U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., whose district includes Tyndall Air Force Base, is asking Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donovan to return the F-22 Raptor fighter jet training mission to Tyndall before that training is moved to Virginia's Joint Base Langley-Eustis. The F-22 training mission was moved from Tyndall AFB to nearby Eglin AFB in the wake of Hurricane Michael, but some elements of that training remain located at Tyndall AFB.

TYNDALL AFB — U.s. Rep. Neal Dunn believes a return of "the sound of freedom" — the roar of F-22 Raptor fighter jets — could boost morale in Bay County, home of Tyndall Air Force Base, as the base and the community continue to rebuild after Hurricane Michael.

The Category 5 storm roared ashore last Oct. 10 and all but destroyed the base, which housed F-22 training, and caused extensive damage to a wide swath of the eastern Panhandle.

In the wake of the storm, Tyndall’s F-22 training units were moved to Eglin Air Force Base. Currently, the hundreds of personnel with the 43rd Fighter Squadron, which trains F-22 pilots; the 372nd Training Squadron’s Detachment 4, which provides F-22 maintenance training; and the 2nd Fighter Squadron, which flies the T-38 Talon to provide air-to-air combat training as part of F-22 training, are working out of Eglin.

The Tyndall F-22 operations are at Eglin under a "temporary bed-down" agreement with the federal government. Earlier this year, the Air Force identified Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia, as its preferred choice for permanent basing of F-22 pilot and maintenance training. But the former Tyndall units could remain at Eglin for as long as two more years under the bed-down arrangement as the potential environmental impacts of moving those units to Joint Base Langley-Eustis are studied.

Plans call for Tyndall to be rebuilt to what the Air Force says will be a "21st-century" base, incorporating "smart building" technology and constructed to withstand major hurricanes. Additionally, Tyndall has been identified as the future home of three squadrons of the F-35, the latest-generation stealth fighter jet.

But for the short term, between now and the time the F-22 units now at Eglin are relocated to Virginia, Dunn wants those operations returned to Tyndall. He has asked Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan to make those arrangements.

"I write to request that you consider resuming F-22 training temporarily at Tyndall until Joint Base Langley-Eustis is prepared to fully accommodate that training mission," Dunn wrote in a letter to Donovan on Monday. Dunn reminded Donovan that F-22 simulators and faculty remain at Tyndall even as the aircraft are flying out of Eglin.

"This results in many airmen, air crew, maintainers and engineers commuting almost 4 hours round trip on an almost daily basis," Dunn wrote, calling those circumstances "a burden and a cost that could readily be addressed by temporarily relocating the F-22 Training Squadron back to Tyndall."

During a Wednesday hearing convened by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in Panama City to discuss Hurricane Michael recovery, the commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, Col. Brian Laidlaw, said 73 percent of the airmen and civilians who had been on base before the hurricane are now back at Tyndall.

In his letter to Donovan, Dunn maintained that the "flight line at Tyndall is now capable of serving this mission" and argued that Tyndall is the only place in the southeastern U.S. where some of the more demanding F-22 maintenance issues can be handled.

Dunn also wrote that "the extra burden that the F-22s impose on Eglin AFB can be easily served on Tyndall AFB, freeing up Eglin's airmen to prepare for their next F-35 squadron."

According to Lt. Savannah Stephens, public affairs officer for the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin, which flies the F-35 fighter jet and is sharing the flight line with the transplanted Tyndall F-22 units, the presence of those units hasn't been a burden.

"It hasn't hurt us at all," said Stephens, who called the sharing of space with the F-22 units "a great win for us."

According to Stephens, the T-38s from Tyndall have provided Eglin pilots with an opportunity for adversary training at significant cost savings. And, she added, the sharing of personnel has even allowed the 33rd Fighter Wing to fill an executive officer position that isn't routinely occupied.

The only problem, Stephens said, has been in sharing airspace with the F-22 units, but attentive scheduling has minimized that issue.

Dunn's letter also makes an emotional appeal for the return of the F-22 training mission to Tyndall.

"The continued sound of the F-22s over Bay County would do wonders for morale as the community rebuilds," Dunn told Donovan. "Bay County misses the sound of freedom overhead."

Donovan's office had only limited comment Thursday.    

"The Air Force has received the letter and will respond appropriately back to Rep. Dunn," Lt. Col. Sheryll Klinkel, public affairs adviser to Donovan, said in an email.