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Promising new era for Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base | Editorial
Air Force selects MacDill as the preferred site for new aerial tankers.
A KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft connects with an F-15 Strike Eagle test aircraft from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on Oct. 29th, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Jackson).
A KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft connects with an F-15 Strike Eagle test aircraft from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on Oct. 29th, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Jackson). [ MASTER SGT. MICHAEL JACKSON | Courtesy U.S. Air Force ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Dec. 30, 2021

Many in government or industry use the distraction of the Christmas holiday to bury bad news. But the U.S. Air Force’s announcement last week that it had selected MacDill Air Force Base as the preferred home for the newest group of aerial tankers marks a promising new era for a key institution in the Tampa Bay region.

The Air Force said Dec. 21 that it intended to send 24 of the new-generation KC-46A Pegasus tankers to the South Tampa base to replace the base’s older KC-135 Stratotankers. MacDill beat out Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington after a review of several factors, including infrastructure, community support and cost. A final decision will be made after an environmental analysis, which is expected to take place in fall 2023.

The announcement is a victory for America’s military mission, MacDill and the Tampa Bay region.

According to the Air Force, the new tankers will bring many enhanced capabilities, with greater refueling, cargo and medical evacuation capabilities compared to the older KC-135. That means more robust support to America’s military branches and its allies. Aside from its air refueling component, MacDill also hosts U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, playing a critical role in the war on terror and in security throughout the hemisphere.

Modernizing the tanker inventory at MacDill creates a scale of operations that bolsters the other military units. MacDill has room to grow as the new tankers are deployed, and Florida’s weather and competitive cost-of-living make it attractive for active-duty and civilian employees alike.

The selection also underscores confidence across Tampa Bay that MacDill will remain a regional player for decades to come. Since 1939, MacDill has contributed to the growth of the Tampa Bay area, having trained crews for duty in conflicts ranging from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. With about 31,000 active duty and civilian personnel, MacDill reports an economic impact of $4 billion. As importantly, local leaders and base commanders have nurtured strong relationships over the years, to the benefit of Tampa residents, MacDill personnel and military retirees alike. That’s no small thing and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who has championed MacDill and the deployment of the KC-46 here for years, summed it up aptly in June: “Tampa is a ‘tanker town,’ and we intend to keep it that way.” Area political and business leaders have been right to make MacDill a priority. The base contributes to the character and economy of Tampa Bay. Now let’s work with the Air Force to get the new tankers across the finish line.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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