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Air Force Civil Engineers Help Restore Ft. Jefferson

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Posted: Friday, July 28, 2017 1:30 am

   Air Force Civil Engineers from first Homestead Air Force Base and then Homestead Air Reserve Base have worked as volunteers restoring Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park for the National Park Service for the last 45 years, beginning in 1972.  The National Park Service

provides the materials and some of their personnel work alongside the Air Force personnel. This is a program administered by the National Park Conservation Association

The Air Force Reserve personnel receive training in their construction skills.  

The Air Force Reserve's main mission is to be ready to augment the active force when called upon.  During wartime the Air Force civil engineers are expected to be able to carry out missions without optimum equipment or materials and that is exactly what they trained to do at Fort Jefferson.

   The teams stay in guest quarters in an area of the Fort designated as

residences for Park employees.  The Air Force civil engineers have built several of these living facilities as part of the many projects they have accomplished at the Fort over the years.  Other notable projects have included the gift store, foundations for 24-ton cannons (guns) and the restoration of the lighthouse.

    The deployments to Fort Jefferson have varied from four days to two weeks depending upon the project requirements.  The 482nd CES has deployed as many as 26 personnel to the Fort at one time; or as few as 4-5 personnel depending on the scheduled projects.  Air Force CES personnel usually take their own tools and equipment assigned to the unit based upon the scheduled projects.  A big challenge is to plan thoroughly for the deployment.  There is no Lowes or Home Depot around the corner.

   Sometimes just getting there with their tools and equipment was a big challenge.  A concrete pump and cement mixers were needed for the construction of the six concrete foundations for the six 24-ton Rodman Cannons (technically "guns.")  There was no ready-mix company to truck in the large amount of concrete needed.  Also a challenge was the 1976 restoration of the 100 year-old cast iron lighthouse.  These are the most visited sites at the Fort.   Another example of Air Force civil engineer inventiveness was the jury-rigged crane which they made from two old radio antennas found on site and a front end loader Bobcat which they used to lift materials and equipment to the upper levels of the Fort.

       The Rodman gun was designed by Union artilleryman Thomas Jackson Rodman. The guns were designed to fire both shot and shell in seacoast fortifications; the guns had a curving bottle shape. Rodman guns differed from all previous artillery because they were hollow cast, a new technology that Rodman developed that resulted in cast iron guns that were much stronger than their predecessors. 

   The 482nd Civil Engineer Squadron was activated and served in Operation Desert Storm for four months in 1991.  The MAC Committee of the South Dade Chamber of Commerce welcomed them home with a parade.

   The deployment this year will honor the Air Force 70th Birthday and the 75th Anniversary establishing the WWII Homestead Army Air Field.  What will be

different this year is that the team will be made up of Air Force retirees and four veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The veterans will be looking to learn skills which will enable them to find employment.  Other Air Force requirements in the past have resulted in ten times since 1972 when deployments to the Fort were not possible.

   Members of the Flamingo Wing Association of the 435th Troop Carrier Heritage Wing are taking the lead this year under the guidance of retired Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Cheeseman who commanded the 482nd Civil Engineer Squadron from 1982 to 1992 when he retired.  Retirees first became a part of the deployments in 2010 and they have continued until the

present.  This is the first year for veterans to

participate.  One year Marines from a reserve unit participated.

   Thank you Air Force civil engineers for your continued support to South Florida.

Bob Jensen is a retired US Navy Commander and the president of the Florida Pioneer Museum and the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum.

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