Wednesday, August 31, 2005

TOP STORY >> Base harbors planes fleeing from Katrina

Leader staff writer

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission may have bought Sen. Hillary Clinton’s argument that Little Rock Air Force Base is in tornado alley and too weather-vulnerable to be home to a new batch of C-130s, but for the second time in two months the Jacksonville base provided safe harbor to Air Force planes fleeing hurricanes.
An unspecified number of C-130s from Hurlburt Field in Florida moved to LRAFB to ride out Hurricane Katrina while remaining on alert. The planes and airmen of the 16th Special Operations Wing support the war on terrorism, according to Lt. Jon Quinlan of Little Rock’s 314th Airlift Wing.

The Jacksonville base also is playing host to airmen and C-21s from the 81st Training wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss.

That base sustained significant damage in a direct hit by the hurricane, according to Quinlan, and LRAFB brass have been determining what local assets might be of use to Keesler. Those range from supplies to housing units, he said. “Some housing at Keesler was completely obliterated.

“We’ve been getting calls from families (who can’t reach) airmen at Keesler,” Quinlan said.
“The decision to evacuate (Hurlburt) was made Sunday morning,” said Col. Mark Alsid, 16th Operations Group commander. “With the storm being as big as it was, we couldn’t take any chances.”

The units received a lot of support from Little Rock Airmen setting up everything from billeting arrangements to maintenance support. “It was a base-wide effort,” said Sgt. Dawson. “We have helped set up just about anything you can think of.” The support was well received by the 16th SOW.

“Without the tremendous support of Little Rock Air Force Base and the local community we wouldn’t be about to continue our mission,” said Alsid.

The last hurricane evacuation here was July 8 during Hurricane Dennis. This is the second hurricane evacuation of the season for the 16th special operations.