SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
What happens when you come into your office on a Friday in the aftermath of a major snowstorm and you find your sprinkler systems busted, the pipes leaking foul liquids, the flooding is damaging the main portion of your Technical Training Schoolhouse with all your classrooms and offices, the flooding then freezes and leaves you, your instructors, and your students without a place to call their own? Well, it’s simple, just do what the 361st did when that happened to them -- resume training on Monday.
On Feb. 19, 2021, Master Sgt. Gabriel Bessette, 361st Training Squadron Aerospace Ground Equipment flight chief, was given the good-to-go to return to base after the major snowstorm that hit Texas in mid-February. The old AGE building that has held strong since 1993 was now a swimming pool filled with ceiling tile debris and smoking wires.
“Corridor A and the main corridor got hit the hardest,” said Bessette. “That’s where the classrooms were, where my instructors were, the TRR folk and our commander and supervision. It was all in there.”
That was it, there was no, ‘lets just sweep out the water and continue.’ The AGE building was lost. And with that all of AGE training. Except … that’s not how Air Force Maintainers think.
“Anyone in maintenance works well in crises,” said Bessette. “You can plan your day, but there is never a day when there’s no stuff going wrong. There’s going to be stuff breaking, we’re used to that. We’re good in those situations and that’s why were able to take this and run with it.”
In some folk’s reality this could have been a knockout punch, although for AGE, this was just another problem that showed up on their doorstep. They handled it as if it was normal for snowstorms to wreck their shop every year.
“The reason we were able to do it quick, is because our guys were superstars,” said Bessette. “From our commander, who gave us all the support we needed, to the instructors to the volunteers from the other flights. It was all of us coming together. Their help is greatly appreciated and that’s what I like to see and show off in the Air Force. All of us coming together to get something done.”
Bessette said he wanted to thank the 361st and all the volunteers from their flights, AGE, Propulsions, Metals Tech., Fuels and Egress, the Commander, all of whom came with determination and some even with trailers. He said besides the 361st family they appreciated the help from the firefighters who came to shut off the water, the 82d Communication Squadron technicians who helped disconnect and reconnect their E-tools, the 363rd TRS members who lent a hand and their forklift and the motor pool folk who went through the correct channels to get them a truck. They all worked together to get AGE back in the mission.
Within starting the move on Friday they were able to move everything they needed to the 361st TRS’s Aerospace Propulsion Schoolhouse who welcomed them with open arms.
Bessette said he loves the 361st as even though they may bicker and tease each other, they are like a family and when it comes down to it, they have each other’s back. When Sheppard returned to normal operations that Monday, AGE was ready to train, but believe it or not, there were some issues when moving a whole schoolhouse into another.
Problems with scheduling, space, missing tools and especially missing the specific configurations of the old schoolhouse caused issues for the training.
Bessette said the biggest setback they encountered was the loss of days. They had a strict schedule and timeline, they could make up one or two days, but a week or two? There were ripple effects caused by this (I.e. some classes graduating late) but with what they have and where they are, their main focus after this hardship was making sure the other Major Commands get the same quality Sheppard trained Airmen.
“We are not going to cut corners,” said Bessette. “If something took us two hours before all this happened – it’s going to take us two hours now. We’re not skimping. We’re making sure the training is what it needs to be.”
With the snowstorm and the move fading more and more into the past, the future for AGE starts looking more and more normal. On March 3, 2021, Bessette said they should be able to use some of the labs within the A, B and C corridors, which were less damaged than the main corridor. He said they will begin slowly returning back to their old building while giving their all and continuing to train the best AGE Airmen.
Even though they lost most of their schoolhouse, Bessette said one thing shined through all this hardship and hard work.
“The best thing is seeing that we not only train to work together and that we say we are all Airmen, but actually showing our teamwork and show that we actually mean it,” said Bessette. “We have different parts in the mission, but in the end, we all have the same mission.”