After Fort Campbell received 3-4 inches of snow and ice during a weekend winter storm, the installation remained open for limited and essential operations Feb. 15 and 16 as personnel responded to the harsh conditions.
“One of the things that makes Fort Campbell so strong and such a desired location at which to serve is the sense of community and our ability to come together when faced with difficult situations,” said Col. Jeremy D. Bell, Fort Campbell garrison commander. “This latest weather event is no exception. I have been impressed with how everyone comes together to make sure Fort Campbell is best prepared and in the best state of readiness.”
Master Sergeant Zachary Ferguson, garrison weather noncommissioned officer in charge, Detachment 4, 18th Combat Weather Squadron, said the storm began Feb. 14 as a mixture of freezing rain and light snow showers.
That progressed into ice pellets, sleet and snow by Monday afternoon and became pure snow around 6 p.m.
None of that came as a surprise to Ferguson, who works alongside the Fort Campbell Weather Station Team’s Airmen to monitor inclement weather and ensure the post is ready for situations from snowstorms to tornadoes days in advance.
“We provide kind of a two-pronged approach,” he said. “We have a 24/7 weather operation down at the airfield, and they provide everything geared around Fort Campbell – the warnings and advisories that come out about freezing rain, snow and thunderstorms.”
Ferguson’s role is to communicate that information to the garrison so the post can synchronize its response through the Crisis Action Team. Members range from engineers and school officials to Emergency Operations Center and Directorate of Public Works leaders, and the group typically meets twice a day.
“We are a power projection platform at Fort Campbell, so we have to be ready to deploy Soldiers out of here at a moment’s notice,” said Brian K. Carrigan, chief of operations, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “It’s a concerted effort from everybody involved to make sure that happens.”
The planning and preparation process begins well ahead of the winter season to make sure mission-critical functions stay open and operational.
“Throughout the year, even before wintertime, we do a tabletop exercise and plans review that includes all members of the Crisis Action Team,” Carrigan said. “We talk through what our roles and responsibilities are based on scenarios that we’ve actually had here at Fort Campbell.”
That means by the time post officials know a winter storm is coming through, they already have a plan ready to implement.
“I’d say the post has done excellent in responding,” Ferguson said. “We’ve had people prepositioned with salt and plows, we’ve been sending notifications out and the information has been provided to commanders well ahead of time to give them the best knowledge to go forward in making the decisions that are going to impact the entire post.”
The garrison team, specifically DPW, DPTMS, and the Directorate of Emergency Services, have shouldered the lion’s share of the responsibility for the preparation and in the execution of the severe weather plan on Fort Campbell, Bell said.
“They spent countless hours, 24 hours a day, making sure our roads and critical infrastructure were in good shape,” he said. “An area most don’t think about, but who play such a critical role, is our operations team. They have done a marvelous job tracking everything, coordinating responses, and synchronizing all of the efforts across the installation.”
Clearing a path
DPW staff made sure their equipment was ready to clear the post’s icy roads before the storm ever rolled in. Jonathan Turner, Fort Campbell DPW Roads and Grounds chief, said his team has been working since the afternoon of Feb. 14.
“It is part of their duties, but we take our duties seriously and we know that we’ve got a job to do to help our Soldiers and Families,” Turner said. “We just come in with good attitudes and take care of business.”
Roads and Grounds has used approximately 975 tons of road salt and 15,000 gallons of brine to service cantonment area roads as of midnight Feb. 17, Turner said. Crews are using trucks, plows and graders to clear those 1,347 acres.
“In a weather event, we have priorities,” Turner said, noting there are three priority levels. “This event has kept us on the Priority 1 roads thus far, and as of Monday night I knew that we have hit all the Priority 1 roads six times.”
DPW is responsible for clearing the ice and snow to move forward to the next priority level once the roads are safe, Turner said. Their progress is measured through that system rather than mileage or acreage.
“As Roads and Grounds this year, we’ve also taken on Campbell Army Airfield,” Turner said. “So we have a detachment from our department that’s attached to the airfield during snow and ice operations.”
According to Turner, those workers have used approximately 6,500 gallons of airfield deicer and 48 tons of NAAC, or sodium acetate, which is a specialized pellet designed for use on runways and taxiways. DPTMS workers were called in the night of Feb. 15 to assist in the effort and finished clearing the main runway the following morning.
“We have six tractors with six large commercial grade snowblowers, the kind you’d see in Chicago at the airport,” said Paul Shannon, Installation Range officer. “Basically, we cleared out the entire main runway and taxiways so we could receive any type of aircraft that may need to come into Fort Campbell for a host of reasons.”
