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1,100 Keesler Airmen-in-training transfer to Sheppard in the wake of Hurricane Katrina

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AETCNS) -- Air Education and Training Command informed 82nd Training Wing officials Aug 31 that 1,100 technical training students from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., would relocate to Sheppard.

Keesler was left under water after Hurricane Katrina made landfall earlier this week, displacing thousands of military and civilian personnel.

The tidal surge that followed the hurricane's high winds devastated the base, according to Keesler officials. Nearly every building received damage. Many roads still remain chocked with debris. There is no electrical power available, except that provided by emergency generators to critical buildings.

Brig. Gen. James Whitmore, 82nd Training Wing commander, said there are a lot of our young Airmen who have been in shelters since Aug. 28 and need a place to stay. He said he discussed the possibility of transferring some of them to Sheppard for care earlier this week with Maj. Gen. Loyd Utterback, 2nd Air Force commander.

General Whitmore said Sheppard is ready to help when and where needed to make sure the transition for the Airmen is seamless and with as little anxiety as possible.

"We all need to be very sensitive to the fact that these are young Airmen who are new to our Air Force," he said. "We need to provide comfort for them."

The first load of Airmen arrived via C-17 Globemaster III early afternoon on Sept. 1 and another aircraft arrived later in the evening. Airmen will continue to arrive at Sheppard over the next couple of days.

General Whitmore said it's important to get the Airmen into a squadron or dorm that seems logical, such as electronics Airmen assigned to a dormitory that already has electronics or avionics Airmen.

"My intent is to assign them to a unit that can take them under their wing and treat them as one of their own," he said. "We have to have that positive hand-off."

The general said the next important step after the Airmen arrive is to ensure they have contact with family members.

"I want their families to know they have been relocated from Keesler to Sheppard and they are ok," he said.

It's too early to tell the long term impact of the devastation of Katrina at Keesler and what it could mean for the Airmen transferred here. But, General Whitmore said that is not the focus of the move at this time.

"It's too soon to speculate on the longer term training impact that this might result in," he said. "Right now, our focus is on the short term caring and feeding of these Airmen who need our help."

Mission support group personnel at Sheppard spent most of Sept. 1 preparing for the arrival of Airmen including setting up an in-processing line at the Airman's Club and preparing all dormitories as living quarters for the Airmen.

Keesler, home of the 81st TRW, is responsible for nearly 500 training courses both locally and at other bases. On an average day, Keesler trains nearly 4,700 students in communications, command and control, weather, manpower and personnel, and comptroller services.

(Louis A. Arana-Barradas of Air Force Print News contributed to this article)
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