Tyndall Air Force Base
Bay County, Florida
12:18 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all very much. Let me say, Karen and I traveled to the region a week ago to see the impact of Hurricane Michael, but this is our first trip to the Panhandle and to see the extraordinary devastation.
It’s been deeply moving to us, but also to see the resilience of the people of Florida and to see the progress that’s been made in just two weeks and a day is a great tribute to the people of the Panhandle. It is a great tribute to the men and women who serve here at Tyndall Air Force Base, in particular. And frankly, it’s a great tribute to Governor Rick Scott. And I want to thank the Governor for his strong partnership with our administration on behalf of the people of Florida affected by this storm.
As President Trump said when he was in the region not long ago, “We’re with you.” We’re going to stay with all of the families of this region impacted by Hurricane Michael until we “rebuild bigger and better than ever before.”
And working very closely with Governor Scott, with local officials here, our FEMA personnel continue to be on the ground. And we’re just going to make sure that all of the resources, all of the support is being made available from the government, as well as that we’re facilitating and making private-organization support to families directly impacted by the storm.
We’re particularly grateful to be here today at Tyndall Air Force Base, a vital military installation in our national defense. It is home to the largest fleet of our F-22 Raptors, a critical air operation center.
And the briefing we just received was greatly encouraging to me and I know to Secretary Heather Wilson. To see the way that Colonel Laidlaw and his team responded in the hours before the storm to protect the lives of some 11,000 Airmen and their families who serve here; to see the way that General Williams and his team have responded has been in the highest tradition of the Air Force. And it’s deeply inspiring to us.
We’ll take back the information from the briefing today, but President Trump sent me here with two messages. Number one was to congratulate Colonel Laidlaw and the 325th on the way they responded to Hurricane Michael. And number two, to say to all the men of the 325th and all the families in this region affected by this place: We will rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base.
We were able to announce today that what’s known as the Schoolhouse will return in very short order to this region. Eglin Air Force Base will be where our aircraft fly out of, but the simulators will be back online here soon.
And General Williams and the Air Operations Center will be stood up and operating very shortly. We believe by the first of the year, the Schoolhouse Air Operations, as well as the coordination in General Williams’s command, will be operating again.
And our commitment is, working very closely with Congressman Dunn and other leaders on Capitol Hill, is President Trump and I are committed to provide the resources necessary to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base so that it can continue to be a vital and critical part of our national defense.
With that, let me thank and recognize Governor Scott for his presence here today and for his great leadership.
GOVERNOR SCOTT: Well, first off, I want to thank Vice President Pence and Karen Pence for being here. And that is unbelievable news. All of us in Florida know the importance of Tyndall. Probably everybody in the country knows the importance of Tyndall as a military base.
But for the people in Bay County, in this area of the state, we know it’s an economic driver. It’s a probably $2.5 billion-a-year economic impact. So it’s not only just important to the safety of our country, but it’s important for jobs. Tyndall probably impacts about 20,000 jobs in this area.
So I want to thank the Vice President. I want to thank President Trump for their commitment to Tyndall. I want to thank Colonel Laidlaw for — this is my second trip here. I came here right after the storm, and there’s been a lot of things that you’ve already — you’ve gotten a lot done.
I want to tell you that the first thing he said to me is his commitment to the military families. And I can tell you, on behalf of the state of Florida, we’re going to get the school open. We’re going to make sure the kids get back in their school. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure all the civilians that work in Tyndall can get back into their homes and get back into a normal life as quickly as possible.
I want to thank Secretary Wilson for her commitment to Tyndall and her hard work. She told me I did have to get a new hat — not a Navy hat. But I want to thank you for that.
And I want to thank Congressman Dunn for his commitment to make sure Tyndall is going to get rebuilt.
I also want to thank President Trump, Vice President Pence, and the entire administration for being so responsive on FEMA.
I spoke to the President — or the Vice President almost every day, right before the storm and after the storm. Everything I asked for has come through. One-hundred percent has come through. We’ve got individuals working for FEMA all over the impacted areas of the state. They’re well received. I’ve told Administrator Brock Long, he’s got people that they like. I think, in our communities, they don’t want him to leave. They liked him so much.
But they’re here. They provided the resources. And I know they’re going to stay here. And we’re going to make sure that, for every family in our state, whether it’s a federal resource, a state resource, or a local resource, it’s going to happen for every one of those families.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Governor. Thank you for that. Let me say again, we’re here to receive a briefing on the needs here at Tyndall Air Force Base. But President Trump sent me here today to commend all the men and women of the 325th, and to say to each and every one of them: We will rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base.
The details of that — maybe Secretary Wilson, maybe you could elaborate a bit about what reopening the Schoolhouse here, getting the air operations center back up will mean in real terms.
SECRETARY WILSON: Well, for the air operations center — the air operations center at Tyndall Air Force Base is responsible for the air defense of the homeland of the United States. And a few hours before the storm, that was transferred to another air operations center, and we’re going to get it back here. And over 800 people work in that air operations center, and we want to get back to initial operating capability by the 1st of January.
The Schoolhouse, which is where we train F-22 pilots for the nation, is here at Tyndall Air Force Base. The simulators here were not very badly damaged, and we think we can get those back up and operational, and be training pilots here.
