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Recovery team repairing Keesler AFB infrastructure

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AETCNS) -- The Air Force has distributed nearly $90 million to speed repairs of Keesler AFB's storm-ravaged infrastructure.

"Keesler's recovery team has done a great job of identifying its areas of greatest need, and the Air Force is moving rapidly to get those projects moving," said Col. Irvin Lee, who is heading Air Education and Training Command's civil engineer response to Hurricane Katrina.

Air Force officials estimate Hurricane Katrina caused close to $1 billion in damage when it swept across the Gulf Coast facility Aug. 29. "The base suffered extensive damage to its industrial and housing areas," said Maj. Ray Mottley, commander of the 81st Civil Engineer Squadron at Keesler. The storm pounded Keesler with sustained 110 mile-per-hour winds and the base-wide flooding reached as high as six feet in many areas.

"More than $63 million has been distributed to Air Force, Navy and base contract service agents to fund immediate repair and renovation of key installation facilities," said Dennis Guadarrama, AETC's technical training engineering branch chief. "We have contractors on site now with reconstruction work being directed by Keesler officials."

Another $33 million is being used to start repairing the damage to Keesler's military family housing units. Base officials estimate the damage to the base's 1,588 family housing units could exceed $299 million.

"Nearly all of the military family housing units have some damage," said Michael Reese, Keesler's housing manager. "But the amount of damage varies, and some of the units are livable. We had approximately 400 military members return to their homes late last week, and about 80 found the units severely damaged and were reassigned other units."

As quickly as the Air Force moved to fund initial infrastructure repairs, expeditionary engineers responded even faster.

Working with Air Force experts in infrastructure repair and reconstruction, the 81st Training Wing recovery team has made the base runways and roads operational. Keesler is also able to meet its needs for electricity, sewage and refuse disposal and has limited but functional capability for grounds maintenance, custodial services, housing maintenance and natural gas supply. Base officials said the base water system maintained integrity throughout the storm.

Among the first expeditionary engineers on scene were:

- The 823rd RED HORSE Civil Engineer Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Fla., sent a rapid deployment team of more than 100 people to perform debris removal, facility assessments and utility system repair.

- A 10-person Air Force Contract Augmentation Program team from the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency at Tyndall AFB, Fla., to conduct initial damage assessments and expeditionary facility repairs.

- AFCESA also sent a nine-person maintenance, inspection and repair team to help restore power to the base as well as a three-person pavements evaluation team to conduct an airfield pavement assessment.

- Luke AFB, Ariz, sent a 54-person Prime BEEF engineering team to assist Keesler's civil engineers with base recovery operations.

- Six-person fire fighting teams were detailed from Randolph AFB, Texas, and Altus AFB, Okla., to provide airfield fire protection of a U.S. Army Helicopter unit brought in to support Joint Task Force Katrina.

- HQ AETC, Hurlburt Field, Eglin AFB, Fla., and Maxwell AFB, Ala., supplied a four-person team of housing specialists to assist displaced families.

AETC civil engineer officials said additional funding and manpower support is on the way.

"The Air Force is continuing to provide Keesler with the financial and manpower resources it needs to restore the base infrastructure to a level that can sustain its training and humanitarian missions," said Colonel Lee. "We know this is a marathon, but we have gotten off to a pretty fast start."
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