JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
On an early Friday morning in late August, three Air Force Civil Engineer Center project managers met in a conference room at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, to help 25,000 people start a new life.
Wayland Patterson, chief of AFCEC’s Air Force Contract Augmentation Program, and his team didn’t have much to go on. They knew it probably involved Afghanistan, but this tasking was vague – bed-down a lot of people at yet-to-be-determined facilities for an unknown period of time.
“We placed ourselves in the position of a person who had scaled the wall at Kabul Airport with just the clothes on their back,” Patterson said. “We surmised the worst situation they could be facing. They had nothing.”
The result: a $267 million “wraparound support” contract to provide services that a small city of people suddenly transported halfway around the world might need, including water, food, shelter, toilets, hygiene supplies and more, Patterson said.
From those early urgent meetings in a conference room to the current steady operations at two host installations, teams from across the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center have played a key role in Operation Allies Welcome, the evacuation and resettlement of thousands of Afghans and other civilians from Afghanistan, said Col. Bradley Johnson, AFCEC vice commander and lead for the CE center’s response.
“This has been a massive effort to move, house and support thousands of people in a very short time,” Johnson said. “Our first priority was supporting the installations, then the joint task forces that took over the operations. And throughout everything we’re doing, we know there are people counting on us to help them. That’s a powerful incentive.”
For James Garred, the incentive to help drove his team’s effort to turn the AFCAP requirement from idea to award in a matter of hours. Working with AFCEC and the host installations, Garred and Carolina Brost, a 772nd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron contracting officer, awarded the AFCAP contract to support up to 13,000 people at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and up to 5,000 at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The contract also helped reconstitute operations at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where the Air Force hosted about 4,500 Afghans and other civilians in the early days of the operation.
“Seeing the pictures of the Afghans holding on to an aircraft leaving Kabul was heartbreaking to me,” Garred said. “I had much empathy for the Afghans who supported our American troops during the 20-year Afghan conflict.”
Identifying installations to host Afghans and other civilians was the first step, Johnson said. AFIMSC’s Installation Support Directorate supported early analysis for potential host installations, and AFIMSC detachments were key links between the major commands, installations and AFIMSC.
With potential locations identified, a team of AFCEC real estate experts worked with those installations to make sure the land could be used for relief operations. Then the AFCEC National Environmental Policy Act team launched required environmental assessments at JBMDL, Holloman Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas.
NEPA Project Manager Erik Waldrip had been with AFCEC for about a month when he got the call to lead the environmental assessment at Holloman. The results, he said, have been rewarding.
“You often get to see your efforts come to fruition in a project several years later as an engineer,” he said. “The impact of the project is rarely of such importance or so immediate.”
AFCEC also helped installation commanders solve issues as they adjusted to the needs of the steady flow of people arriving at their bases, said Lt. Col. Brandon Rocker, Future Operations Branch chief with AFCEC’s National Disaster Recovery Directorate at Tyndall.
“There was a lot of unique infrastructure and bed-down needs,” Rocker said. “Some things we didn’t anticipate, because we simply didn’t know what to expect. Others were a little more in our wheelhouse and we had the tools to get after it.”
For example, the influx of people into Holloman meant the base needed more electricity from the nearby Alamogordo power grid. To compensate, the AFCEC Civil Engineer Maintenance Inspection and Repair Team pulled generators from the installation’s bare-base preparation kits, prepped transformers and developed a hybrid solution to reduce the draw on the grid.
“We’re engineers, and that’s what we do,” Rocker said. "We work with installation engineers on the ground to tailor solutions to each installation.”
The Air Force Security Forces Center also stepped in to provide security infrastructure and logistical support. The Security Forces Logistics Detail team at AFSFC's Desert Defender Ground Combat Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, postured more than $11 million in installation base defense capability sets and coordinated a convoy with three other agencies to transport the equipment to Holloman and JBMDL in four round-trip movements, said Lt. Col. Christopher Thompson, Desert Defender commander.
“The LOGDET team was up against grim odds to get the cargo trucks in such a time as needed due to location and other limiting factors,” Thompson said. “They had to think outside the box from typical deployment operations for them and look within Desert Defender.”
OAW is ongoing and while the need for innovative solutions will likely continue, Rocker’s future operations team is already preparing for the next emergent response, he said.
“We may never have another situation exactly like this,” Rocker said, “but we will probably see another short-notice requirement and the information we collect will help the next team succeed.”
In the meantime, some who were part of the AFIMSC effort take their lessons learned from the faces of the Afghans who are now safely in the United States. Garred, for example, got to see the impact of the Air Force’s effort firsthand during a trip to Holloman in late September.
“I loved seeing the Afghan kids playing and loving to chase after bubbles,” Garred said. “I was touched by how many of the kids would give me fist pumps and many of the Afghan men would tap their chests as a way of thank you. It is my hope and prayer they get acclimated to American life and become happy, peaceful and productive members of our society.”