After braving the elements, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is returning to normal operations days after Hurricane Matthew swept the East Coast. The planning and preparation prior to Matthew was the key to a prompt recovery of main base operations and establishing infrastructure.
"If it looks like there’s a possibility a hurricane is going to hit our local area we immediately begin preparations," said Lt. Col. Douglas Seich, the commanding officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and part of the destructive weather team. "The key was that we made a plan early. As the storm gets closer, we start a timeline five days out for specific sets of conditions we go to in order to prepare for the hurricane-the higher the probability it will come to our area the more involved we get with those steps for preparedness."
MCAS Beaufort issued an evacuation order for all nonessential personnel and families aboard the air station and Laurel Bay on Oct. 4. This order allowed for more time and preparation for all evacuees to leave their residences and find shelter. Although Matthew was forecasted to make landfall on the South Carolina coastal line as a Tropical Cyclone Category 2, the potential property damage and injury was imminent.
"We had winds in the 40 knots sustained, close to 60 knots at times, with a Category 2 hurricane off our coast," said Seich. "This causes trees to fall and penetrate roofs causing property damage and potential injury or death to the members of the household. If a storm of that magnitude causes this level of damage imagine what it would be if it was a full on hurricane and hit us directly. Therefore the call to evacuate both the county and the air station family members was critical, particularly to do it early and in a controlled manner. "
A destructive weather team, manned by essential personnel, stayed on the air station in preparation of Matthew’s aftermath. The unit, composed by Marines and sailors from units across MCAS Beaufort, established a centralized location where they would brave the elements and respond to any cleanup and recovery efforts if needed.
"The main purpose to keep the Marines behind was to assist in the recovery efforts to help out other Marines and family members," said Sgt. Maj. Edward Hebron, sergeant major of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. "We have to make sure that when the families returned home, there was a safe and livable environment."
A unit of particular importance was the Security Augment Force. The Marines and Sailors who were part of the SAF played a large role in the preparation and recovery efforts, not only with numbers but with participation before, during and after the hurricane.
"Part of our purpose here was to provide support for the Provost Marshal’s Office if needed," said Sgt. Tucker Miller, platoon guide with SAF. "After the storm, we helped out with the recovery and cleanup efforts. Marines and sailors from all specialties make up the this unit and they got a chance not only to help out with the efforts but to create unit cohesion while getting to work with each other. "
Almost immediately after Hurricane Matthew passed, the Marines and Sailors began the cleanup efforts as MCAS Beaufort sustained downed trees, flooding, and power outages both on the air station and Laurel Bay. For the next two days, all personnel aboard the air station worked from sun up to sun down to restore normal operations. A feat accomplished by the determination and motivation of the destructive weather personnel.
"For the SAF Marines, this is the second holiday period they missed making sure that the base and Laurel Bay were secure but still did a phenomenal job. My hat goes off to the Marines and Sailors that were part of SAF," said Hebron "Even though every Marine and sailor was working through a holiday, they did not care and got the mission done with a smile on their face. When you think of the words Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful, it’s about taking care of each other and that’s what we did here."