Opportunity in Chaos

  • Published
  • By Col. Randall Cason
  • 44th Fighter Group

Hurricane Michael, the most powerful storm to hit the Florida panhandle, ripped through Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida and the surrounding areas of Panama City on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, leaving a wake of devastation and destruction.  Wind speeds of 150 mph thrust heavy rain inside every structure and snapped the strongest trees in half like a large bomb blast. 


Included with residents from Panama City Beach to Apalachicola were 138 homes of members of the Air Force Reserve’s 44th Fighter Group.  Amazingly, no Reserve Airmen or family members were injured.  Every returner thus far discovered varying degrees of damage with 24 Reservist homes uninhabitable.  With residents and repairers scrambling to rebuild decimated homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, and lives, the aftermath is truly chaotic.


But, there is opportunity in chaos.  When we find ourselves in our darkest hour, a light can shine through.  There is a chance to rise above the rubble and demonstrate strength, compassion, and concern both to ourselves and others using the Airman culture of resilience. 


Resilience defined is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties -- toughness.  The men and women of the 44th Fighter Group and the broader U.S. Air Force have bounced back fast and proven their toughness.  Amongst many great resilience tools demonstrated by our Airmen, two key factors have been attitude and selflessness.


They say attitude is everything, and they are right.  Attitude sets one’s perspective on encountered circumstances.  A good attitude finds the silver lining.  Attitude is highly infectious and sets the tone for your environment.  The best part is that attitude is a choice.  One can choose to seize the opportunity in chaos of a great, infectious attitude raising the spirits of one’s self and others.


The 44th Fighter Group Airmen have elected a great attitude and it’s apparent.  Here is a typical exchange.  “How’s your family and how’s your home?”  “My family is safe and uninjured, couldn’t ask for more.  Our home lost half the roof, two of our bedrooms flooded when the windows blew out, and the drywall is soaked…starting to fall down, but we’ve tarped the roof, boarded windows, and have fans drying the rooms.  We rigged a generator, but the power company sure is great, working fast to restore things.  We’re fortunate.  We’ll be able to live in our place soon.  No big deal.  We’ve got four large trees down.  Didn’t hurt the house too bad.  Got to use a chainsaw…loved that.  Our neighbors were far less fortunate…feel bad for them…helping them clean up.  Folks in other places around the world live in far worse conditions.  All things considered, we’re good.”  “Today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today.” 


Our Air Force core value of service before self has been on high display throughout this disaster.  A way to describe that core value is selflessness.  Selflessness places the needs of others before one’s self.  It engenders teamwork and a recognition that there is something greater than ourselves.  It shifts focus from personal concerns creating purpose-strengthening resilience. 


Airmen of the 44th Fighter Group quickly performed triage on their homes then formed teams to help others.  The 301st Fighter Squadron Hellkats seized opportunity in chaos.  They convened the “Kat Recovery Team,” or KRT.  The KRT moved quickly to obtain and mass donations from themselves and corporate donors.  They camped in powerless conditions and operated from sunrise to sunset.  Road by road, they chain sawed pine trees clearing a path to 44th Fighter Group Airmen’s homes.  House by house, the KRT tarped roofs, rigged generators, and delivered water and food.  When a massive storm hits, Budweiser stops canning beer and starts canning water.  But, the KRT was not the only Air Force team selflessly reaching out to help.  Numerous Air Force Reserve wings, including the 301st Fighter Wing, moved out quickly to offer generous assistance with much needed items.  Some wings trucked items in themselves.  Air Force Aid Society quickly provided grants.  Airman and Family Readiness centers across the region energized and expertly supported requirements.  These few examples of the exhaustive number of Air Force organizations that selflessly assisted the response to the greater Tyndall AFB area displaying our corporate culture of service and resilience.


Hurricane Michael created unexpected chaos.  But, it also provided an opportunity for Airmen to embrace resilience demonstrating capacity to quickly recover from difficulties and toughness.  Their chosen attitude and selflessness has made the best of an extremely challenging event reinforcing faith in each other and our Air Force.  America!
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