Air Force Times, a widely read weekly newspaper published by Gannett, recently rated every U.S. Air Force base 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!
St. Louis-area residents 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 surprised. According to Air Force Times, 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.
Using independent public sources, 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 led the final tabulation with an overall score of 167, tied with Ohio’s Wright-Patterson AFB. Scott topped the list due to superior ratings given to Southwestern Illinois for school quality, cost-of-living and affordable housing.
Air Force Times calculated school ratings on a combination of standardized test scores, year-to-year student improvement and graduation rates, and then averaged scores for 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 for the families whose children are 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. This is one more important factor that puts Scott in a class by itself. Among several comments by individual airmen included in the report, MetroLink was cited as a distinct advantage for Scott AFB service members.
The Air Force Times ranking is the second time in the recent years that Scott has won national recognition. Last year, 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.
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 over 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 retired major general in the United States Air Force. He is a member of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois’ Military Affairs Committee. He is a past chairman of the board of Hospice of Southern Illinois. He and his wife Bonnie live near Belleville and are active in church and community affairs.