SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
The whole country watched with bated breath as the threat of Hurricane Matthew loomed closer.
U.S. military bases all along the East Coast, including Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, weighed their options and prepared to act.
“That can range from doing nothing but battening down the hatches and putting sandbags in places to an evacuation of the aircraft, to potentially even a mandatory evacuation of all personnel in the area,” said Lt. Col. Michael Horlbeck, 20th Operations Group deputy commander.
Luckily for the 20th Fighter Wing, the Oct. 6 evacuation was only ordered for 48 of Shaw’s F-16CM Fighting Falcons, and the 58 maintenance Airmen who accompanied the jets. Senior Master Sergeant Micah Gardner, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron lead production superintendent, said the maintainers, who arrived to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana by bus, were almost immediately put to work, setting up to receive their landing aircraft.
All of the jets landed safely at Barksdale, where they waited out the storm until they returned on Oct. 9.
The maintainers were tasked to protect nearly 50 aircraft – about 1.9 billion dollars of assets, Horlbeck said. Some of the major concerns they had during the evacuation were foreign object debris – due to the F-16’s low intake – and finding lodging and transportation for the 114 pilots and maintainers who arrived with the jets.
There are times when Shaw AFB is going to be host to people seeking refuge, just as Barksdale was, said Horlbeck. Eventually Shaw will take on that role, with the capability and capacity to help people in need, which is critical in times like these.