Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Air Force Base experiences sonic building boom

Source: Delaware State News

By Andrew West

October 23, 2010

For the civilians on a tour of Dover Air Force Base on Monday, there were quite a few puzzling acronyms to sort out.

Showing empathy, Col. Manson O. Morris, the wing commander of the 436th Airlift Wing, confided he even learned a new one recently as he talked about the construction projects on the base.

“The engineers have told me those are called CMUs,” said Col. Morris. “Whoever knew that you could come with an acronym for a cinder block — a concrete masonry unit.”

There are quite a few construction projects, especially those with the massive steel frames that you can see on the Del. 1 drive past the base.

But from the outside, it’s hard to fathom just how much is going on there.

There are well more than a hundred projects totaling more than $400 million in the works — everything from installing natural gas lines, renovating dormitories to building a modern fi tness center and high-tech medical services buildings.

Col. Morris briefed business leaders on progress at the base during the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce’s annual MILCON breakfast Monday at the Landings.

“It has been an exceptional year for us in terms of projects,” Col. Morris said.

The projects were the result of grants, military construction funds, base realignment funds and stimulus funds.

Dover Air Force Base has been awarded nearly $53 million in stimulus money from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “That is the most in Air Mobility Command and the second most in the entire Air Force,” Col. Morris said.

Delaware’s congressional delegation — Sen. Tom Carper, D, Sen. Ted KAUFMAN, D, and Rep. Mike Castle — each attended the event.

In a bit of levity, Sen. Carper said Sen. KAUFMAN always points out that the ARRA funds do three things.

“What’s the first one?” he asked.

From across the room, Sen. KAUFMAN replied: “Jobs.”

Sen. Carper: “The second?”

Sen. KAUFMAN: “Jobs” Sen. Carper: “The third?”

Sen. KAUFMAN: “Jobs.”

“When Col. Morris was running through his list,” Sen. Carper said, “I thought that I can’t imagine anyone has more than us.”

Much of Monday’s presentation and tour focused on areas related to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office.

Dover is home to the only military mortuary in the country. The remains from those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq have all come been sent to Dover.

Since the military has agreed to pay for families to come to Dover to witness the dignified transfer ceremonies as bodies arrive here, 77 percent of the killed military members’ families have accepted the invitation.

For family support, there is a small complex coming together that will feature a Fisher House, a place where families of the fallen can stay when their loved ones’ remains are processed. Currently, visitors stay on the base or in local hotels.

Col. Morris said there will be an adjoining Fisher Foundation-funded meditation center that will be a “place where families can step away from everything going on around them and just have some solitude.”

The Fisher Foundation funded the buildings at a cost of more than $3 million. Both are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Additionally, the Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs has started a memorial garden project next to the Center for the Families of the Fallen.

In November, the base will award a contract for a chapel building that will offer counseling and education services and better accommodate large numbers of families that might arrive at the base after a mass casualty situation, Col. Morris said.

“It doesn’t take a large number of casualties to drive the family count up, especially if casualties are from nearby,” Col. Morris said. “For example, last year we had military fatalities involving members of the CIA and they had hundreds of folks come over from Langley, Va.”

Soon to open in a building neighboring the mortuary is the Joint Personal Effects Depot.

The 58,000-square-foot building with a cost of $14.1 million is in its final finishing stages, with floor painting and other touchups remaining. The Bancroft Construction Co., of Wilmington, is overseeing the project.

Tom Lavender, the Army Corps of Engineers’ project manager, led visitors on a tour of the “JPED” building.

It is replacing an inefficient, World War II-era warehouse facility at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., he said.

The new building will be used to receive and process the belongings of military members who were killed or sent home with injuries.

“It’s everything that belongs to the military members overseas that is in their hooch,” Mr. Lavender said. “They have TVs, laptops, all those creature comforts that they acquire overseas or brought with them from home. And it includes their military- issued-gear or equipment.”

Usually, there are four- to six-foot lockers for each individual whose belongings come through the “PE” — personal effects — center.

At the receiving area, the boxes will be immediately sent into a “giant concrete box” with X-ray machines to be checked for the “one-in-a-million chance that there may be a little bit of unexploded ordnance, bullets, grenades that they have tucked away or hidden somewhere in their equipment,” said Mr. Lavender.

The boxes will all be given identification numbers and sent to one of 16 different processing units, all of which are caged for security and efficiency.

“Every single bit of the time that the PE is secured along the way is called a chain of custody,” he said.

The personal effects will be inventoried, photographed and cleaned. Each of the caged units will have three commercial washers and three dryers.

Valuables will be stored in safe deposit boxes in a secure, separate room once inventoried.

Laptops and other digital media will be taken to another special unit in the building and “scrubbed” of classified and other potential inappropriate material, Mr. Lavender said.

The time taken to process each individual’s belongings is four to eight hours, he said.

Mr. Lavender said there could be more than 200 people working in the area based on the situation. Currently, more than 130 serve the Joint Personal Effects Depot in Aberdeen and most are civilian contractors.

“The bottom line is that 95 percent of them will be contractors here,” Mr. Lavender said.

Also under construction in that area of the base is the $43 million Armed Forces Medical Examiners Services Building.

The 125,000-square foot building will house high-tech labs, cold storage and a DNA repository.

It is expected to be completed next summer.

Other projects highlighted were new concrete for the taxiways and parking areas, designed to better handle the increased demands the C-17s create; an $11 million fitness center to replace what was called the “second worst fitness center” in the Air Mobility Command; and near completion of a oversized cargo port for items that require multiple pallets.

One of the highlights of the stimulus funds is a $25 million project to replace the heating infrastructure on the base.

“We heat this beast with high temperature hot water that is boiled in one spot and sent around the facility — not exactly the most efficient way of heating our facilities,” said Col. Morris. “This project allows us to pull out all the high-temp hot water lines and install natural gas lines.

“It pays back at about $2 million a year.”

Col. Morris said future construction dollars the Dover Air Force Base will pursue will focus mostly on creating new, enclosed hangar space for maintenance of the fleet of C-5s and C-17s.

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