104th Airmen innovate and adapt during runway shift
By Staff Sgt. Matthew Benedetti, 104th Public Affairs, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published January 11, 2014
104th Fighter Wing, Westfield, Mass. -- BarnesStormers have long been accustomed to responding to contingencies and operating in austere environments. Trained to deploy worldwide within 72 hours, the men and women of the 104th Fighter Wing (FW) have consistently demonstrated their commitment to the mission, whenever and wherever called upon.
During a recent comprehensive runway construction project at Barnes, that mission required unit members to display their trademark initiative and resolve, in order to accomplish the mission. The runway location shift presented a myriad of logistical and operational obstacles that required careful planning, flexibility and inter-service cooperation.
After some debate, the unit's F-15 fighter operations were ultimately divided between the 102nd Intelligence Wing in Cape Cod and the 439th Air Reserve Wing located at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Mass.
During this temporary transition, the unit would need to manage simultaneous missions--maintain an alert posture on Cape Cod while conducting training missions out of Westover Air Reserve Base.
"We knew that we had to relocate. Initially, some of the choices were Savannah, Otis, Westover or even Hawaii. Though some the facilities had changed, as the former home of the 102nd Fighter Wing, Otis was a natural fit," said Senior Master Sgt. Gary Allen, A-Flight Chief for 104 FW.
Some of the areas needed repair. Areas of concrete needed to be fixed. Otis personnel began doing repair work prior to our site surveys. They took an active role and bent over backwards to assist," said the Southwick, Ma. native.
However, the relocation costs for the moving the entire unit to Cape Cod would prove to be prohibitive. "Otis was ideal but expenditures were going to be astronomical due to the travel costs. National Guard Bureau (NGB) allotted $1.2 million for the whole move. We needed to regroup with our relocation team and brainstorm. We had about two months to find a solution," he said.
"The Alert Mission was going to be fine at Otis but our continuous training folks needed to make adjustments. We needed to move the entire operation with no impact to the pilots training. Westover was okay but had insufficient hangar space to accommodate our people and assets, and we needed cover to function," he said.
At that point, Master Sgt. Arthur Rief got on the phone and began contacting units across the country to find the assets commensurate with mission requirements. After several days, Master Sgt. Rief's cold calling and persistence paid off.
"A medical training unit in Alpena, Michigan was being disbanded and they offered us several Alaskan Shelters if we could come get them," said Rief, a Greenfield native. "We sent Tech. Sergeants Lars Owren and Joe King out to Michigan two days later. The 11 shelters were in a pristine condition and ideal for our purposes," he said.
The shelters provided proper lodging for unit members.
Master Sgt. Rief was also able to procure several Environmental Control Units (ECUs) from neighboring units.
"The tents and ECU's were a godsend. Our civil engineers installed the floors and communication got us online. We were able to build a whole tent city. We also able to lease two civilian hangars at Westover," he said.
This resourcefulness saved the 104th FW several hundred thousand dollars without effecting performance.
Allen indicated that his unit enjoyed the challenge associated with the temporary move.
"We took lemons and made lemonade. We loved it. Everybody pitched in and made it happen. We were all focused on accomplishing the mission. People were prepared to live out of their cars if necessary."
"We are used to deploying, but this was special," he said. "Though if we didn't get those tents, I am not sure if we had a Plan B," he laughed.