Shannon said clearing the runway was mission-critical because of Campbell Army Airfield’s strategic capabilities for both local deployments and national emergencies.
“If something were to happen in the U.S., that airfield is a secure location that the president could land at, or any type of national assets like bombers,” he said. “Back in the day it used to be the space shuttle, that was an alternate landing location.”
DPTMS also worked to maintain readiness by breaking out frozen targets at Range 28 and clearing a route for Soldiers ahead of a scheduled training exercise.
“The whole purpose of Range and all the Department of the Army civilians is to support the warfighter and support the mission,” Shannon said. “We can’t do anything about Mother Nature today, but we can certainly get them ready for tomorrow.”
Working with residents
Campbell Crossing also plays a part in the installation’s response to severe weather by making sure Soldiers and Families living on post are kept safe.
Karsten Haake, Lendlease project director for Campbell Crossing, said the community hosts a planning and coordination meeting on severe weather roughly three months ahead of the winter season. The top priorities are to ensure measures are in place for the safety of residents and team members, clearing residential roads and responding to work orders.
“We’ve got Mainscape as our landscaping provider. One of the functions they have during the winter months is to work in conjunction with the post to salt and clear the roads within our neighborhoods,” Haake said. “Inside the residential areas you’ll see Mainscape plows and salting going on, and we support each other to make sure we both have enough salt on hand to address a winter weather emergency that may last longer.”
Mainscape crews also help Campbell Crossing to safely access homes to respond to work orders from Soldiers and Families.
“This week we have had more than 150 work orders called in just for the plumbing and HVAC team due to the winter storm,” Haake said. “That’s a lot of work orders, and to ensure we are able to quickly respond to emergency work orders and take care of our residents, we have maintenance teams on site 24/7 who we temporarily house on post during weather events like we have experienced this week.”
Changing air filters every 30 days is an important preventative measure, Haake said, because HVAC systems work harder to function with a dirty filter and can fail completely.
“The big thing is that we don’t want folks to be in a house that can’t be heated,” he said. “We’ve got space heaters that are available, and we will work with Families on an individual basis to ensure their home is taken care of.”
Other winter safety tips from Campbell Crossing include letting faucets drip at night during freezing temperatures, making sure doors and windows are properly sealed and never setting the thermostat below 68 degrees.
Haake recommends checking Campbell Crossing’s Facebook page for more winter safety resources and downloading the Digital Garrison app to stay updated on how weather is affecting post access and operations.
One way the Digital Garrison helps the community stay informed is by pushing out closure information for the Fort Campbell Commissary and the Exchange. Both were closed on Feb. 15 and 16 to protect employees and shoppers.
Commissary officer Ciro Quaranta and Exchange general manager Steve Shaw said their stores typically follow the post’s lead on closures while working to accommodate the community.
“What we do is we look at the safety of our associates,” Shaw said. “How far out do they live? Do we have people on base? And based on the weather conditions right now, what activities can we open with the staff that we have while trying to mitigate as much risk to them as possible?”
The Exchange kept its Kentucky Express open to provide gas, food and water, but other operations were shut down.
“If we can provide that service to keep someone from having to drive down to Oak Grove’s Walmart for a loaf of bread, I think it’s definitely worth the while,” Shaw said. “If you had a chance to go to the Kentucky Express over the last couple days, they’ve had wall-to-wall customers all day long. It’s been good to see the community response to us staying open and shopping there first.”
Quaranta said the commissary works to accommodate shoppers in need of last-minute items, but safety remains the top priority.
“We give a little lead-up toward the full closure for customers that have to pick up their last-minute items,” he said. “As civilians and military get released from the installation, they can usually still come to the store and grab those. Our intention most of the time is to stay open as long as possible, but safety comes into play and we get to the point where we have to close the doors and send our employees home.”
Carrigan said closures during weather events is part of the installation’s coordinated response, and that the Crisis Action Team has done well managing the latest severe weather event.
“A lot of these folks have been doing this a long time,” he said. “They take it very seriously. They know that their actions and the plans they put into place affect so many other people on the installation, and they come to the table and put their best foot forward.”
The success of the post’s response to severe weather is a team effort, Bell said, adding he is thankful for everyone who was involved in helping leaders make important weather-related decisions for the installation and its population. Those include personnel from DPW’s Roads and Grounds, DES, the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Army Field Support Battalion-Campbell, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, garrison and division Public Affairs, Department of Defense Education Activity, Division Engineers, DPTMS, EOC; Detachment 4, 18th Weather Squadron; Campbell Crossing and Fort Campbell’s Tennessee and Kentucky community partners.
“Their collective experience, wisdom and guidance has kept our folks safe and on mission despite the challenges Mother Nature tossed our way,” Bell said.