By Captain Jenna Knezacek
Canadian Detachment Tyndall
Padre Jim Hardwick (left) accompanies Lieutenant-General Christopher Coates (right), NORAD Deputy Commander, as they field questions from Canadian Detachment Tyndall members and their families. There are approximately 90 Canadian military and family members recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Michael.
The cleanup effort at Tyndall Air Force Base continues with the goal of resuming base operations in January 2019. (Courtesy photo)
Residents near Tyndall Air Force Base return home to survey the damage wrought by Hurricane Michael. (Courtesy photo)
Hurricane Michael made landfall near Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base on October 10 with sustained winds of 155 mph as a category four hurricane. A Category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 157 miles per hour, destroys most homes in its path and cripples key infrastructure such as power, water and communications systems.
In advance of the hurricane’s arrival, Tyndall AFB leadership issued mandatory evacuation orders for all members and their families. A select few either stayed at Tyndall or moved to Langley AFB to sustain its homeland defense mission.
Michael slammed into the area as a strong Category 4 hurricane. The eye passed over Tyndall AFB and moved northward into Panama City and Lynn Haven leaving utter destruction in its path.
In the wake of the Hurricane, Tyndall AFB housing was left 100% uninhabitable. The devastation at Panama City and Lynn Haven left the towns unrecognizable; and Mexico Beach, Fl. was nearly wiped from the map. Many residents who remained behind were trapped without passable roads, electricity, water, or communications capabilities. Cell towers were down, water treatment plants contaminated, and the electric grid was ruined. Many residents, including members of the Canadian Detachment, lost their homes or sustained significant property damage.
Over ten days after the storm, Bay County was still without potable water and many areas were still without power, and reliable communications. All area schools were either closed or used as shelters leaving all children, except homeschoolers, in the county without a means of education. To accommodate for the lack of resources and uninhabitable homes, the Tyndall Canadian Detachment remains displaced, taking up residence in Destin, Florida.
Every evening the team and their families huddle together to get updates on what is happening with their homes, how the American and Canadian militaries are supporting them, and to share their concerns on what the future holds.
On October 18, Lieutenant-General (Lt. Gen.) Christopher Coates, Deputy Commander, North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and Commander Canadian Element NORAD, traveled from NORAD headquarters in Colorado to speak with the Detachment military members and their families. He came to hear their stories, provide guidance, and act as the voice for their concerns. With the future of schooling, housing, and work still unknown, the visit from Lt. Gen. Coates was timely.
The Deputy Commander NORAD listened to the individual experiences of the Detachment members, their concerns about children’s’ educational futures, fielded questions about funding, and addressed members’ uncertainties about their employment, especially if they can continue to support the NORAD while displaced.
He reiterated that though he could make no promises, he would be the voice and provide a direct line to those high level offices that are empowered to provide aid to our displaced Canadian Armed Forces families.
To that end, he authorized an assistance team from Ottawa to arrive within 36hrs. He promised that he would bring the experiences of the Canadians all the way up to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and other senior Defence officials.
In addressing the nearly ninety military and family members, Lt. Gen. Coates stated, “There will be no lack of challenges for those of you that want to get things done. Find where you can add value and dig in.”
The Canadian Detachment Tyndall is up to those challenges and is maintaining its commitment to its NORAD mission of aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for North America; as well as contributing to its American compatriots’ effort to cleanup and reconstitute Tyndall AFB headquarters and its Air Operations Center.