Top 10 Air Force Bases in the U.S.

best air force bases
This F-35 was recently added to Luke Air Force Base, a desert gem sitting at #4 on our list. Credit: Air Force Times.

If you could pick any duty station — where would you go?

These Air Force bases are generally well-liked by airmen; some in popular cities, and others a bit more obscure.

Continuing from our top 10 Army stations and top 10 Navy bases within the U.S., here are the best Air Force bases the states have to offer:

 

10. Barksdale Air Force Base — Louisiana

Barksdale Air Force Base sports the Air Force’s newest command: Air Force Global Strike Command. Their mission? “To protect our nation and its global interests by providing devastating B-52 combat capability and unmatched expeditionary combat Airmen. ANYTIME… ANYWHERE”.

Barksdale is adjacent to Shreveport and Bossier City, in northwestern Louisiana. The median home price in BC is low, at $161,000, and the area is extremely military-friendly and celebratory. Louisiana is best suited for fishermen, hunters, and people interested in their authentic and unique Cajun cuisine. The base itself is big and updated. Due to its border proximity, service members can easily venture into Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Louisiana summers are hot and muggy; winters rarely get colder than 40 F. The state seems to be particularly prone to natural disasters, the most obvious being Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They were also subject to the 2016 Louisiana floods, which resulted in the submergence of thousands of homes and businesses.

 

9. Vandenberg Air Force Base — California

best air force bases
Rocket launch at Vandenberg AFB. Credit: Ventura County Star.

Though it only houses around 3,500 people, Vandenberg Air Force Base encompasses over 98,000 acres, much of which is central California coastline. It’s a national park-like setting, without the congestion of other parts of California.

Vandenberg performs DoD space and missile testing; it’s the only stateside base that launches unmanned satellites into polar orbit. It hosts the 30th Space Wing, as well as launch pad facilities for SpaceX. As a missile testing base, it serves to defend against possible North Korea or Iranian missile threats.

The city of Lompoc is around eight miles south of base, and Orcutt and Santa Maria are northeast, around 10 and 15 miles away. The median home cost in Lompoc is $336,000 — not as expensive as SoCal, but reflective of California’s higher cost of living. The weather here is also milder. It’s rarely below 32 F or above 82 F.

 

8. Hickam Air Force Base — Hawaii

Hickam is part of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, home to 66,000-plus sailors, airmen and their families. You can read about Naval Station Pearl Harbor in our top 10 Navy bases.

Hawaii duty stations are generally popular among service members, but the reason Hickam still sits at #8 is due to the high cost of living in Hawaii. The median home value on Oahu is upwards of $700,000, and everything else is more expensive, too. Despite this drawback, Hawaii boasts year-round gorgeous weather, beaches, hiking spots and a small community feeling. The city of Honolulu is a financial and commercial hub, with much to see.

Hickam AFB is Headquarters of Pacific Air Forces, the 15th Wing and Hawaii Air National Guard. Its C-17 Globemaster III is the largest and speediest cargo plane in the military.

 

7. Lackland Air Force Base — Texas

best air force bases
A group of NCOs from Joint Base San Antonio celebrate making senior master sergeant. Credit: Joint Base San Antonio.

Joint Base San Antonio is comprised of Lackland AFB, Randolph AFB and Fort Sam Houston. Lackland houses the 802d Mission Support Group, and is the only place Air Force recruits go for Basic Military Training (BMT).

Located in Bexar County, south central Texas, San Antonio is three to four hours from both Houston and Dallas. It’s the seventh most populated city in the U.S., with a median home cost of $172,000 — 14% lower than the national average.

The local scene in San Antonio is lively, with tons of events and holidays. With activities both inside the city and out, it’s a great area to live if you want to stay busy. Expect mild winters and blistering summers, and be on the look-out for flash flooding.

Find Fort Sam Houston on our list of top 10 Army stations.

 

6. McChord Air Force Base — Washington

Joint Base Lewis-McChord is also featured on our top 10 Army stations list. As one of the largest military complexes in the world, it is a very popular duty station for both airmen and soldiers.

One of the best things about JBLM is the area. It’s a hub for outdoorists, with popular fishing and boating spots, and Mt. Rainier just a hop, skip and a jump away. Washingtonians say their summers are some of the best in the country. JBLM is also about an hour from Seattle; one of the top travel destinations on the west coast.

For those who embrace the Pacific Northwest rain — or those who would rather stay dry — McChord AFB features both indoor and outdoor amenities. On-post housing may be preferable to the high cost of living in the Puget Sound region. The median home price is $400,000.

