Sept. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force said Tuesday that nearly a year after Hurricane Michael wrecked Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., it is planning to rebuild an upgraded base in partnership with community and private industry.
The third industry day teaming Air Force planners with community representatives and private industry to plan rebuild was held Thursday at the Panama City campus of Florida State University near the base, the U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday.
Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Fla., and the rest of Bay County were devastated by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
The 325th Fighter Wing Vice Cmdr. Jefferson Hawkins said in late 2018 rebuild would likely take five years. Before the storm hit, the base contained more than 860 housing units and was served by more than 11,000 airmen and their families.
Officials said the goal is to build a base that the Air Force needs instead of recreating the one that previously existed.
Brig. Gen. Patrice Melancon, the reconstruction program management office executive director, urged the more than 400 attendees to bring innovative ideas to the table.
"Rebuilding Tyndall as a 21st century, digitally integrated facility integral to the nation's defense requires creativity and ideas from outside the normal lines of thinking," Melancon said. "We've asked folks to come here and share their ideas with us. These are ideas we hope will spark some thoughts and spark hope."
Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing Commander at Tyndall AFB, agreed community input is needed.
"What we are doing is bigger than any one person," Laidlaw said. "This effort if going to require close coordination between Bay County and the base."
Laidlaw and Melancon said that "resiliency" is a word that resonates throughout the Panhandle, and that the base is slowly coming back online over time.
"By the numbers, our staff is back to 85 percent, but working out of 50 percent of our buildings," Laidlaw said. "We are flying more F-22s today per week than we were prior to the hurricane. We are getting the mission done."
The project to rebuild the Tyndall AFB has been hit with budget cuts that have led to delays.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon diverted $3.6 billion originally allocated for military construction to 175 miles of fencing for the border wall, some of which would have otherwise gone to Tyndall AFB.
The second industry day was held at FSU's Panama City campus back in May on the heels of an announcement announcement Congress did not appropriate additional funding for work at Tyndall AFB amid a $4 billion shortfall in Air Force budget for FY2019, halting all the new rebuild work in May.
The hurricane caused nearly $5 billion in damage to the base, damaging nearly 700 buildings and forcing the relocation of 11,000 personnel and 46 aircraft.
The first industry day held at FSU to plan the rebuild was held back in January.
Among the reasons, the U.S. Air Force wants to get the base moving again is that it is a great location for up to three F35 squadrons, U.S. Air Force Acting Secretary Matt Donovan tweeted.
The @usairforce is committed to sending #F35s to @TeamTyndall. The #USAF just completed an in-depth analysis & confirmed @TeamTyndall is a great location for up to three #F35 squadrons that will increase our #readiness & #lethality. #PanHandleStrong pic.twitter.com/8Hf5ovfdE1— Matt Donovan (@ActingSecAF) August 6, 2019