PANAMA CITY — Florida Gov. Rick Scott stopped by Gulf Coast State College on Tuesday to congratulate everyone who helped get Tyndall Air Force Base selected as the preferred site for the MQ-9 Reaper wing.
“We have been winning projects in the last seven years because of what you do here and what people have done in other communities,” Scott said. “We realize we are competing. We have to make sure our military can solve their needs here better than they can any place else. And if they do, we’re going to continue to get jobs here. We’re going to continue to help our federal government fulfill the mission of defending the freedom of this country.”
Scott was one of many people who attended a ceremony at the school’s Advanced Technology Center celebrating Tyndall likely getting the wing. An environmental analysis, which could take nine months to two years, still has to be completed before it’s a done deal, but military and Bay County leaders already are expecting big benefits.
Congressman Neal Dunn of Panama City, who was instrumental in steering the wing here, also spoke at the ceremony. He said the approximately 1,600 incoming airmen will “strengthen” the nation, Air Force and community.
“We here in Bay County will welcome these airmen with open arms,” said Dunn, an Army veteran who often works on legislation geared to the military and veterans. “This community has always been friendly to the military. ... That’s what’s going to make this shine for the new airmen.”
Fellow Florida legislators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson also spoke but didn’t attend in person, mentioning the Reaper’s benefits via video. Rubio said he is a “staunch advocate” of basing the MQ-9 mission in Florida and congratulated the Bay County Chamber of Commerce.
“This mission will strengthen our local businesses and continue to advance the vital role Florida’s military community plays in defending our great nation,” Rubio said.
Glen McDonald and Tom Neubauer, Bay Defense Alliance members who lobbied the Air Force and legislators to bring the wing here, shared everyone’s enthusiasm. The two mentioned numerous benefits expected to come from the wing in a separate video shown Tuesday, including millions of dollars from base construction.
“It will strengthen the base for a long time to come,” said Neubauer, who was given a small Reaper model by McDonald.
Airmen could arrive in 2020, with aircraft following in 2022. The wing is expected to increase Tyndall’s workforce by more than 30 percent. The Reaper is an “armed, unmanned, remotely piloted aircraft that can travel more than 1,100 miles and stay airborne 10 to 12 hours,” the Bay Defense Alliance video stated.
“They’re designed to strike time-sensitive targets with precision,” a voiceover stated.
Vice commander of Tyndall’s 325th Fighter Wing Col. Brian Laidlaw, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford and Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki were other notable Bay County figures at the ceremony.