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Florida county happy F-35s likely coming to Tyndall Air Force Base after Hurricane Michael

An F-35 Lightning II from the 461st Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., soars over the Mojave Desert on a test sortie on August 14, 2014.

CHAD BELLAY/LOCKHEED MARTIN

By COLLIN BREAUX | The (Panama City, Fla.) News Herald | Published: December 16, 2018

EASTERN BAY COUNTY, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The mayors of small towns in eastern Bay County bordering Tyndall Air Force Base say they’re happy about the F-35 squadrons that likely are arriving.

Callaway, Springfield and Parker have lost residents and have seen structural damage from Hurricane Michael. The military is a significant part of the region’s population and culture, so Tyndall’s bouncing back is welcome news for area leaders.

“Being this close, it will affect our housing and redevelopment after our storm damage,” said Springfield Mayor Ralph Hammond.

Estimates are 93 percent of homes in Springfield had “some sort of damage” and approximately 300 residents are “moving out and gone” based on water turn-offs, Hammond said earlier this month. The Air Force recommends Congress use supplemental funding to rebuild Tyndall to prepare it to receive three F-35 fighter squadrons, which could bring in 72 total aircraft by 2023 and more than 2,000 airmen.

The incoming squadrons means higher-paying jobs, and “anything new” will help the area, said Hammond, who expects Springfield and eastern Bay County to be recovered by the time the F-35s come in.

“By then, we’ll know who’s staying and who’s gone,” Hammond said. “We’re excited the base is staying. We’ll reach out with open arms to the airmen.”

Callaway Mayor Pamn Henderson said the squadrons and airmen will provide a customer base for Callaway businesses. News about the influx also will encourage other people to repair structures, including apartment complex managers, Henderson said.

“There will be people that need housing, so hopefully in the interim, while Tyndall gets rebuilt, we’ll be able to rebuild Callaway,” Henderson said.

Parker Mayor Rich Musgrave called the Air Force’s announcement,”a very welcome announcement.”

“We know nothing’s final until it happens, but this would be an incredible impact to our community,” Musgrave said. “There are many local businesses that relied on military customers and I’m sure this will help speed those businesses’ recovery. Housing, of course, is a key element to any expansion of the base. Given the timing, I would think we’ll have a fair amount of housing available by the time airmen begin to arrive. Of course, there are still hundreds of folks locally who are also seeking housing, so we’ll see how that all rolls out.”

Musgrave added that Parker is “hopeful that the MQ-9 Reapers will still be approved for the base.”

©2018 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)
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