Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson gave an ironclad commitment to reconstructing flood-ravaged Offutt Air Force Base after a briefing and tour Friday with local political and military leaders.

“The U.S. Air Force will rebuild Offutt Air Force Base,” Wilson said during a short press conference after the tour. “We’ll make this base even better than it was a week and a half ago.”

That was before massive floods on the nearby Missouri and Platte Rivers broke one levee just south of Offutt and overtopped another, turning the southeastern third of the base into a giant bathtub. Thirty occupied buildings, including the 55th Wing headquarters and two large aircraft maintenance hangers, were swamped with 2 to 8 feet of muddy water, and one-fourth of the 2-mile-long runway was submerged.

“It was quick,” said Col. J. David Norton, the 55th Wing’s top engineer. “When they say ‘flash flood,’ they’re not kidding.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.; and Col. Michael Manion, the 55th Wing commander; joined Wilson for the tour.

She saw that the water had pulled back completely from the runway, taxiway and apron, though several feet of water remain in an area with several fuel tanks and in the airfield’s grassy infield. Assessment teams were also able to re-enter 20 of the 30 inundated buildings by the end of the day. About 3,200 of the base’s almost 10,000 workers have had to work in temporary quarters since the flood.

Though a full damage assessment hasn’t been made yet, Drew Nystrom, a 55th Wing spokesman, said the damage would certainly be in the “tens of millions” of dollars.

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Wilson said she would work with Fischer and Bacon to secure whatever funds are needed to rebuild the base. She said the $130 million runway reconstruction project, scheduled to begin this fall, would also continue. She said engineers will be coming in shortly to assess the condition of the runway and taxiways to see if any changes need to be made.

”We’ll work with the delegation to make sure when the runway is built in really good shape for the long haul,” she said.

“Hopefully we’ll get this done quickly,” Fischer said.

Manion said the Nebraska National Guard allowed some of the 55th Wing’s displaced aircraft to move to its facilities at the Lincoln Airport.

”The airmen of this Wing are extremely resilient,” he said. “We were able to regenerate and start flying training sorties again on Wednesday out of Lincoln thanks to our National Guard partners.”

Though the floods came within 100 yards of the U.S. Strategic Command hilltop headquarters, StratCom continued with a worldwide exercise called Global Lightning 19.

StratCom is scheduled to move into its new $1.3 billion headquarters — which also remained clear of floodwaters — at the end of the year, clearing the way for the 55th Wing to take its place.

“We’re going to figure out some way to move faster into this building, so (55th Wing) can use our building,” said Gen. John Hyten, StratCom’s commander.

Wilson rewarded six military and civilian personnel who aided in the 30-hour effort to hold back the floodwaters last weekend, giving them military “challenge” coins. Although the flood couldn’t be stopped, she said their efforts to move equipment above or away from the water likely prevented millions of dollars worth of damage.

”When things went really wrong here a week ago, Nebraskans really helped Offutt Air Force Base,” she said. “And that says something about the neighborliness of Nebraskans that really matters to the United States Air Force.”