So we are going to bring the Schoolhouse aircraft, which are F-22 aircrafts, as well as T-38 aircraft, and stage them out of Eglin. And we are going to restart the simulator we’re flying here at Tyndall. We can’t fly aircraft out of Tyndall at the moment. But by Thanksgiving, we will have F-22s in the skies over the Panhandle.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Questions?
Q Many people are counting on the jobs. Tyndall Air Force Base has put so many jobs and people to work. How soon can those people in this area — surrounding areas — get back to work?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, our commitment here, as Secretary Wilson just described, is to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, first and foremost for our national defense.
I mean, what Colonel Laidlaw and his team did here, with very little notice, as Hurricane Michael approached, was in the highest tradition of the United States Air Force. To be able to move that many personnel, that many resources that quickly, it’s what the Air Force knows how to do. And we’re inspired by that.
But we want to respond with just as much energy. And President Trump’s message for me to deliver today is that we’re going to rebuild this base, and by taking the immediate steps of reopening the Schoolhouse in short order. The air operations center that General Williams commands has more than 800 personnel, which will be back on the base.
But our objective is to make sure that the families that serve here are able to return here as quickly as possible. And I remain very confident that, with Congressman Dunn’s support, with the strong support of Governor Scott and leaders in the Congress, that we’ll have the resources to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base.
Q When you flew in, can you just describe what you saw here at Tyndall?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would tell you that, for Karen and me, it was just deeply moving. I mean, our heart breaks for the families that have been impacted all across the Panhandle.
Our prayers have been with those families, with our first responders. But to see even after two weeks of cleanup the level of devastation that is still evident and the hard road back that this community will have to take is very moving to us.
But, what I want to assure people all across this region is we were with you that day, we were with you the day after, and we’re going to continue to stand with the people of the Panhandle until we rebuild bigger and better than ever before. That’s our pledge. That’s President Trump’s solemn promise. And I know that Governor Scott, the state of Florida, and leaders across this region will work with us to see to it that that happens.
Q Talk about the resources being provided to those military families to keep them here, working at Tyndall and surrounding areas.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I might let the Secretary speak to that specifically. But they are very much — let me say, the families are on our minds. We’re the Second Family of the United States, but we also have a son in the service, and a daughter-in-law, and so our hearts go out to all of the families that have been impacted by Hurricane Michael here at Tyndall Air Force Base. And we’re going to make sure that we make this as easy on the families as possible.
The Colonel and I spoke about that today. But, Secretary, maybe you can unpack what we’re doing for the families.
SECRETARY WILSON: Kudos to the base here and Colonel Laidlaw and his team for supporting the families. And we have people dispersed all around, mostly the southeastern United States.
The United States Air Force has committed $100 million, so far, just in recovery efforts here on the base. And Colonel Laidlaw has teams at different Air Force bases to help all of the families, as well as we’re getting and pushing information out to them.
Colonel Laidlaw and his team evacuated 11,000 people in less than 22 hours, and got most of the aircraft off of this base and not a single (inaudible) death. And it’s — you know, that’s something you could never recover from if you lost a life in a storm like this. So kudos to the team and the leadership team.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And, Colonel, you had shared with me that some of the families during the transition periods will be able to be at Eglin and continue to operate, particularly some of the pilots will be operating aircraft out of Eglin. Maybe you could describe some of that transition for families.
COLONEL LAIDLAW: Yes, sir. Absolutely. What I would say is, first off, thank you very much for all the support. Like you, the families and our Airmen are first and foremost in our minds in a time like this.
As the Secretary said, we recognized pretty early on where our had repositioned. We found where those pockets of people were. And I’ll be the first to say we don’t have all the answers yet, but the answers that we do have, we’re doing the best we can to get those to the people who need them very quickly.
One of those areas that have a high concentration of our Airmen and their families is 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. 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.
So in the short term, what we’re going to do is we’re going to use the resources that we have. We’re going to put those resources in the places where we know the people are. And as we develop the plan forward for who’s going to go where and what equipment is going to go where, we’re going to keep pumping out information the way that we’ve been doing it as best we can for the last two weeks.
So my answer to that question is: Keep asking them. I’ve got a team of folks here on base and a team of folks throughout the Air Force that are committed to helping me answer those questions as best as we can. And, quite frankly, some of the hard questions are going to take a little while. Keep those questions coming because those families are on our mind. And that is key tenet for the strategy that we’ve been pursuing for the last two weeks.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Colonel. And Karen and I, and the Governor and the Secretary, will be traveling to meet with families at a local church in just a few minutes. We want to make sure they know they’re on our hearts, in our prayers. We’re grateful for their service.
Most of our military personnel serve as families. We want the families of Tyndall Air Force Base to know that we’re with them, but we’re grateful for them. Grateful for the response of the leadership here and grateful for all the Airmen, the way that they responded as Hurricane Michael approached.
And our message is very simple: The Commander-in-Chief is proud of the men and women of Tyndall Air Force Base, and we’re going to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base.
So thank you very much. Appreciate you all being out.
12:32 P.M. EDT