AIR FORCE TIMES recently rated every Air Force base in the United States on a number of important quality-of-life categories to determine the Best Bases for Airmen. After scores were calculated for all 68 bases, Scott Air Force Base ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Residents of Southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis Metropolitan area can understand why our region's largest and most prominent defense facility earned such a high rating. But many higher-profile host communities were probably in for a surprise. According to Air Force Times, a widely read weekly newspaper, Scott and the other top-rated bases are "diamonds in the rough" that "provide good places for airmen to raise families and entertain themselves" as they do their duty and defend our country.
Fortunately, the Air Force Times ranking is just the latest in a series of developments that indicate Southwestern Illinois is gaining ground in its effort to promote Scott as an advantageous site to locate additional military commands and the overall region as a great place to live and do business.
Using independent public sources such as GreatSchools.com and Sperling's Best Places, Air Force Times editors produced ratings for each facility based on nine regional criteria and three base-specific factors important to service members. In calculating final scores, ratings for school quality, cost of living, and housing costs were judged to be the most important community considerations and were triple-weighted. Scores for regional crime rates and transportation were doubled, while ratings for air pollution levels, climate, unemployment rates and sales taxes received no additional weighting.
Scott Air Force Base led the final tabulation with an overall score of 167, tied with Ohio's Wright-Patterson AFB on total points. Scott topped the list due to superior ratings given to Southwestern Illinois for school quality, cost-of-living and affordable housing.
GreatSchools' critical schools scores are based on a combination of standardized test scores, year-to-year student improvement; SAT and ACT test scores, and graduation rates. Air Force Times used an average of all rated schools within a 10-mile radius of each base.
These ratings prove that our communities' willingness to invest in quality education is paying dividends for the entire region as well as the families whose children are actually enrolled. If the study had also calculated the benefits of available post-secondary education opportunities, Scott AFB's score would likely soar even higher.
Scott is also the only base in the Air Force Times Top Ten that is served directly by a rail transit system such as MetroLink. This is one more important factor that puts Scott in a class by itself. Among several comments by individual airmen included in the Air Force Times report, Airman 1st Class Sarah Haynes cited MetroLink as a distinct advantage for Scott AFB service members. "As a single female airman, it's the safest way, I feel, for a night in the city," said Haynes, an intelligence analyst who lives on-base.
Col. Kyle Kremer, commander of Scott's 375th Air Mobility Wing, said that Scott is "kind of a hidden gem out there. You can pick and choose what works for you and your family. It's unlike any other place I've been stationed."
The Air Force Times ranking is the second time in the past two years that Scott AFB has won national recognition. Just one year ago, Scott received the prestigious Abilene Trophy, which is presented annually to the community that provides the finest support to an Air Mobility Command unit.
The recent announcement that two new cyber command units will be located at Scott AFB, and the identification of Scott as a potential site for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's new West Headquarters, are evidence that Scott continues to be viewed favorably by military leaders at the Pentagon. The Air Force Times recognition underscores the fact that Scott is also a great place for service members and their families to live, work, learn and enjoy all the advantages of this unique region.
As Col. Kremer says, "I really believe the people in the Midwest are fantastic."
That's the bottom line. And I ought to know. I was privileged to serve two tours at Scott. My family and I lived on or near the base for more than five active-duty years. Upon retiring from the Air Force, we chose to stay right here. Why? The reasons are all around us.
Jack Griffith is a member of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois' Military Affairs Committee. He is a past board chairman of Hospice of Southern Illinois. He and his wife, Bonnie, live near Belleville and are active in church and community affairs.