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Sheppard, AETC and AF officials to determine course for Keesler Airmen

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, (AETCNS) -- Brig. Gen. James Whitmore, 82nd Training Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Douglas Kessler, 82nd TRW command chief master sergeant, walk with Airmen from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Sept. 1 after they arrived on a C-17 Globemaster III. The Airmen were evacuated from the base after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sandy Wassenmiller)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, (AETCNS) -- Brig. Gen. James Whitmore, 82nd Training Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Douglas Kessler, 82nd TRW command chief master sergeant, walk with Airmen from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Sept. 1 after they arrived on a C-17 Globemaster III. The Airmen were evacuated from the base after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sandy Wassenmiller)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AETCNS) -- Sheppard leadership should find out soon a more definitive future for the more than 1,200 Airmen from Keesler AFB, Miss., arrived here Sept. 1 after Hurricane Katrina hit their base.

Senior Master Sgt. Terry Neuharth, superintendent of military training operations support at the 82nd Training Wing training operations office, said until a decision is made, Airmen will shadow permanent party members in the career field they are training in. He said Airmen will do duties they would accomplish at their operational base upon completion of training.

"Right now a lot will be employed within their squadron and other agencies," Sergeant Neuharth said. "They will get one-on-one type (on the job training) until further training is determined."

Airmen who were training in the finance career field will work at the 82nd Comptroller Squadron while those who are training to be personnelists will work at the 82nd Mission Support Squadron.

This will continue until Air Education and Training Command's career field managers make a final decision about how best to complete the Keesler Airmen's training, said Col. Lansen Conley, 82nd TRW vice commander.

There are Airmen in a few specific career fields who don't have a match here at Sheppard, such as air traffic controllers.

"That specialized training requires simulators," Sergeant Neuharth said, conceding that Sheppard does not have the equipment required to continue their training.

Sheppard, Air Education and Training Command and Air Force officials are weighing options for those Airmen.

Sergeant Neuharth said most of the Airmen really didn't understand what they had been through until they had a chance to gather their thoughts and see the damage on television.

"They were very sheltered on what happened down there," he said. "A lot of them saw it on CNN and it hit them then."

Most Airmen were able to get out of Keesler with most of their uniforms and civilian clothes. But, Sergeant Neuharth said there were a few who didn't have any more than the uniform they were wearing and another one in their duffel bag.

For those Airmen in need, he said squadron clothing recovery programs will help furnish uniforms.

"I think this is a great effort by Team Sheppard not only by providing the basics: food, shelter and clothing. But, by adopting them into the wing and providing military training," Colonel Conley said.

As of Sept. 7, Sheppard's evacuee count was 1,032.

The vice commander said some of the evacuees who are in the Guard or reserve, the ones who have graduated and the ones from the Army have gone back to their home units. Sheppard expects to send more of them home throughout the next week.

The rest of the evacuees at Sheppard will go through a schedule of activities, including the shadowing program, details, base cleanup efforts and drill to name a few until AETC leadership makes the call on how they'll continue their training.

"AETC is trying to minimize the on-the-job training load on operational commands," the colonel said.

"Eventually, they'll reconstitute Keesler and all its training capability," he said. "On an interim basis, they'll relocate some of the Keesler training to other AETC bases."

Sheppard leadership should find out next week what aspects of Keesler training will go to which bases.
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