On his first visit to Fort Irwin, Congressman Paul Cook said he was impressed at how the Fort Irwin community came together after a freak thunderstorm on Aug. 25 caused more than $100 million in flood damage to many areas of the National Training Center, including the closing of Lewis Elementary School.
“This is a very special community,” Cook told a crowd of about 60 Soldiers and civilians at a town hall meeting, the first stop of his visit on Nov. 5. As a retired Marine Corps infantry officer, Cook recalled how today’s military services are different from the post-Vietnam War era.
“Every time you go to a combat situation, if you have a difficult situation, you worry about the right flank, the left flank,” Cook said. “Often times, it comes from the small unit involvement. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the other reason why I’m so passionate about the military services. When you have that morale, it’s going to contribute to problem solving.”
Asked about his concerns for the local economy, Cook urged his audience to focus on education.
“The services, especially the Army, have great schools,” Cook said. “Take advantage of every school you can get. It’s going to prepare you to make that transition … How much does an auto mechanic make now nowadays? It’s the same thing in your chosen field. Get as much education as you can.”
After the town hall, Cook toured Fort Irwin to view a construction project and areas that were damaged by the monsoon flash flood. At the site of the future water treatment plant, Garrison Commander Col. Jon Braga explained to Cook that the new facility will convert the two-pipe water system (potable and non-potable) to a one-pipe delivery system for potable water.
“This is great. Water is huge,” said Cook, a Yucca Valley resident, who had earlier described himself at the town meeting as a “desert rat” sensitive to desert issues.
From the vantage point overlooking the construction site, Cook was also able to see the Fort Irwin terrain that contributed to the flooding. Braga described the storm’s microburst that poured three inches of rain in one hour on the installation and the direction of the water flow.
Cook viewed damaged at a bridge on Outer Loop Road and asked about the repairs for the columns, whose foundations are exposed. Muhammad Bari, director of Public Works, explained that funding for the fix was pending.
Braga mentioned that the bridge is one of 166 issues with structures that Garrison is dealing with from the flood.
Cook also viewed the repairs at Lewis Elementary School, which will be ready for students to return Jan 13. Ninety percent of the classrooms were affected by the flash flood, according to Principal Patricia Baer. District Superintendent Dr. Marc Jackson, Baer and Karen Gray, president of the SVUSD Board of Trustees, provided Cook descriptions of the work. Cook thanked the trio and said they had done a great job with the situation.