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Keeping ahead of Hurricane Matthew

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing shakes hands with a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron during an aircraft evacuation at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Forty-eight F-16s were evacuated from Shaw in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew, which hit South Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing shakes hands with a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron during an aircraft evacuation at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Forty-eight F-16s were evacuated from Shaw in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew, which hit South Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

F-16CM Fighting Falcons taxi on the flightline before taking off at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. The aircraft were evacuated to avoid damage by the approaching Hurricane Matthew, which passed through the local area two days later causing mass power outages and structural damage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

F-16CM Fighting Falcons taxi on the flightline before taking off at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. The aircraft were evacuated to avoid damage by the approaching Hurricane Matthew, which passed through the local area two days later causing mass power outages and structural damage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing takes off from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. The F-16s were evacuated to avoid any damage that could have been caused by Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kelsey Tucker)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing takes off from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. The F-16s were evacuated to avoid any damage that could have been caused by Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kelsey Tucker)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing takes off from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Forty-eight of Shaw’s aircraft were launched and flown to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, to avoid damage from Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing takes off from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Forty-eight of Shaw’s aircraft were launched and flown to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, to avoid damage from Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

A U.S. Air Force F-16CM Fighting Falcon takes off from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Shaw evacuated its aircraft following Gov. Nikki Haley’s declaration of a state of emergency in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

A U.S. Air Force F-16CM Fighting Falcon takes off from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Shaw evacuated its aircraft following Gov. Nikki Haley’s declaration of a state of emergency in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Cossaboom)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing taxis in preparation for takeoff at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Nearly 50 aircraft were evacuated from Shaw in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew, while the remainder were stored inside various hangars to keep them safe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman BrieAnna Stillman)

An F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing taxis in preparation for takeoff at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Oct. 6, 2016. Nearly 50 aircraft were evacuated from Shaw in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew, while the remainder were stored inside various hangars to keep them safe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman BrieAnna Stillman)

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.