TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
A trip from Hurlburt Field, Florida, to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, typically takes two hours.
In the wake of Hurricane Michael, it was a four-hour journey for 16 Airmen from the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron. Hindered by destruction and debris, they backtracked through blocked roads with little to no communications or GPS capabilities.
This would set the tone for the challenges they would encounter upon reaching a storm-torn Tyndall Air Force Base.
“There was no running water, there were no sewer systems.” said Maj. Peter Sabatowski, 823rd RHS on-site officer-in-charge. “There was a bucket in the bathroom with a plastic bag in it.”
The Airmen from the 823rd RHS had officially joined a skeleton crew of first responders including the 820th Base Defense Group from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, 23d Civil Engineering Squadron Prime BEEF, from Moody AFB, and a 93 person ride-out team from Tyndall AFB.
“The first night was quiet,” Sabatowski said. “We were trying to get our feet under ourselves and figure out what was going on.”
In the weeks since the storm, the squadron has found its footing and helped to clear debris, assess damage, save facilities, construct a booming tent city, and even provided the first hot meals to nearly 400 Airmen working to restore the base. But the list doesn’t stop there.
“RED HORSE is unique.” said Sabatowski, “We’re the ones that are executing the cradle-to-grave construction, from design to handing the facility over.”
While more Airmen, Soldiers, and Sailors trickle in to tackle the work that lies ahead, the 823d RHS has helped lay the groundwork for a base that can function and improve every day.
“This is more recovery than construction” said Sabatowski.
Once a battered base of severely damaged buildings, with no power, water, or communications. Tyndall is now a functioning bare-base facility with more in common with a forward operating base than a disaster zone, and is well on its way to normal operations.
“They’re proud of what they’ve done out here, and it has definitely been a team effort,” said Sabatowski. “It is not just a single entity that’s working on one thing, it is been s a collective effort to get where we’re at right now”.