JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, AK -- At 8:29 a.m. Nov. 30, 2018, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake slammed Southcentral Alaska. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, miles from the epicenter, was hit like a coconut bashed by a sledgehammer.
At the 176th Wing Headquarters building, the temblor blew the back stairwell off the bolts holding it to the walls. Glycol sprayed out of stricken overhead plumbing lines. Across the street, massive hangar doors busted when whole series of welds failed, and the doors’ wheeled carriages came completely off track.
Quick to repair the extensive damage were 24 Alaska state civilian employees of 176th Civil Engineer Squadron.
Gerald Romig, State of Alaska engineering associate assigned to the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron, said the first thing his crews had to do was to figure out the scope of the damage.
“Our immediate role was to do damage assessment,” he said. “We looked at the high-priority buildings first. We had water and heating system leaks as well as other issues. A lot of people don’t realize how severe it was.”
The crew included Romig as civilian engineer, a financial manager, a real property expert, a state maintenance foreman, plumbers, electricians, equipment operators, grounds people who cut grass and clear snow, warehouse technicians, procurement technicians, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians.
Alaska Air National Guard Lt. Col. James Hawkes, 176th CES commander, underscored the significant role the squadron’s civilian workforce played in getting the wing back into action.
“Our state employees are absolutely critical,” Hawkes said. “Without their efforts, the wing would cease to function with regards to infrastructure, federal-to-state reimbursement funding, snow and ice removal and emergency work order response for plumbing, power, HVAC and more.”
After the dust settled from the earthquake, it was clear one of the most important projects would be repairing the hangar doors, a massive effort that would require $3.8 million, money that would have to be programmed and committed in a hurry, Romig said.
“I deal 100 percent with federal dollars,” he said, highlighting the fact he is a state employee. “In contrast to the Army side, all of the Air Guard buildings are federally owned. The only thing I can’t do is certify payments, but other than that, I do all of the same functions a federal employee can do.”
Leveraging his network stemming from decades of engineering experience, Romig said he knew to phone a particular agency at JBER – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District.
“They have engineering expertise, and they have contract capabilities we don’t have,” he said. “They have what’s called an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract in place for emergencies like the earthquake.”
Once the money was in place and the contracts were signed, Romig’s team and a group of contractors went to work on the doors to get the hangars back into action.
“We had to have a welder cut off all of the carriages, jack up the doors, and put new carriages underneath,” he said. “We took the opportunity to install a bigger-diameter axle, so they won’t bend so easy in the future.”
Romig said his team took advantage of improved municipal codes brought up to date since the hangars were built to make the doors more modern and built to stand up against earthquakes and storms.
Hawkes said the state employees bring a depth of experience and expertise that is beneficial for the squadron and the wing.
“Many of our state employees are military veterans,” Hawkes said. “However, they now work in a civilian capacity and cannot be ordered to work in the same fashion a full-time military member needs to respond. Because of their dedication and patriotism, they do not allow the military mission to fail and respond at all hours of the day, 24/7, in all crises.”
Whether working with the Corps of Engineers, with federal contracting, or with the traditional weekend-drilling Guardsmen who fill the 176th CES military ranks, Romig said the x-factor that makes his civilian workforce and the squadron effective is teamwork and partnerships.
“The cooperative spirit is what makes this unit one of the best I have ever seen,” he said.