By Terrence Nowlin
Hurricane Michael, the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the contiguous United States since 1992, devastated Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base in October 2018. James "Jamy" Yon lost his home in the storm but still managed to be the first PAE contractor back on base to assess the damage
"All facilities were damaged, many were destroyed," he said.
Yon is the Aerial Targets maintenance manager and deputy program manager for PAE Aerial Targets work at Tyndall and Holloman Air Force Bases. He said that the storm left a trail of devastation that prevented normal operations for weeks.
The base and the Air Force requested Yon by name to perform a damage assessment of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group facilities and equipment at Tyndall.
"I can speak to all areas of the program and would recognize what was damaged, what could be brought back to service and what was going to take a longer period of time to get back into service," Yon said. "That was the over-arching drive for that first couple of days back, in evaluating all of our areas. It was a lot to surveil."
Program Manager Dave Olson, Yon's supervisor, said Yon had earned the trust of the Air Force and knew he would be honest with his assessment. His response and leadership under pressure resulted in Yon's nomination as a PAE Values Champion for the value "Have Integrity."
"Jamy was key to getting this program back on its feet," Olson said. "He had the whole team behind him."
The damage was widespread, and power wouldn't be restored to the base for weeks. The Air Force had to make decisions about which base programs could continue and which would be relocated or cease indefinitely, Olson said. Yon made a promise to the head of the 53rd WEG.
"We were able to tell the WEG commander, Col. (Steven) Boatright, … we could be up and operational in three weeks," Yon said. "We made that date. We made our deadline."
Aerial Targets is the only program that returned to operations at the base. A year later, the program is still the only one operational at Tyndall. It's housed in temporary buildings while new facilities are planned and constructed.
"Based on Jamy's assessment, the government largely supported us being in business," Olson said. "There was a serious push to shut the whole thing down."
Instead of being shut down, Olson said Yon and two other principals of the project, Full Scale Manager Steve Davis and Range Instrumentation Systems Manager Richard "Len" Williams, were successful in restarting operations at Tyndall.
"By December, we flew our first full scale mission," Olson said.
Yon's reputation for integrity extends beyond the recent response to hurricane aftermath. He built it on a career managing operations for the Aerial Targets program at the base starting in 1988, when he began work as an electronic technician at the Gulf Range Drone Control System. Aerial Targets provides training and weapons testing for the Air Force, conducting exercises like flying unmanned drones as targets. The work is exciting but requires precision, he said.
"Integrity is everything in this game," Yon said. "You put a warm body in the airplane and launch him out and know in your heart that he's going to come home because you did your job right. You didn't cut corners; you didn't not check something because that could be his life."
Having spent the better part of three decades at Aerial Targets, he said there's just nothing as fulfilling as the work he does.
"It's a great job," Yon said. "To see a full-size fighter, a fourth-generation fighter—now with the F16—take off and when not shot down, recover, come back and land with nobody in it, it's just way cool."
He is unfailing in his dedication to the Air Force customer that allows him to work alongside "some pretty wicked toys," as Yon described them. But his true reward is in service to client, he said.
"I can say with sincerity I do place extreme value on the customer and the customer's satisfaction," Yon said. "If you keep them informed and deliver what they're asking for, you'll have a happy customer."