By Tech. Sgt. Chris Vadnais, Air Force Print News
WAKE ISLAND (AFPN) — A 53-person team of 15th Airlift Wing Airmen, Defense Department employees and contractors arrived here Sept. 12 on a C-17 Globemaster III from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
The team of civil engineers and communications experts came to assess damage caused by Super Typhoon Ioke and report the findings to Gen. Paul V. Hester, Pacific Air Forces commander.
“Our job is to figure out the price tag on the damage,” said Maj. Ron Pieri, 15th Civil Engineer Squadron operations officer. “We know that's going to take some time. What we don't know for sure is how much time.”
Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Yereance, one of the civil engineer team leaders, said it will be tough to tell how long the assessment will take. All his teams have seen so far is satellite imagery and notes from 36th Contingency Response Group at Andersen AFB, Guam, which arrived at Wake Island earlier this month.
“It could be anywhere from a week or 10 days to a month, possibly, just depending on how much damage is done to the facilities,” he said.
Ioke hit the atoll Aug. 31 with 155 mph winds and gusts to 190 mph. By then, Air Force officials already had used two C-17s from Hickam to evacuate all 188 of the island's residents.
For several of those residents, Sept. 12 marked a return home. After two weeks away, with only satellite photos of damage to go on, anxiety was high. “We're anxious to get back and take a look at things and see the damage or problems that we might have that we can't see from the photos,” said Jimmie Taylor, who has lived on Wake Island for a year and a half. “We just don't know how much damage there really is.”
Responses to natural disasters like this are exactly the kinds of missions U.S. Pacific Command and Pacific Air Forces officials had in mind for Hickam's C-17 fleet. The C-130 Hercules they replaced would take nearly twice as long to fly to the island and carried far less cargo. Airlift support from outside PACAF likely would take days to coordinate.
Wake Island serves as a scientific outpost and a midpoint air base for military aircraft flying across the Pacific Ocean.