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HURCON exercise helps ready base, personnel and families

“We like to think that every time we do these, we get a little smarter... a little better at what we do. There’s always a better way to do things,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Jones as a convoy prepares to “evacuate” to Malabar Tuesday morning during “Ocean Breeze 08,” which simulates the aftermath of a hurricane. “Bottom line: be prepared, not scared,” he said. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Karl Wiest)

“We like to think that every time we do these, we get a little smarter... a little better at what we do. There’s always a better way to do things,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Jones as a convoy prepares to “evacuate” to Malabar Tuesday morning during “Ocean Breeze 08,” which simulates the aftermath of a hurricane. “Bottom line: be prepared, not scared,” he said. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Karl Wiest)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.

For Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Jones, 45th Civil Engineering Squadron, those three words pretty much sum up his current job, where he serves as the superintendent of his squadron's Hurricane Recovery Team (HRT).

"It's no secret why we do these exercises time and time again. We live near the beach in Florida. It just makes common sense. Training for a major hurricane and a possible evacuation is more a matter of when than if," Sergeant Jones said.

This week's exercise, named "Ocean Breeze 08," was designed to test the readiness of his team, when it was an-nounced that a major hurricane would hit the Space Coast within 24 hours.

To do just that, dozens of vehicles of all kinds made a caravan-like trip to Malabar Transition Annex in Palm Bay.

Sergeant Jones said the HRT consists of 135 personnel from 12 different base organizations. They began the 25-mile trip around 8 a.m. Tuesday.

"We use the Malabar facility because it is capable of withstanding a Category 4 storm and it is on the mainland away from the storm surge," Sergeant Jones said.

When asked how long the HRT would have to stay at the facility, Sergeant Jones said the answer was simple.

"For as long as it takes. Safety is our number one priority. Wing command, along with input from our HRT commander and the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center make the call when we come back. It's always a joint effort," he said.

The sergeant said even though this week's exercise was going well, there is always something to be learned from the constant practice and preparation.

"We like to think that every time we do these, we get a little smarter ... a little better at what we do," he said. "There's always a better way to do things."

He also said others on base should already be in the planning stage right now.

"Simply put, practice makes perfect, make sure you and your unit know the proper procedures in the event of a hurricane, have a plan and stick to it. Check and double check cell and home phone numbers. Check on one another. It's all about being a good Wingman," he said.

He also had some advice for those with family members.

"Have a plan of action for your family and always have at least two separate evacuation routes plans, since you never know which direction the storm will take," he said.

"Make sure you know where important documents and needed medicines are. Bottom line: be prepared, not scared."

And he said there's only one way to make sure that happens.

Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.