By Airman First Class Sophia Robello, 7th Bomb Wing
/ Published March 19, 2021
Cots sit in the fitness center at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, February 19th 2021. The 7th Force Support Squadron set up warming stations and other amenities in the fitness center to provide for the Airmen and families of Dyess. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy photo)
Airmen with the 7th Bomb Wing use snowplows to clear out the snow at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, February 19th 2021. The snow left many challenges for personnel to find ways to keep the mission going. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy photo)
An Airman from the 7th Bomb Wing clears a path on the flightline at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, February 19th 2021. Despite the standstill, Airmen provided essential maintenance work to keep the base up and running. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
On February 14, a storm resulted in over 170 million Americans being placed under winter weather alerts across the United States. The winter storm caused power grids to fail across the U.S., causing blackouts for over 5.2 million homes and businesses with a vast majority being in Texas.
Despite the state of affairs and the standstill, Dyess Air Force Base personnel made incredible progress keeping the base up and running.
“Coming from Alaska, I knew this storm would require an unordinary approach given the amount of snowfall, our equipment, and our capabilities,” said Master Sgt. Randy Moorhouse, 7th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant. “We knew this was going to get busy and our focus was on keeping our critical facilities up and running.”
The amount of snow created challenges for personnel. Snow caused roads to be slick and dangerous to drive on, and the distance within teams made communication difficult. After hours requests increased for many mission essential shops.
“For the fire and emergency services flight, our total run volume quadrupled. We were out on emergency calls the majority of the time,” Moorhouse said. “Many emergencies came due to the storm, such as broken pipes, medical and ground emergencies, hazardous material spills, and even elevator rescues.”
Some parts of the Air Force team can pause their duties for a short time with limited impact on the overall mission while other mission essential teams needed to keep their operations up and running.
“We put plans into action to ensure our posted Airmen had heaters, sufficient cold weather clothing, that there was a safety plan for responses,” said Senior Master Sgt. Cody Green, 7th Security Forces Squadron operations and training superintendent. “We also had back up plans for food and water for our Airmen, families and Military Working Dogs."
The snowstorm coincided with the most recent Bomber Task Force to Norway, pushing back dates to allow time for planes to be prepared and acclimated to the weather. Sudden long-lasting cold caused consistent damage to the B-1’s which led to maintenance teams working constantly to keep them ready for the BTF deployment.
“It did slow things down quite a bit, especially with the ramp being covered in snow and ice our people had to slow down to stay safe while they worked,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kristen Shadden, 7th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “We had to get the aircraft deployed.”
“We, as the 7th Bomb Wing, had committed to the combatant commanders that we were going to have four aircraft that deployed to Norway, and that was the goal,” Shadden explained. “We had to make sure we had all these aircraft, including spares available, so that we could get these aircraft launched out on time.”
The members of the 9th AMU asked for volunteers to get the BTF jets up and running, and had an incredible turnout. Many were turned down with the amount of people coming to volunteer, as everyone was excited to get the mission done.
Even off of the flightline, mission essential personnel were hard at work providing for the base. Members of the 7th Force Support Squadron opened the Fitness Center for Dyess personnel who were without electricity and water during the storm. The first sergeants also helped accommodate Airmen in need during this time.
“Our people never stopped working throughout the times they were needed,” said Lorice Pierce, 7th Force Support Squadron interim deputy director. “This event helped our Airmen come together, establish a base of operations and manage operations to help personnel work through any future natural disasters.”
Despite the incredible coordination and reaction time of the various squadrons, there are many lessons learned for the next weather emergency. Purchasing proper tools, learning the locations of vital equipment and services, and a new need for repairs of outdated infrastructure around base are only a few of the many valuable lessons learned from this.
“We love doing our mission and our mission is taking care of Airmen,” said Pierce. “This incident helped us learn how our brother squadrons within the 7th Bomb Wing can come together with the sole focus of caring for its people and mission. This showed that we are one team with one mindset of being able to open our doors as best we can after a natural disaster to support Team Dyess.”