Friday, April 29, 2011

TOP STORY > >For air base, it’s recovery, going to war

Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base has resumed deployments overseas following the tornado that struck the base Monday night.

The National Weather Service has assessed Monday night’s tornado that hit the base as an EF-2 (111-135 mph) tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale with a 5-mile path that was 1,000 feet wide. The tornado’s path extended from three-quarters of a mile east of Gravel Ridge to six miles southwest of Cabot.

The tornado damaged more than 100 base houses, with a dozen uninhabitable, damaged three C-130 aircraft and tore roofs off and damaged many buildings in the base’s flightline area.

But base airmen dusted off, picked each other up and immediately launched recovery efforts to take care of the families who were impacted by the storm.

Most of the base had power restored at week’s end.

The base’s mission rolled on early Thursday and Friday mornings with the deployment of airmen and aircraft from the 50th Airlift Squadron “Red Devils” — the first of nearly 20 C-130 Hercules aircraft and 1,000 airmen leaving for operations in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia.

This was the first deployment of airmen and aircraft from the base since the tornado.

“My hat’s off to our whole community for the extraordinary work they have done to take care of our deployers and their families while continuing to attend to the urgent needs of airmen and families impacted by Monday night’s tornado,” said Col. Mike Minihan, 19th Airlift Wing commander.

“It takes a total team effort to weather a devastating storm and continue our base’s mission to support warfighters without missing a beat. I am proud of our people and continually amazed by their sacrifice, dedication and professionalism,” Minihan added.

A town hall meeting was held Thursday afternoon with airmen and families affected directly by the tornado.

“The giving nature of Arkan-sans is simply overwhelming,” Bob Oldham, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, said in an email Thursday. “And I know that’s an understatement. You guys rock!

“Internally,” he continued, “our airmen have responded phenomenally to this equivalent of a boxer’s ‘shot to the chin.’ But, we’ve got our legs under us and we’re back in the fight.”

“Right now, their basic needs are being met,” Oldham continued. “They have food, shelter and clothing, but we owe it to them to help them move forward and put the pieces of their lives back together.”

Those basic needs include canned food and clothing for those displaced.

Donations are being accepted at First Arkansas Bank and Trust and Arkansas Federal Credit Union to help displaced airmen.

Cash, checks, or gift cards to assist with immediate living expenses are the most appreciated way to help. Financial donations to the “LRAFB Good Samaritan Fund” can be made at any First Arkansas Bank and Trust bank, Arkansas Federal Credit Union branch or at the Tornado Assistance Center located at the Thomas Community Activity Center on base.

Families need non-perishable food, furniture, clothing, kitchenwares and children’s toys.

Donated items may be dropped off at the Arkansas Federal Credit Union branch located at 4848 North Hills Blvd. in North Little Rock and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce located at 200 Dupree Drive at the intersection of Main Street, James Street and Dupree Drive.

First Arkansas Bank and Trust employees on Wednesday grilled hot dogs in front of its base branch. More than 600 meals were prepared.

The bank has established a Good Samaritan Fund for residents to make donations and assist displaced military families with financial assistance to purchase necessities. Donations may be made at any First Arkansas Bank location.

To keep up with the latest information on the base recovery, follow Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., on Facebook.

Arlo Taylor, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, and The Combat Airlifter, the newspaper at Little Rock Air Force Base, provided information for this report.