WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tyndall Air Force Base was mentioned frequently during a recent congressional subcommittee hearing at which Department of Defense leaders were grilled for two hours on how military installations are being prepared for future severe weather threats, as well as climate change issues and cybersecurity challenges.
Two subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee met Oct. 16, five days after the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael roaring across the eastern Florida Panhandle, laying waste to Tyndall AFB.
Rebuilding the base to accommodate its future mission of hosting as many as three squadrons of F-35 stealth fighter jets by 2023 is projected to cost $4 billion.
“I continue to be concerned about what the (Department of Defense) is doing to ensure our installations are able to withstand ever-increasing threats from ... severe climate events, among other things,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-Rhode Island, chairman of the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
“When it comes to our armed forces, we as a nation have not given these threats to our installations the attention that they deserve,” Langevin added,
The subcommittees’ members wanted some assurance that the money headed to Tyndall AFB, and the billions in additional funding headed to bases in North and South Carolina damaged by September 2018’s Hurricane Florence, and this year’s flooding at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base, would be used to boost the installations’ resilience against major weather and climate events.
Answering to Langevin and other subcommittee members were Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, and three assistant service secretaries with similar duties — John Henderson of the Air Force, Alex Beehler of the Army and the Navy’s Lucian Niemeyer.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-California, who chairs the Readiness Subcommittee, was far more blunt than Langevin about his expectations for the massive infusion of funding coming to Tyndall and other installations in the wake of recent weather and climate issues.
“Installation resiliency is the foundation to readiness,” he said.
“There’s a significant pile of money that has been and will be appropriated,” Garamendi said. “That money must be spent in a manner that maximizes the resiliency of that base ... and the standards to be applied must be the strongest standards available in the world, not just in the (United) States.”
Garamendi went on to issue a not-so-thinly-veiled threat to the defense leaders should they opt for any course other than maximum resiliency.
“You don’t want to have to come (back to the lawmakers) and explain why you didn’t build to the maximum standard, do you?” he asked, answering his own question with a pointed, ”No, you don’t.”
McMahon said the Department of Defense updates its building standards each year based on lessons learned from events like Hurricane Michael, and those standards are reflected in both new construction and rehabilitation of existing facilities
And, McMahon went on to say, “We’ve got to acknowledge that the climate is changing.”
The Department of Defense officials also heard from Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., who suggested that planning for weather and climate threats to military installations should be commonplace.
“Resiliency is something Florida takes very seriously,” said Waltz, who represents part of the state’s eastern coast.
“Obviously, we have to deal with it every year,” he said. “... There are areas of Florida that are flooding now on a sunny day. The sea level is rising, and we have to deal with it.”
Additionally, the DoD leaders heard from Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pennsylvania, who noted a personal connection to Tyndall AFB, where she did field training in the Air Force.
Saying that Tyndall has a “special place in my heart,” Houlahan nonetheless wondered at the wisdom of allocating funding to military facility repair rather than the climate and weather issues that make those repairs necessary.
“It seems as though we would be well-served if we could find $4 billion to try and prevent these kinds of things from happening,” Houlahan said, “not necessarily from a resiliency standpoint, but from a standpoint of addressing the root cause surrounding it, which is the climate that is changing around us.”