TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Within mere days of the Category 5 hurricane that hit Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, employees from the 325th Training Support Squadron rushed from their hunkered down shelters and evacuation points to assess and mitigate damage to more than $75 million in assets while taking care of their own homes and communities.
Because of their distinguished performance during this time, 46 civilian employees from the TRSS received Civilian Achievement medals.
“The people that came out and volunteered their time are all great Americans” said Lt. Col. Justin Anhalt, 325th TRSS commander. “They take pride in their work, and understand that what they do feeds directly into the safety and security of our country. Our military members worked hand-in-hand with all of our civilians through the entire process. This was absolutely a team effort.”
These employees chose to come out to the base during a time when they could have been assessing and fixing up their own damaged homes and property, and volunteered a culmination of almost 6,000 hours to make sure the 325th TRSS was restored. Because of this, the 325th TRSS was the first squadron back up and running after the hurricane.
“The TRSS was able to get back to operational status in minimum time due to their selfless volunteerism, working alongside contractors to quickly restore critical infrastructure after the hurricane,” said Col. Christian Kane, 325th Operations Group commander.
In November 2018, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson also took notice of the squadron’s efforts.
“I’m very pleased we were able to get all of these missions back-up and operational within the next one to three months,” she said.
She said that although other operations were not yet up and running, the 325th TRSS academic and simulator facilities were slated to stay at Tyndall. This was all due to the effort of the 325th TRSS personnel, especially the 46 civilian achievement medal recipients.
“Between the full mission trainers (SIMs), Weapons and Tactics Trainers (WTTs), and academics that we provide in our facilities, our people account for 75 percent of all the training a brand new F-22 pilot receives,” Anhalt said. “Without our facilities and equipment, the F-22 pipeline would have come to a complete standstill, and the future of Air Dominance would have been at significant risk. We verified all equipment was working the week after the storm, and we started training in our facilities within one month after the storm. The reason we were able to bring our mission back online so quickly was 100 percent due to the dedicated people of the TRSS.”
The squadron is the only producer of Air Dominance F-22 pilots in the Air Force, and touts producing about 60 pilots per year, 28 of them having the F-22 as their first combat aircraft.
The employees at the 325th TRSS are a mix of career specialties, all of which came out to help, including instructor pilots, graphic designers, administrative personnel, education technicians, security specialists, and scheduling personnel among others. Most of the volunteers, however, fell into two separate categories of making sure the 325th TRSS was able to become operational again. The categories were the mission capability demonstration (MCD) team that worked hard at standing up the eight Full Mission Trainer F-22 Simulators, and the mold mitigation and remediation escort (MMARE) team that concentrated on recovery efforts of the building itself while providing physical security to the classified areas.
There were seven individuals, who received their award with their own citations, as they went above and beyond the call of duty. All of their efforts were in addition to contributing to one of the teams cited above.
One of those people was Jennifer McGrew, 325th TRSS facility manager. McGrew, was the first employee out to assess and mitigate the damage, and in addition to the duties of the MMARE team, volunteered 470 hours of her time cleaning, securing and recovering both squadron assets as well as personal employee items. She also made it her priority to coordinate efforts to make sure the squadron was built back and operational as soon as possible, with quality in mind.
Also, above and beyond in his efforts, was Cleo Hobbs, 325th TRSS facilities flight commander. Hobbs dedicated 500 hours scheduling the MMARE team, keeping personnel updated, securing and saving personal items, and coordinating build back efforts for the facilities that were devastated.
Robert Hinkle, 325th TRSS assistant director of operations, spent 256 hours coordinating the squadron’s rebuild by scheduling contractors to do what was necessary considering mission critical training that was taking place in the continually improving facility.
Volunteering 200 hours toward recovery efforts, Odie Ladtkow, 325th TRSS flight commander, was instrumental in restoring the operation mission of the squadron. He completed this by organizing volunteer schedules and developing the reconstitution plan. He also ensured a smooth transition for student pilots who were forced to commute back and forth from Eglin for training by supplying them with necessary resources.
Skip Sanders, 325th TRSS Tyndall Enterprise Live Mission Operations Center functional director, spent 120 hours leading the range infrastructure recovery team. He did this by directing communication antenna relocation, aircraft tracking system restoration, and return of data transmission capability to the Gulf Test and Training Ranges. Because of this, full operational capability was restored in less than three months, assuring higher headquarters that more than 32,500 square miles of airspace were once again available for training.
As part of the MCD team, Spike Aldrich, 325th TRSS civilian simulator instructor, spent 50 hours of his time safeguarding the unit mission by helping to get things operational as fast as possible. He accomplished this by preparing student pilots for their new operating location, training them for new airspace, and continuing to train in the TRSS facilities during construction in austere conditions.
Bradford Young, 325th TRSS weapons flight commander, spent 40 hours toward the preservation and rebuild of the squadron. In doing this, he secured valuable TELMOC belongings, made sure mission essential resources were preserved and helped to secure the academic simulator building and its assets. He also worked in the initial recovery phase, by getting the simulators to operational status as well as generating schedules and organizing information for flight members to that end.
“The TRSS is critically important to Tyndall AFB and the 325th FW mission to train and project unrivaled combat airpower,” Kane said. “The [squadron] is a unique group of highly experienced personnel who provide world-class facilities, support and instruction to all of our F-22 students, and they do phenomenal work.”