OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A new drone squadron is coming to Hurlburt Field and it's not only is it bringing more military missions to our area, but it's also adding to the economy.
At least 60 airmen will soon be moving to Okaloosa County.
"Hurlburt added an MQ-9 squadron, not a whole wing but a squadron," said Congressman Neal Dunn.
Adding a second Air Force Special Operations Command Installation Drone unit to Hurlburt Field, the new MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron is expected to bring with it more than just jobs.
"So we're looking at within 18 months having another 60-85 people, active duty people on Hurlburt and also bring with itself some more civilian contractors and families," Congressman Dunn said.
"It's really exciting for us because what that means is more missions are coming here and what that means for us is that the Air Force has seen us as a good partner and a place to put even more missions going forward," Okaloosa County Public Information Officer Christopher Saul said.
A major component of the local economy, many agree it's important to keep the local military happy.
"We offer some really unique things to the military with our coastline and availability for the test center out in the Gulf with the test range. Lots of square miles of government land they do testing. Eglin as always been known, as well as Hurlburt as a testing range, so a lot of high-end technologies are developed here and it's nice to see that we continue to be apart of that conversation," Owner of Liquid Surf and Sail Bobby Nabors said.
"We want to retain our airmen. We're training these pilots and airmen and we would like to have them stay but if they're not happy where they are they tend to bail on the military," Congressman Dunn said.
"It's important to have good paying jobs, which comes with government contracts and some of the military to help balance out the tourism. Our economy is really two-fold. It's tourism and government contracts and military so it's important that we keep both of them healthy," Nabors added.
"We always look at it as diversity is a good thing. The military is our biggest income here in this county. Most people's jobs are in military or affected by the military in some way. Tourism is also very important and we want to make sure we protect both investments by people in tourism industry and in the military industry by making sure our infrastructure is expanding and ready to go to help even more people come here," Saul said.
Because Hurlburt Field helps provide economic stability, bringing the squadron and the jobs only mean the county must grow with them.
"Our goal is to help the growth of this county by providing proper infrastructure for this area and we're looking at multiple ways of doing that," Saul said.
County officials said a new half-cent sales tax on the November ballot will help pay for the infrastructure needed to keep up with the growth.
"It's absolutely essential for us to do our part to help them stay in this community, to help them expand in this community at Hurlburt and Eglin by dealing with infrastructure issues that we might have and other things we can do to make ourselves more attractive to the Air Force in general. It's nice to be on the cutting edge. It's nice to have those top troops here in this area to help us expand our horizons as well," Saul said.
"I think what's important is that our national delegation is always working to keep out military presence strong in our area. It's always evolving," Nabors said.
According to Senator Marco Rubio's website, the new squadron will be instrumental in providing constant intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance worldwide in support of national defense objectives.
“I applaud the Air Force’s decision to base this Air Force Special Operations Command MQ-9 Mission Control Element Squadron at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base," said a statement on Rubio's website. "Florida’s military community plays an integral role in defending our nation, and the squadron’s operations are a key component of the Air Force’s mission to enhance operations, career growth, recruitment, and morale. I look forward to welcoming these servicemen and women, and their families, to Florida. I remain committed to bolstering our nation’s defense and aiding our military to keep Americans safe.”