By Taylor Koopman, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs
/ Published January 27, 2020
Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing commander, discusses the impact of Hurricane Michael during a rebuild town hall meeting at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 23, 2020. The Tyndall Program Management Office and the 325th FW hosted two town hall meetings to update Airmen and their families on the rebuild process occurring at the base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Clayton Lenhardt)
Air Force leaders from the 325th Fighter Wing and the Tyndall Program Management Office shared their vision of the “Installation of the Future” with Airmen, their families and base personnel at a town hall meeting, Jan. 23, at Tyndall Air Force Base.Airmen were offered two sessions to hear directly from base leadership as to what has been done so far and what is to come as the rebuild continues.“We are not just rebuilding Tyndall AFB,” said Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th FW commander. “We are not rebuilding the base we had, but the base we need for the future. Part of what makes Tyndall (AFB) so valuable for our nation is not just what it can handle today, but the potential it has for the future.”Tyndall AFB is uniquely advantageous to the Air Force due to its geographical position, allowing for largely unrestricted airspace over the Gulf Coast and high-growth potential, as well as its critical missions for Air Force lethality and readiness, Laidlaw said. The base is home to the F-22 Raptor simulator training program, the only Air Battle Manager School Air Force-wide, and is headquarters for the First Air Force – the eyes and ears that protect our nation.“There are things we do here we quite simply cannot do anywhere else,” Laidlaw said. “These are not operations that can be easily picked up and moved to another location.”Despite the fact that life at Tyndall AFB post-Hurricane Michael is not the same as life at other Air Force bases, Laidlaw encouraged the audience not to be disheartened by what might appear to be varying degrees of progress in and around the base.“The truth is, we are exactly where we predicted we were going to be when we set off on this journey 15 months ago,” he said. “This is what progress looks like. Every day we’re doing 90% of the missions we were doing prior to the storm with 80% of the people, and we’re doing it in only 50% of our facilities.”Getting these important missions done in less than optimal conditions requires tremendous sacrifice out of each and every Airman, said Laidlaw. However, base leadership remains optimistic about Tyndall AFB’s ability to stay on track to become the “Installation of the Future.”“Know that we have the funding we need to make it happen,” Laidlaw said. “We have complete commitment from our government and Air Force leaders, and we have a plan that has remained incredibly consistent since the very beginning.”Col. Travis Leighton, PMO director, walked through Tyndall AFB’s master rebuild plan to explain how the base will move forward.“This is an unprecedented opportunity for Team Tyndall,” Leighton said. “Nowhere else could you rebuild and reset an entire base like this. For context, new military construction Air Force-wide in an average year is $1.5 billion. You are doing twice that here at Tyndall (AFB).”Leighton said some of the major changes Airmen can expect to see as the estimated $4.25 billion rebuild progresses include an overhaul of the Flightline District to make room for 72 new F-35 Lightning II fighter jets and other potential new weapons systems (such as the MQ-9 Reaper), and improved facilities on a walkable campus, including a community commons equipped with a new chapel, child development center, and bowling alley, among others. The Florida Department of Transportation is investing $20 million in a flyover connecting the north and south sides of the base over U.S. Highway 98 to improve traffic flow at the base.Increasing installation facility standards to not only ensure buildings meet resiliency expectations, but also look and feel like 21st-century facilities is of vital importance to the rebuild, Leighton said.“These standards will incorporate smart-building sensors, increased hurricane wind load levels, and design flood elevation specifications,” Leighton said. “But even the architectural designs will support energy efficiency and structural resilience.”Airmen can expect new facilities to look and feel similar to Tyndall AFB’s fitness center – one of the few buildings on base to survive Hurricane Michael with little to no damage.“We are living in a transitional state,” Leighton said. “Planning and design is going on right now. As we move into construction, there will be some new challenges with hundreds of contractors coming to the base. A lot of you will be working in temporary facilities, and there may be competition for parking, but your leadership is working hard to make sure your needs are met.”With a current force of approximately 4,000 Airmen on base, including 1,700 active-duty service members and 1,200 family members, Laidlaw estimates manpower could potentially grow up to another 4,000 as Tyndall AFB’s missions become fully operational once more.Newly arrived to Tyndall AFB, Airman 1st Class Jack Putnam of the 325th Security Forces Squadron appreciated the open communication about the future of the base.“Back in tech school, nobody knew anything about Tyndall (AFB) other than it was hit by a hurricane,” Putnam said. “I thought it was pretty interesting to see the support we have not only from Congress, but the community as well. I’m excited to see how the base grows and then to be able to have the opportunity to be a part of that.”For Rochelle Lehr, a retired veteran and spouse, hearing the rebuild plan firsthand from base leadership was key to clearing up potential misconceptions and answering important questions.“I think seeing the rebuild timeline was very important because a lot of people weren’t certain of that and misinformation does spread,” Lehr said. “But to see the architecture was wonderful. I was excited to see it, actually. The base of the future is exciting. What the Airmen of the future are going to have is amazing.”The multiyear, multibillion-dollar rebuild is an unprecedented opportunity for the Air Force to adapt to the 21st century challenges it now faces while continuing to provide unrivaled airpower for the nation.“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s not going to be easy,” Laidlaw said. “The facilities we build now are going to house missions and protect resources our Air Force hasn’t even invented yet. We took everything we could learn from this terrible hurricane that has created so many headaches for all of us, and we built a plan that will be flexible enough to be relevant to our Air Force 80 to 100 years from now.”Tyndall AFB is scheduled to be fully operational and will begin to welcome 72 new F-35 fighter jets in September 2023.For more information on the progress the Program Management Office at Tyndall AFB is making on the rebuild, visit https://www.afimsc.af.mil/TyndallPMO/.