Beale Airmen prepare to roll out welcome mat for 450 of their neighbors

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Like many other Air Force bases, the Airmen of Beale AFB are constantly working to be good neighbors with the civilian communities outside their front gate. 

          The Beale community may soon have a chance to demonstrate just how far they will go as they make preparations to welcome up to 450 local residents displaced by the expanding California wildfires. 

          "We have reviewed our facilities at Beale; we can support up to 450 evacuees from the fires," said Brig Gen Bob Otto, commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing. "Our plan would be to bed them down in three areas; our fitness center, community center and a multipurpose facility." 

          If needed, the facilities will also provide welcome relief from another condition related to the ongoing fires. 

          "All of these facilities are air conditioned. This is important since the area is also in the middle of a record heat wave," said Brig Gen Otto. 

          While the decision has not yet been made to evacuate nearby Paradise, Calif., the base staff has already started coordinating plans with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other Air Force units. The unpredictable nature of the fires that have raged on for up to three weeks have indicated Beale could be called on to provide a place for evacuees with almost no notice. 

          "Once the evacuees are on station, we can handle bus transportation between the shelters," said Brig Gen Otto. "We also have enough open space on base to serve as a staging area for DoD and FEMA, should the need arise." 

          As their plans continued to get underway, Air Force officials 2,600 miles away charged with providing Defense Support to Civil Authorities were impressed by their planning and dedication. 

          "I can't begin to express the outstanding support we have received from the team at Beale," said Col. Kurt Sonderman, the director of logistics (A4), 1st Air Force (AFNORTH) at Tyndall AFB, Fla. "They are in a category all their own and have set the benchmark for helping their community." 

          The commander of 1st Air Force was equally impressed with their endeavors.
"They are truly a world-class act at Beale," said Maj. Gen. Henry C. "Hank" Morrow, commander of 1st Air Force. "The Airmen at Beale are to be commended for being ready to welcome their friends and neighbors in the middle of this ongoing situation." 

          First Air Force, as part of U. S. Northern Command's civil support mission, provides domestic disaster relief operations during fires, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. When tasked, it conducts DSCA operations in the USNORTHCOM area of responsibility. 

          A key part of the mission is to use air assets to support local, state, regional, and federal emergency service agencies; and protect the American people and their way of life. 

          Beale AFB is one of several Air Force units that have been working as part of DoD's assistance to the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and the National Interagency Fire Center's efforts to assist California as they fight the wildfires. 

          Other units include the 145th Airlift Wing from the N. C. ANG, the Air Force Reserve's 302 Airlift Wing from Peterson AFB, Colo. And the 153rd Airlift Wing from the Wyo. ANG. These units have been flying eight C-130H aircraft daily using the Modular Aerial Fire Fighting System. During their deployment to support local and state agencies, these units have been assigned to the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group. 

          The Department of Defense provides Defense Support of Civil Authorities when directed to do so by the President or the Secretary of Defense. DoD resources employed in support of domestic civil authorities are under the command and control of Commander, USNORTHCOM, for responses in the Continental U.S.