Eglin AFB Editorial by Ralph Williams
The base has its beginnings from 1935 when it was established as a bombing and gunnery training base. Eglin AFB’s history has spanned five wars and has evolved from a distant and honorable past. James E. Plew, a developer and pioneer aviation enthusiast, offered the U.S. government a lease for 1,460 acres of land for a bombing and gunnery base. The base would be renamed from Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base to Eglin Field in 1937 and ultimately Eglin Air Force Base, named after Lt. Col. Frederick I. Eglin, a U.S. Army Air Corps officer who died in a plane crash in 1937.
The base was greatly expanded following the outbreak of the Second World War when the government transferred 384,000 acres from the National Forest Service to the War Department. Eglin AFB is now one of the largest U.S. Air Force bases in the world. During WWII its staff levels included more than 1,000 officers, 10,000 enlisted personnel, and 4,000 civilians. Nearby Hurlburt Field and Duke Field were built to aid in training the WWII aircrews. Both have grown in mission scope and are part of the greater Eglin AFB Complex. Among the personnel who trained at Eglin AFB were the Doolittle Raiders, led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. With its vast, isolated testing ranges, Eglin made a significant contribution to our American air operations combat effectiveness in Europe and Asia.
An Air Force test and training center throughout the last seven decades, the base works with an emphasis on refining weapon effectiveness and enhancing the ability of precision targeting. With its 10 active training fields, all named after deceased military aviators, the base continues to be an important part of the Air Force’s weapons development and training program. The host command at the base is the Air Armament Center (AAC). They are involved in every phase of our air delivered weapons, from development through field usage and longevity. Besides AAC, other major commands on Eglin include the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) and the Special Operations Command.
Facilities and Quality of Life
Eglin AFB has been continually updated through the years. It offers excellent facilities at a desirable location in the Emerald Coast Florida. Reviewing what is available the question may be, “What is not available?”
I could not think of anything not available on base or in the nearby area suitable for its warm weather climate. The base website lists a full sized exchange, excellent commissary, an aero club where you can learn to fly, an auto hobby shop, a members dive and yacht club, a rifle & pistol club, a riding club, base pool and fitness courts, golf and disc golf courses, marinas with watercraft gear for rent, many dining options, and a private beach area off base on Okaloosa Island. Those stationed with families will benefit from extensive family services like a child development center, family child care program, school-age care program, and youth center. The base is open to all military ID holders and retirees. The dining facility has an impressive website listing it’s menu in advance along with special serving stations offering menu items like stir-fry dishes and sub sandwiches. Near the Gulf of Mexico in the Panhandle of Western Florida, the quality of life here is often tranquil with interruptions only due to sometime stormy weather and hurricane season. The region is beautiful. Its snowy white beaches draw tourists from around the world. Cities nearby are Niceville, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Pensacola (One hour drive west), and Panama City (90 minute drive east).
Housing available on base is open to active duty and retirees (space available). Eglin Inns on base is modern and an award winner. It has two front desk locations located on each side of the base, near the Bayside Inn on Eglin's west side and at the White Sands Inn. A variety of room options are available.
Besides recreation options available on base, Eglin Beach Park is located on Okaloosa Island just west of the Destin Bridge. The facility features large pavilions, a central deck area, restrooms with showers, and access to the Gulf. Online comments drew praise to the park for its clean sandy white beach and isolation from large crowds.
Areas for camping include the park at Camp Robbins which offers 60 sites with concrete and 20 tent sites, a bathhouse, and laundry room. The park at Postal Point is located adjacent to the Outdoor Recreation Center with 20 sites available.
Military Displays and Shows
Next to Eglin AFB is the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum. This museum has free admission and is open to the public. It features 25 static aircraft, a wide variety of bombs, missiles, rockets, and numerous interactive displays spanning from the World War One era to today’s elite forces. Air shows are often scheduled annually at Eglin AFB or at nearby NAS Pensacola, home of the Navy’s Blue Angels flying team.
Emerald Coast Area/ Summary of Eglin AFB
Located on the beautiful coastline of the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s Emerald Coast, Eglin AFB lies in a warm climate area with peaceful white beaches and emerald blue waters that attract vacationers from around the country and around the world. The area and base make this a top duty station especially for young families and those looking for a final base to retire at and live nearby. The base prides itself with the way it cares for its service members with a wide range of recreational opportunities and excellent housing and dining options. Eglin AFB and the Emerald Coast area are great to be stationed at, retire at, or to visit on vacation.