Inside the Gates: The squadron that kept the 176th Wing on its feet after the earthquake
It's been a little over four months since Alaska's 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked and rolled Southcentral. During the Nov. 30 earthquake, the 176th Wing with the Alaska Air National Guard sustained major damage.
Who's called to fix the damage for those who normally do the rescuing? The guard's own civil engineers.
"It totally falls on us; we don't have any back up," Todd Peplow, state maintenance foreman with the 176th Wing Civil Engineer Squadron, said.
Members of the 176th civil engineer squadron on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson still vividly remember what needed to be done to keep the Wing's mission intact. Peplow said they had a couple guys that didn't even see their own houses for nearly 14 hours after the quake.
Some of the biggest damage amassed by the earthquake came in hangar 18. Inside, the Alert C-130 aircraft was able to get out. However, once out of the hangar, the door would not close.
"Being November, being it freezing, we're out here at 5:30 at night. Everybody’s gone and we're still trying to close the doors and it's freezing outside," he said, adding to other worries about freezing suppression systems and breaking pipes.
It took the engineers nearly four hours to close the door, but it was far from remedied. The door manufacturer was no longer in business and the electrical diagram was inadequate. They ended up having to bypass a few things just to get them closed, Peplow said.
Next door at hangar 21 which houses C-17s, there was a different kind of door problem. Peplow said its doors, made of panels that weigh 25,000 pounds, slammed around so much they wouldn't open and the cables were breaking.
Hardly any of their buildings came out unscathed.
"Every hangar had a problem. Hangar 12 the doors wouldn't go up or down either," electrician Andy O'Donnell with the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron said. "There were glycol leaks in like four or five of our buildings and it was all on the second floor. So you had two floors to deal with, you know? It wasn't like it was just hitting concrete. It was hitting people's offices, getting into the carpet."
The engineers worked 12 to 14 hour days, six to seven days a week to ensure the Wing stayed up and running.
"It was real lucky that we didn't have anyone injured while we were fixing things too, because it was dark, we were still getting after quakes and, yeah, it was cold," O'Donnell said.
The repairs are still ongoing but to the average observer, the base hasn't skipped a beat.
"The mission went on," David Bedard with 176th Wing Public Affairs said. "Rescues were still being done, and the air mobility mission of the C-17 squadron is still happening, and so it really is a testament to their capability that they were able to do that."
The 176th Civil Engineer Squadron is made up of 15 full-time people who maintain 25 facilities and five hangars on JBER.
"They're not flying the aircraft, but the aircraft don't fly without them," Bedard said.
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