TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A number of key missions at hurricane-ravaged Tyndall Air Force Base will resume operations by the start of the year, but the F-22 stealth fighters and related personnel were not on an Air Force list posted Friday.
Instead, different aspects of the F-22 programs that have been at Tyndall will be spread across the country, from Eglin Air Force Base outside Fort Walton Beach to Virginia, Hawaii and Alaska, according to an Air Force news release.
“By the winter holidays and in many cases well before, we expect all our airmen -- military and civilians -- to have certainty about their options, so that everyone is either on a path or already settled,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in the release.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson raised the possibility that the F-22 aircraft may never return to Tyndall.
Military.com reported that Wilson was asked during a conference call with reporters Friday about whether the 55 F-22s operating from Tyndall will return. She replied, “That has not been determined."
State lawmakers and regional officials have expressed concern that the base, where pilots have trained to fly F-22s, would be downsized or closed after it took a direct hit Oct. 10 from Hurricane Michael.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sent out a news release Friday saying he will continue to press for the return of the base to its “pre-Hurricane Michael strength.”
“Wilson assured me today that we will rebuild Tyndall," Nelson said in a statement. "Tyndall is critical to our national security and will take a long-term commitment to fully restore the base."
The base has employed about 11,000 military and civilian personnel. A Pentagon study in 2017 put a $3.4 billion value on the facilities and projected the base’s annual economic impact -- combining payroll, expenditures and jobs created -- at $596 million.
In its release Friday, the Air Force announced the 601st Air Force Operations Center and air-battle manager training by the 337th Air Control Squadron, at a reduced size, will resume operations at Tyndall by Jan. 1. The 337th’s training will be at full production by next summer.
Also, remaining at Tyndall: the 53rd Air-to-Air Weapons Evaluation Group, the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, the 823rd Red Horse Squadron, Detachment 1, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the Air Force Medical Agency Support team and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
However, the release said personnel and F-22s from the 95th Fighter Squadron will relocate to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
The 43rd and 2nd Fighter Squadrons’ F-22 Fighter Training, T-38 Adversary Training Units and the 372nd Training Squadron, Detachment 4, will relocate operations to Eglin Air Force Base.
And the Noncommissioned Officer Academy will temporarily disperse across four locations: McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in Tennessee; Maxwell Air Force Base-Gunter Annex in Alabama; Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi; and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.