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‘A lot of things have changed’: Eielson to resume base tours

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Jerilynn Quintanilla / U.S. Air Force
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Two Eielson based F-16s escorted the first two F-35s assigned to the base as they pass by the Alaska Range on April 21, 2020. The last two F-35s arrived in April, bringing the total number of the advanced fighter jets based at Eielson to 54.

Tours will 'showcase' changes at Eielson over past two years, when they were put on hold due to pandemic

Eielson had for years been offering tours of the base to members of the public. But like a lot of other things, that came to halt in early 2020, soon after federal officials declared a public health emergency due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“Pretty much the start of the pandemic is when we kind of put it on hold,” says Staff Sgt. Beaux Hebert, Eielson’s community liaison. Hebert says the tours are intended to let the public know what’s been going on at the installation since then.

“Over the last two years, while we’ve been on this hiatus, a lot has happened at on our base,” he said in an interview Thursday.

The biggest change, of course, is the arrival of 54 F-35s and formation of the 354th Fighter Wing that flies and maintains the advanced warplanes. Hebert says along with the F-35s came a change of mission for Eielson, which transitioned from being mainly a training base to one that’s charged with responding to trouble spots anywhere in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

“We went from where our main mission was just Red Flag-Alaska to now, we are a combat-coded wing,” he said. “Y’know, a lot of things have changed, so we want to be able to showcase that.”

Hebert says the monthly tours will offer an opportunity for the public to check out an F-35 or other aircraft based at Eielson.

“We’re going to try to make it to where each time we go out there, we have a static display, whether it be an F-16 or an F-35.” He added that those aircraft may not be available for all tours, because of mission requirements. But he says they’ll also offer a lot of other interesting venues.

“It could be aircraft maintenance. It could be the fire department. Security forces, explosive ordnance disposal. …”

The first tour will be held this month, and that’ll be the only tour this year. But Hebert says they’ll pick up again in April and run through September. He says base officials set up the April-through-September timeframe because they believe that’s when area residents and tourists would be most likely to visit.

“We’re trying to keep it in the warmer months,” he said.

Hebert says each tour will have 10 to 20 people. And he says base officials will try to organize them so they’ll include specific activities or locales that the tour-goers are interested in.

“We’re going to try tailor each tour to the group,” he said.

Hebert says people who are interested in a tour should contact the base Public Affairs Office to get on the list. The office’s phone number and email address is available on the Eielson home page, at Eielson.af.mil.

Correction: The first base tour will be held this month, not in September, as stated in a earlier version of this story.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.