As President’s Day approached, so did severe winter weather at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, Feb. 14. Winter storm warnings were issued as northerly winds at 10 to 20 knots and bitter cold fell upon the region, leading to extensive power and water outages, slick roads and burst pipes.
Throughout the severe weather event, JBSA leaders followed the City of San Antonio Emergency Operations Center through their weather webinars to determine the best courses of action and to align what the city was doing in response to the unfolding situation.
Before the arrival of the Artic blast, members of the 341st Military Working Dog Training Squadron quickly prepared to move more than 800 military working dogs indoors to protect them from the elements.
Personnel from the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Equestrian Center also remained on site as needed throughout the storm to ensure the horses and mules had adequate shelter, water and food.
By Monday, conditions had deteriorated greatly, leading to the closure of all JBSA locations except to emergency essential personnel. Roads iced and those with power now fell victim to rolling outages lasting from minutes to hours to days.
“The safety of all JBSA personnel continues to be my #1 concern,” said Brig. Gen. Caroline Miller, 502d Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio commander, in her messages to the community throughout the week. “A weather event of this magnitude is unprecedented in San Antonio, and our emergency crews are working hard to restore services at all JBSA locations.”
As the storm continued, Outdoor Recreation personnel on JBSA responded to a call from FAMCAMP patrons at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and Canyon Lake Recreation Area for much needed propane tank refills on the coldest of days, ensuring these personnel had what they needed to weather the storm, said Brian Roush, 502nd Force Support Squadron executive director.
“Canyon Lake staff members also remained on site over multiple days to ensure the safety of guests and opened vacant facilities for shelter when recreational vehicles could not keep up with temperatures,” he said.
Fitness Center personnel on JBSA also braved the cold conditions to open fitness centers for warming centers and hot shower facilities for JBSA personnel, Roush said.
“Child and Youth Services personnel also worked during the closure to clean up damaged facilities, prepare alternate facilities, and secure supplies in order to be able to reopen the Child Development Centers and School Age Programs on Feb. 22,” he said.
Throughout the snowstorm, the 502nd Operational Support Squadron’s weather personnel continued to monitor the situation day and night, reporting developments.
“The 502nd OSS had already normalized accomplishing work from geographically separated locations due to COVID-19,” said Lt. Col. Yancey Walker, the squadron’s commander. “Because of this adaptation, we were able to pass critical information, in near real time, about the status of the airfield and its systems both internally and externally, all without putting our Airmen at risk in the hazardous conditions”
By Wednesday, some JBSA Commissaries and Exchanges were able to open to base residents to provide needed food and supplies, but Thursday, snow began to fall again, and continued to fall for nearly 15 hours, forcing many roads and overpasses to become impassible again.
At that time, JBSA fire stations began providing potable water to base residents who were without due to frozen pipes, as well as to local hospitals without water.
“JBSA Fire Emergency Services places huge value on the relationships with our mutual aid partners and local municipalities,” said Mark R. Ledford, JBSA fire chief. “Being able to provide water tender support for medical facilities was a challenge that our team tackled, and they remain ready to assist as needed for this critical assistance.”
The chief said, even with everything happening on JBSA, they also were able to assist local fire crews responding to a massive apartment fire in the community.
“We feel horrible for the loss of property during the fire, but were able to rally personnel and resources from across the installation to support. An engine company and water tender responded from JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, a tender responded from JBSA-Randolph, and personnel quickly moved from JBSA-Lackland to augment staffing,” Ledford said. “It was exactly how we are postured to assist our partners while providing superior protection for this amazing wing and mission partners during an incredibly challenging week.”
Personnel at Brooke Army Medical Center also launched into action to ensure continuity of patient care. All non-urgent medical appointments and procedures were canceled to ensure emergency services and trauma support to the city remained unaffected for the duration of the severe weather event.
“As a Level I Trauma Center, it is vital that we maintain our critical care mission and support to our community partners, while ensuring the safety and well-being of our service members, patients and staff,” said BAMC’s commander, Brig. Gen. Shan K. Bagby.
The 502nd Civil Engineers at JBSA were busy all week, maintaining base roads and treating them with sand so those who needed to travel could.
Members of the 502nd Logistics Readiness Squadron were also hard at work throughout the storms, continuing 24-hour emergency operations and distributing cold weather gear and sleeping bags to those without power or working out in the elements.
The squadron kicked into high gear when the Del Rio, Texas, water plant was forced to switch to generator power.
The 502nd LRS’s Vehicle Management flight quickly prepared two water buffalo, with assistance from personnel from the 502nd Civil Engineering Squadron and Bioenvironmental, who cleaned and sanitized the water tanks, providing potable water in support of 2,000 personnel affected by the water shortage at Laughlin Air Force Base, according to Lt. Col. Glen Langdon, 502nd LRS commander.
Meanwhile, the squadron’s Passenger Movement Element worked to adjust transportation for 645 departing JBSA students and coordinating arrivals for the training wings.
On Friday, the 37th Training Wing at JBSA-Lackland worked to ensure Basic Military Trainees were not delayed in their training and proceeded with three modified BMT graduation ceremonies.
When the severe weather began, training wing personnel worked with their JBSA partners to provide supplemental heat, bottled water, food, blankets, additional clothing and portable facilities as needed to ensure the safety and health of the student, trainee and military working dog populations.
“Our number one priority is, and will continue to be, the safety and well-being of all those assigned to the 37th Training Wing — both our permanent party and students in training,” said Col. Rockie K. Wilson, 37th Training Wing commander. “We adjusted mission operations as required to maintain the integrity of the training pipeline; and we are working hand-in-hand with our JBSA mission partners to address issues as quickly as they arise. Our ability to work with our partners in the 502nd Air Base Wing also demonstrates the collective strength of our JBSA-wide team.”