Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson pledged to help Offutt Air Force Base recover from the devastating flood that swamped one-third of the Nebraska base during a visit there Friday.
“The United States Air Force will rebuild Offutt Air Force Base,” Wilson said. “We will work with the Nebraska congressional delegation to secure supplemental funds to be able to recover from the damage and make this base even better than it was.”
In a Saturday release, the Air Force said Wilson met with Offutt leaders and elected officials in the area — including Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a retired Air Force brigadier general — during her visit to discuss rebuilding the base. Wilson said the Air Force is flying in resources to help the base assess its damage and begin reconstruction.
She applauded the leaders at the base, the home of the 55th Wing, for their preparations.
And she met with and praised some of the base personnel who prepared for the flooding, including a National Guardsman who spent 10 hours filling sandbags and the wife of an airman who worked at the Bennie Davis Maintenance Facility, who moved items from people’s offices to higher ground.
“There were no injuries, no loss of life on this base,” Wilson said. “All the aircraft were either flown out or moved to high ground. A lot of the ground equipment was saved because [base leadership] called in everybody in an all-hands effort.”
Wilson quoted Bruce McCauley, deputy director of the 55th Civil Engineer Squadron, who said, “Mother Nature can’t beat the 55th Wing.”
But the Air Force faces a considerable task ahead — and questions remain about how it will pay for it.
The Missouri River and Papio Creek’s flooding began overwhelming Offutt March 15, swamping 30 buildings and a large portion of the base’s flightline, and prompting the base to evacuate nine aircraft. Base personnel filled 235,000 sandbags in an unsuccessful attempt to try to hold back the waters.
The base last Wednesday began working its way through flood-damaged buildings as waters receded. But the base faces a lengthy recovery process.
The Air Force is also growing worried about the lack of supplemental funding to pay for natural disaster recoveries at hurricane-ravaged Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, and now Offutt. In a roundtable with reporters on Friday, John Henderson, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for installations, environment and industry, said the service may have to start using money from operations and maintenance funds to cover disaster recovery costs if supplemental funding doesn’t come through soon.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.