Military News

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Working overtime: Barksdale hustles to host evac'd aircraft

by Senior Airman Joseph Raatz
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

10/7/2015 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- While the B-52 Stratofortress owns the skies around Barksdale Air Force Base, spotting a fighter or tanker in the area is not uncommon.

Barksdale often serves as a refueling stop for military aircraft and is an operations center for joint-force exercises like Green Flag. But on rare occasions, the home of the 2nd Bomb Wing plays an even bigger role: safe haven.

Several KC-135 Stratotankers, dozens of F-15E Strike Eagles and more than 200 Airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, temporarily relocated to Barksdale, Oct. 1, to avoid potential damage caused by Hurricane Joaquin.

"It's great that the Air Force has facilities where aircraft can escape to evade harm or weather elements," William Flentge, 2nd Operations Support Squadron airfield manager, said. "We're proud to provide that at Barksdale."

Category 4 hurricanes like Joaquin can create punishing winds of up to 156 mph and cause catastrophic damage.

Barksdale's number one goal of preparing for and receiving the aircraft was to protect them from danger, Flentge explained. Hurricane-force winds could easily have damaged any aircraft caught on the ramp, making evacuation the most logical decision.

While the 2nd Bomb Wing was more than happy to provide refuge for Seymour Johnson's Airmen and aircraft, Barksdale currently fields 48 B-52s and has a corresponding-sized infrastructure. Hosting double that number of aircraft, even temporarily, posed a tremendous challenge.

"There are plans on file for us to do this kind of thing, however, it doesn't always seem like that plan is complete when it's brought to the table and you really have to think outside the box to figure out how to do what works best for everybody. So that's what we did," said Master Sgt. Michael Hollister, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Unit B-52 production superintendent.

In addition to finding parking space for more than 60 additional aircraft, Barksdale maintainers and airfield management personnel had to coordinate fuel deliveries and ensure proper safety measures were in place.

"For this many aircraft to come in at the same time, it really is a huge challenge for us and what we have to do," Hollister said. "But we were ready for that challenge and we rose to the occasion. I think it's fantastic that we can do this and still execute our mission, they can execute their mission, Green Flag is still going on and everyone seems to be rolling with the punches and moving forward. I'm proud of everyone we have here working to get these guys settled in. They really did a fantastic job."

Redistributing aircraft in the face of a hurricane is something Barksdale is well-acquainted with. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast with devastating results, causing approximately 1,500 deaths and more than $100 billion in damage. As the storm moved northward, Barksdale was forced to relocate its B-52s to bases around the country.

"To see it the opposite way, to be the ones taking in all these aircraft and sheltering them, is really cool," Hollister said. "I feel pretty good about what we've done. These guys needed refuge, and we did what we had to do to get them bedded down."

The decision to relocate so many aircraft is generally made several days in advance, giving both bases time to prepare. The time it took to make the decision to evacuate Seymour Johnson's aircraft and get the first flight airborne? About four hours.

"I don't know how you all did it, but you were able to support us phenomenally well, through the maintenance group, the logistics readiness squadron and the operations group. It was just incredible," said Col. Andy Freeman, 414th Fighter Group commander. "Col. Goodwin, your team has done phenomenal work for us. I can't believe [they] did it that quick. It was like a well-oiled machine, and I couldn't imagine that they put it together that fast to support all our troops showing up."

To thank Team Barksdale for their generosity, Airmen from the 4th Fighter Wing offered guided tours of their aircraft to Barksdale personnel.

"This is my first evacuation to Barksdale. I've been to many other bases with Strike Eagles, but I'm pretty sure that this is the base we want to return to because of the open arms we've received," Freeman said.

The ability to successfully relocate so many aircraft in such a short time highlights the flexibility that has helped make the U.S. Air Force the world's premier military aviation force.

"When you look behind you, and you see all these airplanes on the ramp, that's what our Air Force is capable of," Freeman said, gazing out over the mix of B-52s, F-15Es and KC-135s. "It demonstrates our flexibility and how well we can move at a moment's notice. It's just an amazing feat."

Through the hard work and dedication of Team Barksdale, the 2nd BW was able to successfully host the evacuated aircraft and Airmen for nearly a week, with no interruption to B-52 flight operations.

"The collaborative work of both the 4th FW and 2nd BW at Barksdale is a true example of total force effort," said Col. Mark Slocum, 4th FW commander. "We thank our 2nd BW partners for being world-class hosts to our Airmen."

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