Servicemembers come together for Lambert Base clean-up effort
By SSgt Meiko Schill, 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 13, 2011
SAINT LOUIS -- 131st Bomb Wing personnel currently stationed at Lambert Air National Guard Base are pulling together to clean up and return the base to good working order after the April 22 category EF-4 tornado touched down and severely damaged many of the buildings located on the South side of the facility. The Lambert ANGB houses most of the 131st Bomb Wing's Mission Support Group and tenant units while the 131st Bomb Wing headquarters, Operations Group, Maintenance Group and some Mission Support and Medical Groups personnel are stationed at Whiteman AFB.
Service members are using this disaster, which is the worst tornado in the area since 1967, to come together in a united front. While some initials assessments were possible on April 22nd, as a result of the severe damage and nightfall, units mustered early to begin the damage assessment and develop a relocation and recovery plan.
A 131st Emergency Operations Center initiated plans to restore operations to the base shortly after the storm's passing. 131st Communications Flight began creating a plan to ensure base infrastructures were operational as soon as possible. The building that houses the Communications Flight received minimal damage and was able to stand up the Emergency Operations Center temporarily until power on the north side was restored. Communications also coordinated efforts and assets with the 131st's Financial Management team to ensure that service members would receive their pay on time.
Lt. Col. Mark Bradley, 131st Cyber Operations Officer remarked that they created a "workable plan and course of action and moved on it. They did a superb job."
Lt. Col. Shane Tomko, commanding officer of the base's 3rd Battalion 24th Marines, remarked, "Everyone across the board did a superb job of reacting , especially Base Security (131st Bomb Wing's Security Forces)." Security Forces Gate guards Staff Sgt. Craig Bowen, a member of 131st Bomb Wing for 10 years and Staff Sgt. Jeff DeMent, a Guard member for 2 years were among those on duty when the tornado struck the base. Tomko commented on their bravery, "When you have a tornado coming over your head and you still stand your post, that's the Hallmark of Air National Guard Security (Forces.) They impressed me."
150 Guard members were on hand Monday morning to move salvageable resources to the unaffected north side of the base and assist in the recovery effort.
The 131st Bomb Wing's Headquarters building, which was dedicated in 1982, received the brunt of the storm. It was home to many critical services on the facility, including the 131st Medical Group. Critical records and medical equipment were moved as soon as possible due to the increasingly unsafe conditions in the building. The Medical Group rose to the occasion with some members taking time off from their civilian jobs to aide in the recovery effort. Senior Airman Emily Opfer, a medical group member for 3 years, said, "I couldn't enjoy my day off knowing that everyone else was giving up their free time. I'm happy to help.
Assistance was provided by 131st Bomb Wing members from all over the region. 131st Logistical Readiness Supply Superintendent at Whiteman Air Force Base, Master Sgt. Bill Austin, was among those who came to Lambert's aid. Austin drove 200 miles to assist with the contents of a storage facility that had been damaged by the storm, personally transported the cargo back to Whiteman, and returned to Lambert to further assist his Squadron in their moving to the North Side of the base. Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Fowler, Chief of Supply, had this to say about Austin's assistance, "His expertise shows a true 131st Bomb Wing Airmen spirit to come down and help where most needed at this time. His knowledge in logistics will help us recover quickly."
For years, Lambert Air National Guard Base has offered temporary parking for service members flying out of Lambert International Airport. The storm dealt a blow to many vehicles on the facility, while leaving others relatively unscathed. The 131st Bomb Wing's Security Forces now has to deal with the influx of insurance adjusters and vehicle owners coming in to claim the automobiles that were haphazardly tossed around by Mother Nature. The past days have been especially hard on responders and cleanup crews as they've had to park on the north side of the facility. Members have banded together, car pooling with one another from the two sides. The USO at Lambert International Airport, known for its support of the military, has been providing lunch and an atmosphere of needed camaraderie during this traumatic time.
At the end of the work day on Sunday, May 1, members of the 131st Bomb Wing gathered together in Hangar 1 at Lambert Field to celebrate their hard work and share a few laughs. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2866 provided the Wing with food for their celebration, and despite the circumstance, the mood was optimistic and hopeful. "We have been working extremely hard from when the tornado hit to now and will into future times, " said Master Sgt. Mary-Dale Amison, superintendent of 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs and the base photographer, "I was here Friday night shortly after the tornado hit and have reported each day after with my fellow Guardsmen, Marines, and Sailors. We've truly pulled together as a military family. We're going to be okay."