Tyndall Air Force in the Panhandle is making progress in a massive effort to rebuild after it was devastated by Hurricane Michael last fall. But the need for housing and sufficient funds to complete the repairs are still critical issues.
Civil engineer Lt. Col. Michael Askegren said five out of the six missions that normally operate at Tyndall are back up-and-running. Those include Air Force wings, weapons testing and engineering departments.
F-22 Raptor jets are periodically returning to Tyndall, but flying operations remain at Eglin Air Force Base, where they were shifted after the storm.
The base will have a new mission in 2023. The Trump Administration announced last week that Tyndall will host three squadrons of F-35 fighter jets.
Askegren said this creates an even greater sense of urgency to complete the base’s restoration plan, which he outlined at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit in Jacksonville on Tuesday.
Askegren said about 50 percent of facilities on the base can be repaired while the other half must be torn town.
He said the base won’t simply be restored to its former state, officials have redesigned the layout to make it more resilient to storms and convenient for service members who work there.
Repairs at the base had stalled this spring when the base when out of money for projects, but in June Tyndall received another $557 million in military construction funding from the federal government.
That will get Tyndall through another round of repairs, but Askegren estimates the total cost of restoration will cost about $3 billion.
He said the base will continue to seek government funding, but it’s also looking to the private sector to step in.
Previously, the base was fenced in such a way that most of the property required special identification to access, including the golf course, which wound up shutting down because without public access there wasn’t enough demand to justify keeping it open.
Now Tyndall has moved its fencing so that outer portions of the waterfront property, including the golf course, is accessible to the public and for possible development.
“We're thinking this is very valuable land, it’s now considered outside the fence line yet still on Tyndall property, what can we do to develop this?” explained Askegren. “Because it really is an amazing piece of land with amazing views, especially at sunset.”
While fixing the base is a priority to Tyndall officials, so is taking care of the airmen working there, said Askegren.
He said housing is one of the biggest problems service members and their families are dealing with.
Most airmen are living in either permanent dorms that survived the storm or some of the new temporary dorms built earlier this year to house service members working on the base.
In the first few months after the storm, people were living in tents, but Askegren assured no one is currently living in “Tent City.”
The dorm-style housing is allowing airmen to keep working, but when it comes to finding a place to settle down with their families, it’s much more challenging.
"We had 867 housing units on base prior to the storm, we have zero right now,” he said. “So all of those people had to find a place to live, myself included, I lost my house in the storm."
Askegren says it's hard to find homes off the base that families can afford with what’s known as the Basic Housing Allowance they receive from the military.
Re-builidng family housing on the base is part of the masterplan officials expect could take several years to fully complete.