Known to many as both “the best hometown in the Army” and “the intellectual center of the Army,” Fort Leavenworth is famous for being the home of the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, also known as the CGSC, and many other prestigious tenants. While possibly lesser-known than some of the other notable tenants at Fort Leavenworth, the installation’s own Sherman Army Airfield is no less significant.
As a joint-use facility, the airfield is an important feature to civilians and military alike. Unfortunately, after the historic 2019 Missouri River flood, the airfield was devastated. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District has been working to make repairs and design mitigation measures to prevent future flood damage to the airfield.
Flooding in this area happens every few years, with several memorable years being 1951, 1993 and 2011. During the 2019 flood, floodwaters breached the levee and completely submerged the entire airfield. Mark Martinez, an office engineer at the Fort Leavenworth resident office, remembers the flood vividly.
“When the flood waters subsided, there were snakes in the rafters of the hangar,” he said.
There are still high-water marks visible on the walls of the hanger, a remaining sign of the devastating damage. At that time, the pumps at the airfield did not have the capacity to clear the amount of water that had come in. This forced Public Works to take the only way forward.
“The only way they could get rid of the water was to cut the levee and let the water flow out after the water had dropped down,” Billy Summers, airfield manager, said. “That was the only option they had.”
Contract work on the airfield has included demolition, levee repairs, water control structures and more. Val Guillen, a project engineer at the site, outlined the scope of the job.
“The work includes repairs to civil infrastructure damage within the airfield and surrounding levee system at Fort Leavenworth that occurred as a result of [the flood],” he said.
The main focus of the project, though, has been the design and construction of two pump stations.
“These new pumps… it’s a lot more power [than the old ones],” Guillen said.
The pumps function through sensory control. When flood waters begin to rise, the initial phase will simply use gravity to let the water flow back into the river. Once the water rises to the initial sensor, a lead pump will kick in, followed by two secondary pumps if floodwaters continue to increase.
The 2019 flood not only impacted military use of the airfield, which includes Chinook helicopters, prison transfers and medical emergencies, but the local community’s use as well. The airfield’s main clients are distinguished visitors that fly into Fort Leavenworth to visit the CGSC, as well as major companies that have business in downtown Leavenworth, Kansas. It is important to the installation to be able to continue to provide the airfield as a service to these visitors, Guillen explained.
Even beyond military, commercial and recreational use, the need for flood prevention on the airfield reaches everyone who lives and works on Fort Leavenworth. Located near the airfield are the water wells which provide potable water for the whole installation. During the 2019 flood, those wells were submerged, preventing Fort Leavenworth from supplying their own water like usual.
“When those pumps were underwater, we couldn’t get our potable drinking water or flushing water or any other kind of water,” said Travis Schuler, a construction control representative for the project.
The installation had to buy water from the City of Leavenworth, Kansas, costing the installation additional money. Not being able to sustain themselves was a major concern, the project team explained.
Additionally, the airfield is a noteworthy piece of U.S. Army heritage. It is home to one of the only two flying clubs left on U.S. Army installations nationwide. These clubs give retirees and other eligible members the opportunity to get their pilot licenses and instrument ratings. The public are also able to keep aircraft there.
The team has high hopes for the future of the airfield and envision that one day the flying club might get a better office inside the hangar and that updates to the landing strip and runway will improve the overall experience for those who use the airfield.
The original contract work on the project is nearly finished. The new pumps are in the final stages of testing. The contractor for this project is Radmacher Brothers Excavating Company Inc. They were awarded the contract in September 2020.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of calendar year 2023.