NAVAL AIR STATION FORT WORTH JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas (NNS) -- As an inland military base, hurricanes are not much of a threat to Naval Air Station (NAS) Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base (JRB) and yet these forces of nature can still impact the installation by calling on it to serve as a safe haven for military people and equipment that are in harm's way.
"The base's North Texas location was key in selecting it as a continuity of operations (COOP) site, which includes acting as safe haven supporting the evacuation of aircraft and personnel from coastal installations in the southeast and Gulf of Mexico due to threats of hurricanes or tropical storms," said Capt. Mike Steffen, commander, NAS Fort Worth JRB.
"Hurricane Matthew's projected path is having a dramatic impact on numerous military installations from Miami all the way to Charleston. Our ability to serve as a safe haven is a critical contribution to the safety of the people and aviation assets at the impacted installations," added the captain. "We have already received a mix of aircraft and are tentatively expecting another group to arrive Oct. 7, weather dependent."
While evacuation operations are something military units do train for out of necessity, they are definitely not welcome events but perhaps even more so for the members and families of Patrol Squadron (VP) 5, the Mad Foxes and VP-8, the Flying Tigers, stationed onboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida.
VP-5 and VP-8 both just got back from deployment within the last week, according to Lt. Cmdr. Aiden Carrigg, P-8 pilot and the hurricane evacuation detachment's officer in charge.
"We had a six-month deployment in the Western Pacific," added Lt. Ryan Duffy, a P-8 pilot assigned to VP-8, "and four days off when we got back which gave us time to get everything in order before we evacuated the aircraft."
"The Sailors who evacuated with us came on a voluntary basis and were willing to come since they did not have anything big at home to take care of, even with just being back from a deployment," said the lieutenant.
However, even though there were volunteers, "It has been pretty hectic ramping the squadron up to send eight total aircraft out here just coming off a deployment," said Carrigg. "We received the orders to execute a couple of days ago. There were a lot of logistical concerns and it was short notice. Plus, there was a lot of uncertainty in the forecast, so we tried to wait until the last possible moment to make sure we did need to evacuate these aircraft out."
Although the pilots, crews and aircraft have evacuated safely, they still have concerns about family and responsibilities back home.
"My wife is seven-months pregnant and we have two daughters, age four and two, who are sheltering in place in Jacksonville," said Carrigg. "We have lots of supplies and our home is pretty far inland so I'm pretty confident that they will be able to ride out the storm."
"It's tough [to leave them behind to ride out the Hurricane] but what makes it easier is having the support system in place that we do have such as friends and neighbors," he said. "And, all of our squadron mates back home are looking out for them. Lots of them have reached out and offered to help. In addition, the accountability measure the Navy has helps keep track of all family members in the event of a natural disaster such as this."
"And my wife...she's a Navy wife. She's tough and can roll with the punches," added Carrigg.
For Petty Officer Second Class Jonathan Stokes, Aviation Warfare Systems operator on the P-8, his thoughts are a little more north.
"I'm single, however my family does live in Georgia about an hour away from Jacksonville," said Stokes. "The last update I got from them was that it was getting really windy and they were 'hunkering down' and getting prepared for the storm to come through."
In Duffy's situation, his concerns are his dog and his house, not necessarily in that order.
"Personally, I don't have a lot to worry about back there. My girlfriend is deployed right now, so one of the other pilots in the squadron is watching the dog," Duffy explained. "I've also got five other officers staying at my house because they had to evacuate the beach in Jacksonville. I did have to tell the guys, 'No partying. Keep it nice.' So hopefully, I have a house when I get back."
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