MacDill Aircraft ride out Hurricane Dennis at McConnell
by Capt. Brus E. Vidal
McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.-- Seven KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft from MacDill AFB, Fla., and two KC-135Rs from Key Field, Miss., landed here July 8 and 9 after evacuating from their home stations due to dangerous weather conditions associated with Hurricane Dennis.
Approximately three dozen Airmen, mostly aircrew, from MacDill AFB's 6th Air Mobility Wing, and Key Field's 186th Air Refueling Wing, accompanied the aircraft.
McConnell is the primary relocation destination for a number of Air Force bases on the East Coast because the base has a large runway and can provide and sustain the necessary support for the aircraft and associated personnel.
Each base with the potential to fall within the path of a hurricane has a hurricane plan and every Air Force base has a relocation plan, updated annually. The plans spell out contingency tactics for various relocation or evacuation scenarios if the situation arises, as it did due to conditions stemming from Hurricane Dennis in Florida, according to Maj. Jeff A. Myer, 22nd Operations Support Squadron and 22nd Operations Group Aircraft Reception project officer.
"With little time to prepare, the cross-functional Reception Committee consisting of military and civilians from dozens of agencies across the Wing quickly meshed as one cohesive team to make this mission happen," Major Myer said. "From the time the first jet arrived from MacDill, Team McConnell responded and the entire support system operated like clockwork until the final jet landed here.
McConnell's team worked to establish aircraft parking, security, transportation, lodging, communication, personnel accountability and other needs for the group of more than 35 Airmen, their equipment and the aircraft. Coping with the distressing and complicated task of escaping the hurricane-like conditions was only part of the challenge for the Airmen accompanying their aircraft to McConnell, who had to leave their families behind.
The planes arrived safely and were secured on the ground in Kansas, but McConnell's reception team was well-prepared to help the transient personnel cope with worries about the family members left behind, according to Tech. Sgt. Frank Prevost, Family Readiness Program coordinator, Family Support Center, 22nd Mission Support Squadron.
"The seamless collaboration of Team McConnell people made certain all the needs of each military guest was met," said Sergeant Prevost.
Representatives from the base chapel, crew communications shop, Military Equal Opportunity Flight, Military Personnel Flight, 22nd ARW Safety, 22nd Services Squadron, base transportation and the ramp coordinator came out and greeted each crew as they arrived.
"Each agency's representative took their turn informing the evacuees of services that were available to them throughout their stay," Sergeant Prevost said.
The overall Team McConnell effort did not go unnoticed by the evacuated Airmen.
"The reception was incredible," said Maj. Teri Consoldane, MacDill Relocation Task Force commander and member of the 91st Air Refueling Squadron there.
"We come to McConnell to get the aircraft far away from the weather and MacDill is pretty accustomed to this routine, but I would've never expected such great support," said Major Consoldane, who experienced numerous typhoons while assigned to Andersen AFB but had never evacuated for a hurricane in her short time at MacDill. "The hospitality here was second to none and I received nothing but glowing comments from my team."
One part of the hospitality Major Consodane - who left a husband and three children behind - and her team were especially thankful for was the ability to place morale calls to those family members back in the path of the storms. The 22nd Air Refueling Wing vice commander, Col. David J. Kramer, authorized free morale calls to all relocated members.
"The support folks here are awesome at recovering us, getting us ready, getting us into our hotel and taking care of our needs while we're away from home," said Lt. Joseph Carr, 91st ARS. "We just sit and wait for the storm to pass."