In October 2018, Tyndall Air Force Base and the surrounding area was devastated by Hurricane Michael. The damage was so severe there was talk of shuttering the base entirely.
Yet due to the dedication and selflessness of Tyndall Exchange associates and the community, the main store was able to reopen before the holidays, helping to restore a sense of normalcy to Airmen and their families as the recovery efforts continue.
“Nowhere has the Exchange’s core value of ‘Family Serving Family’ been seen more in action than at Tyndall,” said Tom Shull, Director/CEO, who visited the base on Oct. 10, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael. “These associates made many personal sacrifices to be there for Airmen and their families when they needed it most.”
Each Tyndall associate has a story of experiencing Hurricane Michael and the recovery process, and some of them have shared their stories with the Exchange Post.
Lillian and Zuileka Pena, Express manager and main store department manager
After Hurricane Michael struck, Lillian Pena and her daughter, Zuileka, received a phone call from Eastern Region leadership, asking if they’d go on base and assess the damage to Exchange facilities. They were the first from the Exchange team to see the base after the storm.
“The first time we drove up, everywhere we looked, everything was destroyed,” Lillian said. “I was in shock. I couldn’t even cry. We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
The Penas’ first thought was of their employees.
“At the time, we hadn’t heard from a lot of our employees. Are they okay? Did they make it? Were they able to evacuate?” said Lillian, who also served as interim general manager in the months after Hurricane Michael.
Fortunately, all Tyndall associates were soon accounted for, and the monumental task of cleaning up began.
“The employees started showing up. They didn’t have to—they were on administrative pay and had their own houses to worry about,” said Zuileka, who now works at Georgia's Fort Stewart Exchange. “But we all really wanted some sense of security for people to be able to come in and get what they needed from the Exchange,”
Thanks to the associates’ hard work, the Exchange main store re-opened just six weeks after the storm, much to the amazement of the shoppers. Having the main store operating was a step towards the community returning to normalcy.
“We’re very passionate about the Exchange. This is what I’ve done for 37 years,” Lillian said. “We’re taking care of those who take care of us, who serve and leave their families and sacrifice for us. They’re our heroes.”
Daniel Haines, main store department manager
Daniel Haines was among the first group of associates that began cleaning up at the main store.
“It was just chaos,” Haines said of his first view of the situation. “I’ve lived here for 25 years. Landmarks around the base that I use to give people directions—they’re just gone.”
Seeing the destruction was difficult, but one of the best moments for Haines was the arrival of the mobile field Exchange just a few days after a request from Tyndall command.
“It was rough when people would come to us and ask us if we were open and having to tell them no,” he said. “When we got the mobile field Exchange in and were able to start selling things again, that was important.”
Suzanne Bowden, customer experience associate
When Suzanne Bowden, who has worked at the Tyndall Exchange for 28 years, got the call to come into work, her immediate feeling was relief.
“Coming to work was a blessing,” she said. “I got some normalcy back in my life. Otherwise, it was just sitting around with no electricity, no water.”
Bowden was without utilities for two weeks.
“I was so thankful to have something to occupy me.”
Gloria Doland, administrative assistant
The recovery process also brought new associates to the team, such as Gloria Doland, who came to Tyndall in January with her husband, Tim, an Air Force instructor, and began working at the Exchange in June.
“Things were pretty bad when we first got here,” Doland says of the hurricane’s destruction, including downed trees and leveled buildings.
In the months she’s been at Tyndall, Doland has also seen the sense of hope not only at the Exchange, but around the installation.
“We’re all optimistic that the base will make a full recovery,” she said. “And we’re grateful that it’s already come as far as it has.”