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House lawmakers question whether Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune should be rebuilt

A construction worker looks at the partially demolished Chapel 2 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 15, 2019. The chapel was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael, a category 4 storm that made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. The demolition marked the beginning of a long process to clear out damaged structures to make way for new construction. (Senior Airman Javier Alvarez/U.S. Air Force)

House lawmakers on Wednesday questioned whether Tyndall Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune should be rebuilt after both military bases were devastated last year by separate hurricanes.

“It is in harm’s way now. It has been in the past and it will be in the future,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee subpanel on readiness, said about Tyndall. “And the question that this committee is asking — and we will expect an answer from the Air Force — does it make any sense to rebuild at that place?”

The congressman acknowledged there are important reasons why Tyndall, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael in October, is located along the northwestern coast of Florida about nine miles outside of Panama City. Those reasons include an offshore exercise testing range.

“But we’re going to ask the very, very hard question about just how much is going to be done at that base. And similarly with Camp Lejeune,” Garamendi said during a hearing to discuss the resiliency of military bases to climate change as well as severe weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. “Are there other places that certain parts of the mission or all of the mission should be conducted?”

Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base located on the North Carolina coast, along with Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point, were devastated by severe flooding after Hurricane Florence hit the region in September.

Last month, Lt. Gen. Michael Rocco, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel on personnel that almost 500 buildings on the base cannot be occupied due to damage from the storm.

If the bases need to be rebuilt where they are, Garamendi said: “The requirement will be that it be built to maximum resiliency given the threats that exist there.”

That requirement would also apply for all new military construction or improvement projects around the world, he added.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., said she did some field training at Tyndall when she was in the Air Force. She questioned whether the climate in Florida was conducive to training given that servicemembers often lose training days due to the heat.

“Should we be more proactive in the sense of not maybe placing training bases in the Panhandle of Florida?” Houlahan asked. “And maybe putting them somewhere where the weather may be more temperate and more realistic. More days available for training.”

“I think we are going to have to look at that,” replied David Titley, a retired Navy rear admiral, was one of three witnesses speaking at the hearing. “And I know this becomes incredibly contentious, right? Because that sounds like a four-letter word starting with ‘B’,” referring to the process of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.

During his service, Titley was the director of U.S. Navy Task Force Climate Change.

“One of the things I think the [Department of Defense], from a readiness perspective, has to look at, is where best can we do the missions. Lots of things go into that, but weather is one of those components,” he said.

Houlahan also asked Titley, when it came to rebuilding bases such as Tyndall, whether they were looking at ways to make them more resilient and learning from how the civilian sector rebuilds.

After Hurricane Andrew destroyed Homestead Air Force Base in Florida in 1992, the state improved its building codes, Titley said. But the problem goes beyond what to do differently, he said.

“It’s not only learning the lessons — we know a lot of these lessons, they aren’t rocket science,” he said. “They aren’t even that hard. We need to execute them, we need to do it on our bases but also in our communities where our people are living.”


© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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