By James Brabenec, Fort Sill CannoneerFebruary 11, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla. - In the wake of a devastating ice storm that pulverized the post, Fort Sill leaders banded together forming Operation Restore to return the post to full operability.
Col. Barry Di Ruzza, task force operations officer, said he's surprised at how quickly and efficiently everything has come together.
"Mother Nature hit us hard, but we seized this opportunity to come together and solve this crisis," he said. "This was an enormous undertaking, but never overwhelming. We knew it was going to take the entire installation working together to recover, and Team Sill prevailed we were up to the challenge."
Throughout the two-week period the post's primary mission, to train basic training and advanced individual training Soldiers and develop noncommissioned officer and officer leaders has not diminished or suffered. "Everything that's required to graduate a Soldier or a leader is up and operational, and all range facilities are completely functional with only one on generator power," said Di Ruzza.
Although power has been restored to all post housing residents, Di Ruzza said Maj. Gen. David Halverson, Fires Center and Fort Sill commander, is keenly aware of the plight many Soldiers still face off post dealing with the storm's aftermath.
"General Halverson authorized today as a day to encourage commands to allow their Soldiers to assist fellow Soldiers and their families who live off post with storm debris removal," said Di Ruzza. Those Soldiers who do head off post are reminded to only use personal vehicles to assist fellow Soldiers.
The 75th and the 214th Fires Brigades and the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade along with civilian workers from the Directorate of Public Works and contractors from Picerne Military Housing formed the nucleus of units involved with the post cleanup. Other units provided manpower as the mission and training allowed. Di Ruzza said the three brigades had the manning, equipment and training flexibility to respond to a short-notice mission.
Providing the specialized equipment to deal with the storm debris, Andrew Bennett, DPW operations and maintenance chief, said the directorate has about 25-30 workers out with chain saws cutting up downed trees and limbs into manageable sizes for Soldiers to haul off. Last weekend teams from Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Riley, Kan. arrived with 14 additional workers to assist with the sawing. Bennett said without the Soldiers, cleanup would have likely taken years to complete with the existing in-house labor force or the post would incur much higher costs hiring contractors to do the work.
DPW and Picerne workers also used bucket trucks to clear downed limbs from around power lines and restore power throughout post.
"Almost everyone has power now, there's only a few isolated locations still to hook up," said Bennett.
Di Ruzza said operation planners envisioned the restoration as a three-phase process. The first phase identified life, health or safety issues, such as downed power lines, power lines entangled in downed limbs or significant debris still aloft that could fall and injure people. Once prioritized, crews set about clearing these troubles and reducing debris so Soldiers could remove it.
The second phase restored facilities and ranges that support the post's mission while enabling units mobilizing through post to continue unabated. Once the conditions of the first two phases are met, the task force will dissolve returning to the installation responsibility for the final phase which is long-term recovery.
"The team has done a remarkable job identifying assets, prioritizing and clearing them of debris along with restoring power," said Di Ruzza, who added the task force is about halfway toward completion.
Bennett added crews have cleared all the main and secondary roads, and are now down to gravel and nonessential roads, such as removing downed trees that block access to some of the parks on post. He said a lot of work still remains to be done trimming individual limbs in trees and cutting broken limbs to ensure the health of each tree. DPW will bring an arborist on board who can tell them which trees are worth saving.
As post leaders are already planning reforestation to make up for the 500-plus trees lost, the arborist will also provide expertise in selecting what types of trees to plant and where to put them so as to not create a logistical and maintenance burden watering the new saplings later this year. He added limbs and debris headed for chippers on post will be used as mulch, while other debris will be taken out to the ranges to be used as habitat for wildlife or consumed in range fires.
As of Friday, power outages still affected Camp Eagle though personnel were working around this drawback training at the camp during the day and returning to the main post at night. Noncommissioned Officer Academy instructors have also added instruction hours during the work week and on weekends to make up for lost time. Even Tuesday, there were power glitches in the Forces Command areas as power would go off for short periods of time.
Turning the restoration into an operation provided training opportunities for Soldiers up and down the chain of command, said Di Ruzza.
"In terms of how we approached our planning, preparation and execution, this is just as we'd do in a deployed setting. We treated this as a stability and support operation and the skills sets are the same whether doing civil support, such as a for hurricane, responding to the situation in Haiti or in the Central Command AOR. Operating conditions are different, but the skill sets are very similar."
Di Ruzza said the operation also brought the general staff and garrison staff together to solve an installation problem of great importance providing great training for post leaders.