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2009 blizzard brings out best in Sheppard

  • Published
  • By Public affairs staff report
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
The record snows of the 2009 Christmas blizzard brought almost everything and everyone in North Texas to a cold stop -- everything, that is, except Team Sheppard's spirit of service.

As the winds raged, men and women across Sheppard stepped up to help their neighbors, keep the airfield and the base as open as possible, and feed the Airmen in training who stayed over Exodus.

Leading the Frigid Fight
Like most of Team Sheppard, the base's senior officers left work as the blizzard rolled in, settling in at home to spend a quiet Christmas Eve with friends and family. But a little after 5 p.m., a call came into the Command Post from Lee Bourgoin, Wichita Falls Emergency Management director. Could Sheppard provide four-wheel drive vehicles and drivers to help rescue the scores of motorists stranded along Interstate 44 and Highway 287?

"Of course you want to find a way to help," said Col. Kimberley Ramos, 82nd Mission Support Group commander. "But as a commander, how do you call people into work on Christmas Eve -- and in the middle of a blizzard, which is going to put their safety at risk?"

Rather than call folks into work, Colonel Ramos and other group commanders, including Col. Timothy Bray, 82nd Medical Group; Col. Tony Pounds, 782nd Training Group, and Col. John Rausch, 982nd TRG, decided to do the job themselves. They were joined by several squadron commanders and other senior leaders who volunteered to help, including Lt. Col. Drew Daugherty, 82nd MSG deputy commander; Lt. Col. Kevin Franke, 882nd Training Support Squadron commander; Maj. Victor Anaya, 82nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, and Maj. Jon Sinclair, 882nd TRSS.

Tasked to work I-44 between Wichita Falls and Burkburnett, the Sheppard contingent's first job was digging out four government vehicles, two Humvees and five personal vehicles to form the convoy.

En route to Burkburnett, the team got an unfriendly reminder of the safety issues they had considered earlier -- Colonel Ramos' vehicle blew a tire and nearly rolled off the road. By the time the convoy fixed the tire, dug out again and marshaled at the Burkburnett Community Center, it was 9 p.m.

Side-by-side with the Burkburnett police and fire departments, the Sheppard convoy helped more than 60 people and two dogs off the highway and back to the shelter. After dropping off the final stranded driver at 2:30 a.m. Christmas morning, the group finally made it back home an hour later.

"It was really impressive to watch these officers give up their own Christmas and put their own safety on the line rather than take the easy road and call in more junior people," said Brig. Gen. O.G. Mannon, 82nd Training Wing commander. "They don't want me 'tooting their horn' if you will -- that's not why they were out there. But I think it's important for the men and women of Sheppard to know the character of the people leading them. Our values are integrity, service and excellence, and these officers walked the walk that night."

Another Call for Help
While the convoy was digging out its vehicles Dec. 24, another call came in -- this one from the City of Burkburnett. Cots and blankets were needed at the community center, where stranded drivers were being sheltered.

The senior leaders decided a group commander should stay behind to coordinate that effort, and deal with any other issues that arose. Colonel Rausch got the job, and quickly connected with Maj. Bob Hoskins, 82nd Force Support Squadron commander, for blankets and Maj. Amy Woosley, 882nd Medical Readiness Flight commander, for cots.

Colonel Rausch and his son, Conner, packed their truck full of blankets and linens and delivered them to Burkburnett.

Lt. Col. Henry Myers, 373rd Training Squadron commander, Master Sgt. Chase Smith and Staff Sgt. Adam Myers, 882nd TRSS, joined by students Airman 1st Class Genevieve Hernane, Airman 1st Class Carl Burnham and Airman Mike Dill, began breaking down and packing cots from the Medical Readiness Site.

The team then made two trips -- an hour each way -- to deliver the cargo to the 115 people taking refuge at the Burkburnett community center.

"We started at about 6 p.m. and didn't get home until after 3 a.m.," Sergeant Myers said. "But if I was stranded, I would want someone to help my family and me. If given the chance, I'd do it all again."

Back at Home Station
While some were out helping the community, others were working hard to keep the base as open as possible and ensure critical missions were getting done.

One of the most important missions was ensuring the 200-plus Airmen in Training who stayed at Sheppard over Exodus were fed -- a job that falls to the Work Services team.

Vickie Hanson, Work Services manager, didn't leave the base for four days, sleeping at the Sheppard Inn at night to make sure the Tumbleweed Dining Facility stayed open for the Airmen.

"We strive to never fail our troops," she said, "and I have never closed a facility due to weather."

Phil Cardinal, Work Services project manager, said that while he's used to his team doing outstanding work, he was astounded by the commitment to the Airmen his employees showed.

"The workers we had here Christmas Day stayed on base over night to make sure the Airmen got fed the next day," he said. "One of our workers was so committed they walked to work in spite of the weather conditions."

But the Airmen didn't just sit back and let themselves be served. Many chipped in to help, like Airman Romero Esparza, 382nd Training Squadron, who helped serve Christmas Eve dinner. Others, like Airman Donovan Rosinsky, 365th TRS, not only helped at meal time, but grabbed shovels to clear sidewalks of snow and ice.

That's also what the folks at DS2's Civil Engineering Equipment Shop were doing -- but on a much bigger scale.

"Our job was to make sure that the mission could continue on as much as possible," said Robert Crow, shop lead. "Without clearing the roads, no one was going to be able to move on base."

It was a task made all the more challenging because the base is simply not equipped to handle a snowfall of this magnitude, a 100-year event in North Texas. Plus, the team had to clear not only the roadways, but the runways -- a critical job for the local community because they are used by commercial aircraft flying into the municipal airport.

Darryl McCloy, heavy equipment operator, said he and his coworkers began working at about 7 a.m. Dec. 24 and didn't finish until Dec. 27.

"It was pretty much nonstop once we started that Thursday," he said.

Keeping the Lines Open
With people strung out all over Texoma and critical missions needing to get done under extraordinary circumstances, communication was vital, and also enormously challenging.

According to Colonel Ramos, one of the day's unsung heroes kept everything under control and everyone connected.

"We were out there with radios that didn't communicate with the local police or fire departments, trying to keep missions going and solving problems back at the base," she said. "(1st Lt. Alicia) Peasley at the command post was the critical link for everything, and did an outstanding job keeping us all connected, keeping track of who was doing what and where, and making sure everything got properly coordinated and recorded."

A Christmas to Remember
For the men and women who were out and about helping their neighbors or keeping the base going, Christmas probably didn't go quite as planned -- but is definitely one to remember.

"This is the best lesson I've ever had in the human spirit," said Mike Slye, Burkburnett city manager, "and it turned out to be my best Christmas ever. Our community was stressed to its limit, and we couldn't have done it without Sheppard Air Force Base."

It's a sentiment shared by the base's senior commander, General Mannon.

"You can't help but be proud to be part of our Air Force and our military when you see this kind of selfless service and dedication," he said. "And the thing is, these are just the stories we know about. There are probably five thousand more stories we don't know about, of our folks digging out cars, taking people in and shoveling out their neighbors. I want everyone to know that even if I don't personally know the story of what you did this Christmas to help your neighbor, I'm proud to serve with you and to be part of your team."