Vice President Mike Pence and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Thursday pledged a full recovery for Tyndall Air Force Base from the destruction caused by Hurricane Michael, but they gave no timeline for when flightlines would be reopened and military families could return.
On a visit to Tyndall in Florida's Panhandle, where hangars, air operations centers and base housing were destroyed by the recent storm, Pence echoed President Donald Trump in promising to rebuild the base "bigger and better than before."
Wilson said the Air Force has committed $100 million to recovery efforts thus far.
Neither Pence nor Wilson would say how many F-22 Raptor fifth-generation fighters were unable to fly off the base before the storm hit two weeks ago, or how many of the ones that rode out the storm on-base were damaged.
The majority of the more than 50 F-22s stationed at Tyndall were flown to other bases. Wilson said many of them would be returning to Florida in the coming weeks for training, but they will be flying out of Eglin Air Force Base.
"We can't fly aircraft out of Tyndall at the moment," Wilson said. "But by Thanksgiving, we will have F-22s in the skies over the Panhandle."
She said that the 800 airmen who worked in the air operations center would also begin returning in the coming weeks.
"We want to get back to initial operating capability by the first of January" for the air operations center, Wilson said.
The "Schoolhouse," where pilots train on F-22 simulators, was also expected to be back in operation by Jan. 1, Wilson said.
Wilson and Pence said Tyndall base housing would be restored, but said there was no estimate on when the 600 military families who were safely evacuated would be able to return.
Shortly after the storm hit, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, commander of the National Guard Bureau, told defense reporters that 100 percent of the housing at Tyndall was uninhabitable.
When asked for an estimate on when families could return, Air Force officials cited the example of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, which took five years to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
"Our objective is to make sure that the families that serve here are able to return here as quickly as possible," Pence said Thursday.
Col. Brian Laidlaw, commander of the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall, also had no estimate for the return of families but said there was a concentration of evacuated Tyndall airmen and family members "just west of here at Hulbert Air Force Base, Eglin Air Force Base."
"So we have a welcome center set up for those Airmen and those families," Laidlaw said. "You can get things like legal advice, you can get moving advice, you can get personnel center advice. We have school liaison officers, because I know schools are on people's minds as well."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.