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Wed, Sep 21, 2005

The Big Shuffle

Military Moves Air Fleet Around In Face Of Hurricanes

Just weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast region, Hurricane Ophelia threatened communities along the East Coast, forcing military bases to act fast.

As of Sept. 14, 48 F-15E Strike Eagles, three KC-135 Stratotankers and 180 people had evacuated from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC, to here. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC, sent four C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and 45 people. Aircraft and people began arriving Sept. 12.

"(This base) provides a safe haven for other bases to protect their aircraft," said Col. Peter Oertel, 88th Operations Support Squadron commander. "This allows the Air Force mission to continue unrestricted and helps protect the investment in aircraft made by American taxpayers."

During inclement weather, military aircraft often relocate to avoid damage to valuable equipment. Ophelia drenched North Carolina with heavy rain and high winds for three days. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and was moving northeast as of Sept. 16.

"When you have $50-million airplanes apiece, you need to support the taxpayers' equipment and that's what we're doing," said Col. Mark Larson, 4th Operations Group commander at Seymour Johnson. The base received only minor damage from the storm, said a base spokesman.

The airfield here can accommodate up to several hundred aircraft. Base officials coordinate with other bases, stations and units throughout the Department of Defense as part of a yearly plan to serve as host for aircraft and people when evacuations become necessary.

And when bases call, Wright Patterson is ready, said Col. Andrew Weaver, installation commander.

"We've been ready for months," Colonel Weaver said. "In support of our normal battle rhythm, we get ready a couple months ahead of hurricane season."

FMI: www.af.mil

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