JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
“The Air Force is telling me, ‘Stay away, don’t come back,’” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jordan Masingale. “We just kept thinking, why? It’s not going to be that bad. Why are we evacuating? It’s only supposed to be a Category 2 storm.”
Within 48 hours of the mandatory evacuation of Tyndall Air Force Base, Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10, as a high-end Category 4 storm affecting the Florida panhandle region.
The weather station at Tyndall Air Force Base recorded a wind gust of 129 mph before the calm eye of the storm moved overhead, and documented maximum sustained wind speeds of 155 mph. These unprecedented high winds, storm surge and flooding ultimately caused catastrophic damage spanning three states.
“Obviously knowing what we know now, we are happy we evacuated,” Jordan said. “When we drove in for the first time it was eerily silent, and we literally called it the dead zone because there was no cellular service or radio stations for weeks. We didn’t recognize anything; there were no road signs to tell you where to go, and the buildings, which had been landmarks, were all but demolished. Power lines and trees were down everywhere giving off the overwhelming scent of fresh-cut pine. It was just unbelievable, something we’ll never forget.”
For more than seven years, the F-22 Raptor avionics specialist had called Florida home. Prior to the storm, Jordan had received orders to move to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and had began preparing to sell his home. Just two days before the natural disaster hit, the Masingale family had completed everything they needed to do to out-process the base and begin their journey north.
“After the hurricane we honestly didn’t know what to think; our lives were turned upside down and all of our plans were changed without warning,” said Arianna Masingale, Jordan’s wife. “For the first couple of weeks, nobody could access our records to do our final out-processing. Then we found out that it was deemed unsafe for the Traffic Management Office to pack up our things. And to top things off, we were left with the fact that we now owned a house that was uninhabitable.”
Following the storm, martial law was declared, which meant all Tyndall personnel were only allowed to be in the vicinity until dark, giving them just eight hours a day to try and get their lives back in order.
“Because no one was allowed to stay overnight in the disaster zone, thousands of people were in similar situations all at the same time,” Arianna said. “This made the closest hotel with a vacancy more than 150 miles away. We knew right away this was going to be extra hard on our 5-year-old son and decisions had to be made quickly.”
In order for their son to have some stability throughout this stressful time, the Masingales made the decision to have him stay with his grandparents in Arkansas so they could handle things back in Florida.
“Our families were great throughout the entire process and did everything they could to help us find some normalcy in all of the chaos,” Jordan said. “After seeing the widespread damage at Tyndall and seeing what my non-military community members were going through, I found an immediate appreciation for being an Airman. While we got our home insurance claim filed, we worked side-by-side trading needed supplies with our neighbors and doing as much as we could to prevent further damage in our neighborhood.
“Despite the chaos and confusion after Hurricane Michael, we were finally able to receive our orders and proceed to JBER,” Jordan said. “On Nov. 19, we left Florida, driving to California to attend our year-long awaited wedding. Although wildfires threatened our drive, being able to visit with family and friends allowed us to have one whole day where we weren’t thinking about all of the craziness we had just been through.”
After leaving California, the Masingales traveled to Alaska, arriving the evening of Nov. 29. Little did they know, they were about to be awakened by the largest earthquake to shake Anchorage in more than 50 years.
“I had experienced really bad storms during my time spent at Tyndall AFB and was feeling pretty resilient at this point, but I was not prepared for that earthquake,” Jordan said. “My wife on the other hand, being from California, was completely calm and collected. That’s when I knew we were fine.”
Once the aftershocks of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake subsided, the Masingales were able to find a home and begin settling. Upon his arrival, Jordan received a message from the 3rd Wing command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Brian Stafford.
“Sitting in my inbox on my first day at JBER was an email directly from Chief Stafford,” Jordan said. “He asked me if I was OK, and if there was anything my family needed. It was refreshing to know that someone from the top cared enough to reach out and make sure we were OK. Since then, we have experienced a warm welcome and have been provided with resources to help us continue with getting things fixed.
“My hope is that the other Tyndall Airmen and families who are arriving to their next duty locations, know that everything is going to be all right and there are resources available to them that can help.”