Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday announced that Tyndall Air Force Base will soon resume some parts of its F-22 training mission, as the installation continues to recover from Hurricane Michael’s devastation.
During a visit to Tyndall, along with his wife Karen, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Florida Governor Rick Scott, Pence repeatedly pledged that “We will rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base,” most of which was heavily damaged by the Category 4 storm. Pence also said the briefing on Tyndall’s status he and Wilson received was “greatly encouraging,” and spelled out some early plans to get parts of Tyndall’s mission back up and running.
“To see the progress that’s been made in just two weeks and a day is a great tribute to the people of the Panhandle,” Pence said. “It is a great tribute to the men and women who serve here at Tyndall Air Force Base in particular. As President Trump said when he was in the region not long ago, ‘We’re with you.’”
Wilson said that Tyndall’s air operations center, which is responsible for managing the air defense of the United States and has more than 800 people working there, will be back up and running by Jan. 1. Another air operations center is handling that responsibility now.
The simulators in Tyndall’s F-22 training schoolhouse were not badly damaged, Wilson said, and likely will be operational again soon.
The F-22s and T-38s used to train pilots there still can’t fly out of Tyndall, she said, but they’ll be temporarily staged at Eglin so training flights can resume.
“By Thanksgiving, we will have F-22s in the skies over the Panhandle,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the Air Force has so far committed $100 million to recovery efforts at the base.
Scott said that Tyndall is a major economic engine in that portion of the state, which affects about 20,000 jobs and brings $2.5 billion a year to the local economy.
“All of us in Florida know the importance of Tyndall,” Scott said.
The governor also said Florida will reopen its local schools as soon as possible so Tyndall’s civilian personnel can get back to a normal life.
Pence praised Tyndall commander Col. Brian Laidlaw and the 325th Fighter Wing, and passed along Trump’s congratulations, for the way they responded to Michael.
“What Col. Laidlaw and his team did here, with very little notice, as Hurricane Michael approached, was in the highest tradition of the United States Air Force,” Pence said. “To be able to move that many personnel, that many resources, that quickly, it’s what the Air Force knows how to do.”
Laidlaw said that many of the personnel and families evacuated from Tyndall are at nearby Eglin and Hurlburt Field, so the Air Force has set up a welcome center there to offer legal, moving. personnel and school advice.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.