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Tyndall Transfer: Part 1 - the phone call

family and dogs sit in car

Airman 1st Class Solomon Cook, 325th Fighter Wing photojournalist, left, and Olivia Cook, U.S. Air Force spouse, right, take a "selfie" with their dogs in the car prior to evacuating Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The night prior to taking this photo, the pair drove their neighbor to Tallahassee, Fla., to avoid the path of Hurricane Michael and later returned home to pack essentials. (Courtesy photo)

Vehicle sits packed prior to transport

The vehicle of Olivia Cook, U.S. Air Force spouse, sits packed prior to evacuation from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Some time later, Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 Hurricane, made landfall over the installation Oct. 10, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --

Hurricane Michael was a category 5 hurricane that made landfall over Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Oct. 10, 2018. For the 11,000 members of Team Tyndall like myself and the countless others within the Panama City, Florida area, the days, weeks and months after that day still resonate.

Before the hurricane hit, we had left work for a long weekend and anticipated we would see each other Tuesday. The weekend was cut short by a phone call.

As I sat on my couch, midday Monday morning playing my favorite football video game, my phone lights up.

“Who dares call this phone,” I said aloud. I pick up my phone and am then notified we are being ordered to the office on my sacred day off.

A recall had occurred.

After a few years in the military, I already knew what time it was. Shave, shower and drive to work so we can all look at each other and, then go home. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

We gather, greet, and after a short brief, we open our office hurricane binders. I remember wondering why people don’t understand you cannot pause an online game. I took an ‘L’ to sit here and wait. The loss I earlier took would be nothing compared to the things myself and many others would experience mere days later.

After we get word out that the base may be ordered to evacuate the area, the office begins to move. Airmen raised computer towers off the floor, one group lifting and disconnecting wires, the other followed up wrapping the electronics in trash bags. The storm, currently a Category 2, makes its way toward the installation.

As a member of the public affairs office, it was our job to get necessary material out to our fellow Airmen and their families. Communicating the messages of the wing commander is our job -- across multiple platforms. The sound of feverous clicking is heard in what we called ‘the pit.’ One Airman on social media, the other on the Armed Forces Information Management System, one proofreading a press release that would go out to the local media. To think, a few years prior, I washed dishes for a living. Now, I harness the helm of one of the most powerful forces on the planet Earth -- information.

Tasks complete, we go back to waiting.

As we laugh and joke, the wing commander enters the room. Unready, we shoot to our feet. He waves his hand downward, the universal sign for don't worry about it. Col. Brian Laidlaw was a man to my experience, always calm and cool under pressure. Today was no different. He tells us we are doing well getting the message out and to continue the good work, but do it swiftly because the mandatory evacuation began officially 15 minutes ago.

With shock on our faces as he left, we do as he directed. It was at this point I question, “Am I in danger?”

Our office gets the updated news out, and we start to evacuate. Two Airmen and I head over to our other office building to secure our gear as we did in our main office. Bagging camera gear and computers, I come to my desk. Several note pads with crudely scribbled notes, haphazardly placed sticky notes, and my coffee mug sit in my work area. I call it my ‘working mess,’ to passersby, they wouldn't be able to figure out the method to my madness. The only thing truly laid with purpose and in specific places -- my action figures I display to make my area truly my area.

As I take a moment to quickly decide what I would need for a day or two, I see my work laptop.

I ask the people I’m with if they are going to take their laptops, they chuckle and respond no.

“The LT has a laptop and he is on the ride out team, he’s got this,” I’m informed.

My inner thoughts come out as I think them, “Power goes out in inclement weather, so is anyone going to take a laptop?”

They walk off. I grab that little rectangle and follow them out the door.

As we get to our cars and reassure each other we will back at work bright and early, we head off in alternate directions. On the way home, I call my wife and tell her we have to leave the base -- 30 minutes ago. She answers me nonchalantly and she starts to gather our belongings and the dogs. At a stop sign, my next door neighbor calls me.

“Yeah, so what are you doing for the storm,” he asks.

“It's a mandatory evac, we are leaving. Your leadership should have called you. They are providing buses for those that don't have transportation. Reach out to them and get a go bag together,” I responded.