July 24, 2014 10:06:53 AM
Officials at Columbus Air Force Base say they are evaluating the services they provide to personnel after an Air Force Times study listed the base as one of the least-popular to be stationed in the Air Force.
The article, titled "Bringing up the rear: The 5 worst bases in the Air Force," ranked CAFB as tied for the third worst assignment. Air Force Times is a publication that covers the Air Force community. It is a Gannett-owned publication independent of the U.S. military.
The study used 12 criteria to compile the ranking of 68 Air Force bases, including local school quality, commissary size, size of on-base health care facilities, climate and crime rates, among others.
The article describes CAFB's amenities as "disappointing," adding that its commissary and exchange are small compared to other bases. Air Force Times also references sales tax and unemployment rates being above the national average, hot summers and lack of healthy food selection.
One person quoted in the story has been stationed at the base for five years. He described CAFB as "a black hole for enlisted members." He also said, "Columbus is a career-ending base, where many have retired (or) separated due to just being stuck at the base."
On Wednesday, Senior Airman Stephanie Englar, a base public affairs specialist, said CAFB is no different from any other base in regard to how airmen professionally progress and receive assignments, nor is it different in how the size of its facilities are determined.
"The Columbus AFB Exchange and Commissary are businesses and use business models to determine their size and are the right fit for the population demographic of Columbus Air Force Base," Englar said. "In addition, our Exchange offers free shipping of merchandise from the Maxwell AFB, Alabama., and Keesler AFB Exchanges."
Through Englar, base officials also noted CAFB's tight-knit relationship with the community, which it partners with to enhance the quality of life for airmen.
"Along with numerous on-base events hosted by our Force Support Squadron such as the recent 5K Color Run, Columbus Air Force Base also recently held a 'Stand down day' where we stopped all operations for the day to focus on building unit morale and teaching the Airmen how to take care of their fellow wingmen," Englar said.
Base officials also noted that the base's hospital was downsized to a clinic because it is more cost effective to seek emergency and specialty care outside the base rather than operate its own full-scale hospital. Englar noted that the base has a free fitness center, but airmen who live off base tend to use commercial fitness facilities that provide military discounts.
CAFB wing commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing Col. John Nichols said he would use the article as a way to evaluate the quality of services provided.
"While the news as a whole may seem negative about Columbus Air Force Base, it also has a positive side," Nichols said.
CAFB was one of six bases where Charles Rogers was stationed during his military career. He said of all of them, CAFB was his favorite and he enjoyed Columbus enough to move back in 1991 when he retired.
"I love it here, but it's not uncommon to hear people from other places talk about Mississippi as a whole state," Rogers said.
Rogers added that he still shops frequently at the base and believes it provides what is needed for a small base.
"The base itself is small, so the commissary is quite adequate for the amount of people you've got," Rogers said. "You've got the Internet now. You can order all the stuff you want that you can't get at the store."
Other bases on the list included Hanscom (Texas) Air Force Base and McConnell (Kansas) Air Force Base. Los Angeles Air Force Base was listed as the worst of all 68.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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