TYNDALL AFB, Fla. --– The $4.25 billion rebuild of Tyndall Air Force Base may seem like an overwhelming task to some, but for three Air Force civil engineer captains at the heart of the Program Management Office, the project presents a once in a lifetime opportunity.
As project managers for the PMO, and as part of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, Capt. Zach Bierhaus, Capt. Kyle Kowalchuk and Capt. Will Page are charged with finding solutions to the many potential issues that could affect the Air Force’s on-going efforts to develop the Florida base as the “Installation of the Future.” It’s an experience they will not get anywhere else.
“Until now, the closest I ever came to a new military construction project was as a second lieutenant assigned to an engineering flight at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota,” Bierhaus said. “They were rebuilding a runway and a B-52 hangar, and two projects at a time was a big deal. Now seven years later, I’m impacting 42 projects worth billions of dollars.”
To make the best decisions for crucial rebuild issues, leadership from the 325th Fighter Wing and the PMO rely on the captains to serve as experts on their individual subject matter, relaying vital information and recommending the best courses of action as the rebuild progresses.
“Essentially, the PMO is building a brand-new base from scratch while keeping it fully operational at the same time,” Kowalchuk said.
While Kowalchuk’s main priorities are infrastructure and gate projects, he’s particularly proud of the role he plays in shaping a resilient and innovative installation to meet today’s mission and future missions.
“I’m working major resiliency factors in the utility infrastructure program, and trying to define what resiliency means to us is a really big beast,” he said. “I’m also working on facility-related control systems, so I get to be a part of some of the innovation that will be included in the rebuild. This is really a very unique position to be in because of how vast the program is and how quickly we’re going to get this done.”
For Page, the rebuild enables him to take on new roles and responsibilities that go far beyond the typical duties of a captain in an engineering flight.
“I’m doing things I wouldn’t typically get the opportunity to do at this point in my career,” said Page, the environmental expert. “I’m looking at things like coastal resiliency and even the survivability of the base. You really wouldn’t see this type of impact or sheer scope of responsibilities until you’re a senior field grade officer.”
In addition to heightened responsibilities, the rebuild also gives the captains the opportunity to think outside the box and find creative solutions.
As the logistics expert for the rebuild, Bierhaus has a rare opportunity to think – and do – things differently.
“I’m looking at crazy cool things to answer the question, ‘How do we make it the most efficient and easy for contractors to get their work done?’” he said. For example, with 140 miles of coastline fronting the base, the Gulf of Mexico could be a major supply delivery artery, which would help unclog the nearby Highway 98 corridor. Now Bierhaus is thinking barges instead of big rigs.
“Not a lot of Air Force engineers know anything about water-borne traffic, so I’ve had to learn about what it takes to get a barge in,” he said.
PMO leadership knows just how valuable the captains’ contributions are to the overall rebuild.
“These engineers are the core of our team, and we couldn’t do this without them,” said Col. Travis Leighton, PMO director. “This is an opportunity very few company grade officers will ever get and every single one of our captains is punching way above their weight. We couldn’t be prouder of our team, and the PMO’s role in growing tomorrow’s leaders, continuing AFIMSC’s strategic priority to develop ready and resilient warfighters.”
Tyndall is slated to welcome their first of 72 new F-35 fighter jets in September 2023.