Correction: A previous version of this story misstated which fighter jets are located at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. The base flies F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Air Force and Space Force bases in Florida have started assessing the damage from Hurricane Ian after the powerful Category 4 storm swept across the peninsula Wednesday.
Early indications showed that units managed to avoid widespread destruction.
In the wake of the storm so far, at least 13 people are dead and more than 2.6 million are without power, according to USA Today.
MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, north of where Ian made landfall, dispatched its recovery teams on Thursday. The base is home to the 6th Air Refueling Wing, which flies KC-135 Stratotankers. It evacuated the jets to Fairchild AFB, Washington, earlier in the week.
“All personnel have been ordered to return to their residence no later than midnight tomorrow,” 2nd Lt. Kristin Nielsen said.
The base told troops to expect regular operations to resume Oct. 3. It had warned them not to come back to the installation while the recovery team began inspecting the grounds.
“In coordination with Hillsborough County recovery efforts, [MacDill’s] highly trained hurricane recovery team returned to ensure the safe restoration of infrastructure, the airfield and command-and-control functions necessary to resume mission operations,” 6th Civil Engineering Squadron Director Amy Doye said in a release. “The damage assessment team … will develop the recovery plan.”
MacDill said fewer law enforcement personnel and home repairmen would be able to help on base. “Cell phone reception is severely degraded,” it added. “Base services are not available.”
MacDill is also home to the domestic headquarters for U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, which instructed people to obey local authorities’ orders about debris and other hazards around the area.
SOCOM thanked its troops for listening to warnings about the storm and taking proper precautions.
“Your around-the-clock efforts have also allowed USSOCOM Headquarters to maintain all critical functions through command centers established in Tampa and the National Capital Region,” it wrote Wednesday.
On Florida’s east coast, Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station may have avoided a worst-case scenario. Spokesperson Heather Scott said Thursday morning that initial reports indicated minimal damage to the iconic space launch facilities.
“Recovery and response teams have not yet been dispatched,” she added. “Once … it is safe to do so, our teams will perform assessments.”
The Florida Panhandle also escaped relatively unscathed in comparison.
Ilka Cole, a spokesperson for the 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB, said the host organization didn’t evacuate its aircraft and wasn’t affected by the hurricane. Neither did its 53rd Wing, a sister organization at the base.
The 33rd Fighter Wing, which trains pilots and maintainers on the F-35A Lightning II, moved 25 of the jets from Eglin to a base in Louisiana.
Tyndall AFB, east of Eglin, also received the all-clear to resume normal operations, the base said Thursday. The Florida Panhandle base is still rebuilding from a devastating direct hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018 that has upended airmen’s lives and cost billions of dollars in repairs.
A spokesperson for Hurlburt Field, an Air Force special operations base in the same region, did not provide an update by press time Thursday. The installation evacuated its MC-130J Commando II and MC-130H Combat Talon II airlifters and the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, ahead of the storm.
At the same time, installations in South Carolina are bracing as Ian — which was downgraded to a tropical storm early Thursday — bowls toward Charleston. The storm is projected to bring heavy rain and wind Thursday evening and make landfall there Friday.
“There is no evacuation order in place, so prepare to hunker down and take all the necessary safety precautions,” Joint Base Charleston said on Facebook Thursday.
Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, expects to see severe weather starting Friday morning.
“The local area is expected to experience high winds and heavy rains, currently forecasted at over 4 inches of rainfall on Friday,” it said. “Some areas of the base that are low-lying are subject to flash flooding.”
Photos showed the base’s F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets gathered in a hangar to ride out the storm.
Airmen at Shaw built flood barriers, cleaned storm drains, fueled generators and handed out sandbag materials. Only mission-essential personnel will report to work Friday.
“Our engineers, to include our emergency responders, have prepared all week for the potential impacts from the storm,” 20th Civil Engineer Squadron commander Lt. Col. Jimmy Oxendine said in a release. “We stand ready to respond anytime, anywhere in support of Team Shaw and the Sumter community.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.