fitness centers, dining facility, security forces and more – went above and beyond with an all-hands-on-deck effort to keep critical functions of the installation operational while taking on additional responsibilities such as housing Sheppard military and civilian personnel affected by the weather in the Sheppard Inn or a sheltering facility. Those taking refuge at the base were also aloud to get a hot meal at the dining facilities.
The colonel said support functions executed the installations now plan well, and, as expected, will be ready for the next extreme event when and if it comes around. Stressful times, though, often highlight highly functional teams.
This weather event was no different.
“Sheppard as a whole has stepped up and responded to this storm in a big way,” he said. “We could have easily hunkered down and waited for the sun to do its job here in North Texas, but we got after it, and as a result, will have ourselves back in the training business first thing this week.”