Water continues to cover parts of Offutt AFB, Neb., as the base recovers from a "500-year" flood that deluged one-third of the key strategic installation in March 2019. Staff photo by Rachel S. Cohen.
OFFUTT AFB, Neb.—Nearly three months since a “500-year flood” washed over one-third of the crucial military base here, 55th Wing officials are eager to put disaster-aid funding to use.
Congress on June 3 approved a $19.1 billion supplemental funding package for disaster relief and recovery, which includes $1.7 billion for repairs at Air Force bases ravaged by a 2018 hurricane as well as flooding in March.
The House’s 354-to-58 vote followed the Senate’s May 23 85-8 vote to approve the measure after months of partisan squabbling. President Donald Trump has said he would sign the bill.
“It’s good news. Hopefully it doesn’t get hung up,” Col. Dave Norton, 55th Mission Support Group commander, said in a June 4 interview here. “Hopefully [Trump] signs it and we’re off to the races.”
The bill includes $1 billion in military construction funding and $670 million for operations and maintenance to cover expenses related to damages at Tyndall AFB, Fla., and Offutt.
Offutt hosts the Air Force’s niche intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance fleets based on the C-135, as well as US Strategic Command headquarters, weather analysts, and the E-4 and E-6 nuclear command-and-control platforms.
Last month, the base said it needed more than $650 million to cover operations, maintenance, construction, and simulator costs, although that price tag can still change. About 3,200 people were displaced in the storm, prompting a scramble to find new office space, parking spots, and secure areas for intelligence analysts.
Over the past 60 days, the Air Force has drawn up blueprints for how it wants to use the money so it can immediately get to work once the funds come through. Offutt now has a program management office to oversee that effort, partially modeled on its counterpart at Tyndall.
Offutt’s long-term vision is to consolidate rebuilt facilities into eight campuses: a “nonkinetic effects center of excellence” for cyber and intelligence personnel, one for security forces, one for bulk fuel storage, one for aircrews who are on alert for the E-4 and E-6, another for NC3 operations, a training campus, a recreation area, hangars, and possibly a new backup power plant for STRATCOM.
Mo Krishna, a former 55th Operations Group commander now helping lead the recovery program office, said getting RC-135 simulators delivered and those facilities built is the top priority, followed by restoring maintenance facilities to peak condition. One Rivet Joint was taken out of the combat rotation so it can serve as a training aircraft at Offutt.
“Without the simulators, we can’t train crews,” Krishna said. “Without the maintainers, we can’t fly airplanes.”
About 50 of 137 damaged facilities need to be demolished and rebuilt in new areas and, in some cases, on higher land. Many groups were forced out of their offices, like the 55th Wing headquarters, which now resides in a low-slung, brown-brick conference center, and others that are sharing previously abandoned buildings, like an old library, with other organizations.
Many more decisions about next steps have yet to be made in a recovery effort expected to last at least five years.
“That probably remains to be seen exactly how the higher headquarters will sort through the finances of it,” Norton said of the supplemental funding. “Here at the wing, certainly it’s a good problem to have. But it’s also going to be a lot of work for folks to push through such a large tranche of funding in a relatively short period of time.”
Operations and maintenance money must be obligated by Sept. 30. Military construction dollars would be available until the end of September 2023. The pending bill requires that the Air Force submit to Congress a detailed plan for using the emergency money within 60 days.
“There’s not a lot of time to do that on some relatively complex projects and so we’re going to need the help of partners that we rely upon all the time: the Army Corps of Engineers, the Air Force Civil Engineering Center, and our own contracting squadron,” Norton said. “Between those three entities, and comptroller, and the engineers, and a whole host of other folks that need to get the requirements ready to execute and put on contract, there’s going to be a lot of work to do to put through that amount of money in a short period of time.”
—Air Force Magazine Pentagon editor Brian Everstine contributed to this report.