Air Force secretary: send disaster money ASAP

Officials say it will cost nearly $10 billion to repair recent storm damage at military bases

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson testifies during a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support hearing in Russell Building titled “United States Air Force Readiness,” on October 10, 2018. On Thurday Wilson said the Defense Department needs money to fix nearly $10 billion in damage to military bases.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Heather Wilson, the outgoing Air Force secretary, said Thursday that the Defense Department desperately needs Congress to quickly bankroll recovery from recent storm damage at military bases, which officials say will cost nearly $10 billion to fix.

Senate leaders are drafting a disaster aid supplemental bill that may contain a down payment in aid for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The House passed its own version last week with $1.5 billion to help military installations recover from hurricanes.

The military services have already shifted scores of millions of dollars from other projects to address the most pressing disaster damage. Without getting at least some of the rest of the money soon, more construction, training and other activities will have to be curtailed, officials have argued.

Alabama Republican Richard C. Shelby, chairman of Senate Appropriations, “has said he’s going to try to get the supplemental on the floor next week and out of the Senate by Memorial Day,” Wilson said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast. “It’s really important that we do that, because we have borrowed money from all the rest of the Air Force to minimally recover at Tyndall. Our insurance company is the United States Congress.”

Wilson recounted for reporters an exchange she had over breakfast on May 13 with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who had just visited Tyndall and who oversees Camp Lejeune.

“‘I had no idea,’” Wilson said Spencer told her that day. “‘Tyndall Air Force Base is so much worse than it was at Lejeune. This is eight months later and it still looks like a disaster zone.’”

“And he’s right,” Wilson told reporters. “There have only been five times in U.S. history that a Category 5 hurricane has made landfall, and the eye of the storm went right through Tyndall Air Force Base.”

She also said that readiness rates for F-22 Raptor fighter jets have been adversely affected by the Tyndall damage.

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