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New hangar, dormitory among plans detailed at Dover Air Force Base community meeting

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A new, larger hangar and a dormitory were among the construction projects highlighted at Dover Air Force Base Monday during the annual “State of the Base” program with leaders from business, education and government.

The meeting is hosted by the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee as a time to reflect on accomplishments, highlight partnerships with the community and talk about plans at the base, said Chamber of Commerce board of directors chairman Dana Wattay.

This was the first State of the Base program for the new commander, Col. Chris McDonald, who was promoted in July.

“The outstanding relationship we have built with the Delaware community truly helps us accomplish our mission,” said McDonald.

He highlighted 36 construction and infrastructure projects planned at the base including 18 scheduled for this fiscal year.

One of the major projects is a new fuel cell hangar expected to be finished in the spring that will allow indoor maintenance and repairs to the largest planes.

Also planned in the Department of Defense’s military construction priorities are:

  • a new facility for the Air Force Reserve’s 512th Airlift Wing in fiscal year 2026.
  • a new dormitory in fiscal year 2027 to help accommodate more than 160 airmen who ideally would be able to live on base but who now live in off-base housing,
  • a new hangar complex in fiscal year 2028.

Economic benefits of the base were highlighted including the civilian jobs at the base and all the businesses that benefit from Air Force personnel who are customers at places like restaurants, stores and gas stations.

Two areas for which base leaders listed dollar amounts were $5.7 million in contracts for maintenance, repairs and waste management and over $5 million the base spends at local businesses for food, transportation, hotels and vehicle maintenance.

What are some of the duties of the Department of Defense’s largest aerial port?

Dover Air Force Base is the Department of Defense’s largest aerial port, with more than 3,000 active duty airmen in the 436th Airlift Wing, along with the Air Force Reserve’s 512th Airlift Wing.

Those wings deliver cargo and personnel around the world. For example, they’ve flown 487 aid missions to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. Along with military operations, they help with humanitarian aid like after the recent earthquake in Turkey.

The base is also home to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and the Joint Personal Effects Depot, responsible for the dignified return of fallen American service members.

During Monday’s program, the leaders of each section at the base told personal stories of airmen, talked about why they wanted to serve in the Air Force and shared some of the ways they’re contributing to the base and the community.

Among those recognized were:

  • the team that developed the “flying gas station” so large cargo planes can be refueled and repaired while in flight,
  • an airman who helped locate a stranded ship near Guam and maintained communication until the 11 people onboard were rescued.
  • the base firefighting crew that helped at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant fire in Camden,
  • an airman who has helped 275 family members who come to the base for the dignified transfer of remains of fallen service men and women,
  • the team that developed a 3D printing project to create hard-to-find parts for faster aircraft repairs and less downtime,
  • an off-duty airman who helped with first aid for a man stung by a stingray while fishing at the beach and then helped the responding ambulance when it got stuck in the sand.

“We demand so much of them and that’s why taking care of them is our top priority,” said McDonald said. “We’re fortunate to live in a community that truly cares for them, too.”

Congressional delegation weighs in

Delaware’s Congressional delegation, Sen. Tom Carper, Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, spoke of the base’s impact.

Carper received a standing ovation from the audience after Coons highlighted Carper’s service in the Navy in Vietnam along with about 40 years in Delaware government. Carper has announced he’s not running for reelection.

Carper said he’s proud of the air base projects for which the Congressional delegation has helped organize funding through the years including the new hangar and dormitory.

He thanked the Air Force personnel and said, “The Constitution is words on a piece of paper made real by service men and woman who risk their lives. I hope your service brings the same joy that my service has brought me.”

Coons said he appreciates all the ways the Air Force personnel help on and off the base.

He also focused on how the base contributes to the city, county and state.

“This is a driver of economic activity and you have an unbelievable partnership with the community,” Coons said.

Blunt Rochester also complimented Carper for his years of service and leadership.

She said the State of the Base program is about building bridges with the community, and she’s proud and encouraged by the stories shared during the event about the air base’s contributions to the military, to helping people during disasters and to the Delaware community.

“Safety, security and certainty – you provide that for us, and we owe that to you,” Blunt Rochester said.

Reporter Ben Mace covers real estate and development news. Reach him at rmace@gannett.com.

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