EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The F-35 has matured into a capable aircraft and it’s beginning to be based around the world. Eielson is one of those locations and it is set to house two F-35A Lightning II squadrons by the year 2022.
To prepare for this monumental change, which is currently expected to increase the base’s population by 50 percent, personnel from the 354th Fighter Wing hold semiannual Site Action Task Force meetings, which typically span four to five days.
The SATAF brings together experts from a multitude of agencies and allows them to convene specific working groups that deal with issues such as maintenance, personnel, operations, facilities and communication.
Part of the preparation includes building up Eielson’s infrastructure to support the new F-35 mission, which was addressed in this SATAF.
“During this SATAF we were able to look at facilities to determine the effects it would have on different groups if it weren’t complete on time; however, we were able to bring up some great work arounds,” said Kevin Blanchard, the 354th FW F-35 Program Integration Office director. “There were no insurmountable problems but the working groups certainly made us think about some things that we need to weigh in on to have a successful bed down and subsequent flying operations.”
The projected increase in population will not only effect Eielson. The Fairbanks North Star Borough’s population, which is estimated to be 100,605 people according to the 2016 Census, will see an increase of about three percent.
To account for this spike in residents, leaders from the borough attend the SATAF meetings to discuss what is happening within the local community to prepare for these upcoming changes.
“This is the seventh SATAF and they’ve all been very successful,” said Michelle Branco, Deputy Director for PACAF/A5FB (Basing). “The SATAF meetings allow for cross-functional talks, action items, and issues that they may foresee or anything else that wasn’t initially identified as a requirement by the site survey.”
These requirements include things such as housing availability, access to medical care and other quality of life items.
The meetings allow both Eielson and the FNSB to identify future problems and determine a solution before they’re able to make negative impacts on the base and community.
“The draft recommendations we saw today [April 18] give us a lot of reason for optimism,” said Jeff Stepp, the special assistant to the mayor of FNSB. “If we’re able to begin working on these proposals and can achieve them in the time prescribed, we can make a lot of progress and be ready for Airmen when they arrive.”
With the first aircraft scheduled to arrive in April 2020, it is now more important than ever that the military and local community continue to stay engaged with one another through events like the SATAF. Doing so will ultimately ensure a successful arrival for the F-35.