TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Within five days of Hurricane Michael devastating Tyndall, the five-person Task Force Raptor leadership team from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and Tyndall Air Force Base conducted an initial assessment on the remaining F-22 Raptors.
“Immediately upon arrival, we walked the flightline from the tattered hangar one to the completely decimated fuel barn while navigating our way through the rubble and debris,” said Col. Argie Moore, combat aircraft division chief at Air Combat Command headquarters. “It took us about four hours as we noted the location, accessibility, damage and overall condition of the aircraft and hangars.”
Following this assessment, the team was confident the Raptors would fly. Moore credits her leadership team of Chief Master Sgt. Eric Butts, Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Case, both from the 1st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and Senior Master Sergeants Johnny Hatfield, 325th Maintenance Group and Marion Elsas, 325th Maintenance Squadron, with solving this “gigantic problem by providing level headed leadership, vision and lots of humor.”
Task Force Raptor was one of three task forces established by Gen. Mike Holmes, ACC commander, to help recover and rebuild Tyndall AFB. Task Force Raptors primary mission was to recover, repair and launch all F-22s from Tyndall to JBLE.
This mission was a team effort, Moore continued.
“TF Raptor total force integration Airmen, civilians and contractors were motivated, passionate and dedicated to their mission,” said Moore. “It took the efforts of defenders, RED HORSE, contractors, engineers, supply and maintainers from units across the Department of Defense and beyond to make this mission successful.”
The majority of TF Raptor Airmen arrived from JBLE via C-130, of whom, a small number were local Tyndall Airmen. After overcoming the initial shock and awe of the hurricane aftermath, they collected their emotions and did what the Air Force trained them to do - fix aircraft.
Upon Task Force Raptor’s arrival, all F-22s were trapped in severely damaged aircraft hangars. Moore credits the innovation, resourcefulness and perseverance of Air Force Contract Augmentation Program, RED HORSE and contractors who safely freed the aircraft for repair.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Capt. Levi Beard, the AFCAP project manager. “There’s no book on how to remove a multi-million dollar aircraft from concrete debris.”
Other contributors to TF Raptor appreciated the opportunity for other reasons.
“I will probably never do work like this ever again,” said Airman 1st Class Seth Wachman, Low Observable technician, 1st Maintenance Squadron. “I got to see how to install a nose cap and fix an engine. We are all getting a piece of each other’s job.”
Another Airman echoed Wachman’s point of view.
“It is cool to see what a lot of the shops that we work separately from at home do,” Airman 1st Class Mario Del Rosario, 1st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “We really came together as a team. This is very eye-opening, as my first temporary duty [assignment].”
Maintainers from Tyndall shared many of the same feelings in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
“Working alongside these Langley guys is definitely an eye opener,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Miller from the 325th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “It shows integration among other units and how we can rapidly adapt to different things no matter what your unit is.”
For Miller, Hurricane Michael struck a deeper cord.
“My first day back literally made me cry. These jets are like our babies,” Miller said. “It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you changed so many parts; put so many hours into these things, and they’re going to fly out.”
Butts elaborated on the team effort witnessed by the Airmen.
“I can’t say enough about the maintainers,” said Butts. “To witness all the maintenance career fields, active and guard, come together as one unified team, regardless of specialty was simply breathtaking. This was a complete team effort, no squadron boundaries, no unit boundaries, truly one team, set out to accomplish our mission, help our fellow Airmen at Tyndall Air Force Base and return combat airpower to the U.S. Air Force.”
All Raptors hangared at Tyndall remained for maintenance, supply or safety issues, said Moore. Air Combat Command provided TF Raptor with all the resources to safely and expeditiously recover the jets.
“We had the #1 priority on people, #1 priority on parts and #1 priority on partnership,” said Moore.
Moore raved about the actions and partnership provided by Lockheed Martin, F-22 Program Office and the supply chain team led by Maj. Sarah Bowles, 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander.
“We will do what we have to do to make the jets fly,” said Staff Sgt. Cody Sekala, 43rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit supply technician. “We worked 24hrs a day, we knew we had to get the parts so the maintainers could fix the jets. We did what we had to do.”
“For anyone who has seen the path of destruction left by Hurricane Michael, it’s truly amazing to see the F-22 Raptors fly from Tyndall AFB,” said Moore. “The base and community lit up with excitement and joy every time the Raptors took off.
“They’re shaken but the Raptor proved resilient.” Moore said.
All F-22 Raptors have departed Tyndall AFB and will soon be ready to assume their role as the premier stealth air superiority 5th generation fighter.