 

5. Peterson Air Force Base — Colorado

best air force bases
Airmen reenlist on the tarmac at Peterson AFB. Credit: Peterson Air Force Base.

Home to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Peterson Air Force Base is one of six military bases in Colorado (most of them being Air Force). Peterson shares an airfield with the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport and hosts the 21st Space Wing.

Colorado Springs is an all-around good destination for military folk. The median home cost is higher than the national average at $330,000, but the property taxes are very low at 0.63%. Colorado is an outdoor paradise, near many ski and snowboarding areas, scenic parks, and hunting and fishing spots. Other activities like ice climbing, snowmobiling, rock climbing and white-water river rafting can all be done here. Additionally, the city of Colorado Springs has a thriving art scene.

The weather is mild, with highs of 43 F in January and 84 F in August. It boasts 243 days of sunshine a year, but comes with 37 inches of snow to match; invest in an all-wheel drive vehicle. Something to get used to: dry air and high altitude.

 

4. Luke Air Force Base — Arizona

Named for the first aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor, 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., Luke Air Force Base ranks high among airmen. The 56th fighter wing resides here — taking down more enemy planes and covering more acreage than any other Army Air Force group in WWII. The mission of Luke AFB is to train F-16 fighter pilots and maintainers.

Luke is near Glendale, a suburban area outside Phoenix. Housing costs sit around $230,000, and the base is only an 11-minute drive from Glendale. It’s also just a few hours from sights like the Grand Canyon, Coconino National Forest, Sedona, and Joshua Tree National Park in California. For those who think the desert is not an outdoorist’s oasis — think again.

One thing of note is the weather in Arizona. While it is sunny virtually year-round, and pleasantly mild or warm for three seasons, summers are a struggle for many Arizonians. The heat rises well above 100 F, and resident “snowbirds” will flee back to their summer homes in the north.

Sports fans: you have access to games from the Arizona Cardinals football team, Diamondbacks baseball, Suns men’s basketball, Mercury women’s basketball, and Coyotes hockey team.

Partiers: Vegas is a five-hour trip by car!

 

3. Elmendorf Air Force Base — Alaska

best air force bases
Airmen from Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, AK. Credit: MilitaryBases.com.

Elmendorf AFB merged with Fort Richardson to create Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in 2010. It’s the home of the Headquarters, Alaskan Command, Eleventh Air Force and the 673d Air Base Wing, among others.

At first glance, getting orders for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson might seem like a sentence to permanent exclusion and boredom in remote Alaska. It might be surprising to learn that Anchorage is a very competitive place to get stationed.

While airmen will have to adjust to the cold and snow — average yearly highs of 73 F and lows of -13 F — Anchorage has more moderate temperatures than Fairbanks, and a completely different way of life than the rest of the States. There’s a ton of wildlife, with great hunting and fishing that can’t come anywhere else. There’s also skiing opportunities near the city, as well as restaurants, bars and other activities.

Alaska has no state income or sales taxes, to help offset the higher price of living away from the lower 48. Individuals who have been stationed there for a full year can apply for the Permanent Fund Dividend, which gives Alaskan residents around $900 a year. Additionally, service members stationed there get overseas pay (as well as in Hawaii). With median home prices in Anchorage at $345,000, every bit can help.

 

2. MacDill Air Force Base — Florida

MacDill Air Force Base is a smaller installation, with a population of close to 6,000. They house the 6th Air Mobility Wing, mostly full of KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft. MacDill, located in the Tampa Bay community, may not be one of the biggest names in the Air Force — but it is a southern gem.

With an estimated 40,000 military retirees living in the Tampa Bay area, MacDill’s economic impact skyrockets to $4.9 billion. Florida is home to a staggering 21 military bases, so the state is very welcoming to service members.

Tampa Bay has a median home cost of $211,000, which is just under the national average of $216,000. Popular places to buy for those stationed at MacDill are: South Tampa communities (Hyde Park, Davis Island, Beach Park, etc.), FishHawk Ranch, Brandon, MiraBay, and Riverview.

At MacDill, the summers will be oppressively hot and sticky. The winters, however, are short, and temperatures normally stick between 52 to 90 F. The best time of year is considered to be from late February to early May, and mid October to early December.

 

1. Scott Air Force Base — Illinois

best air force bases
Signage for Scott AFB. Credit: Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Near the small town of Belleville, Scott Air Force Base ranks very high in terms of service member satisfaction. The community of 44,000 outside St. Louis boasts low crime rates, good schools, and kind people.

Scott is operated by the 375th Air Mobility Wing and employs 13,000 people. It’s also used by civilian aircraft and the Illinois Air National Guard. It offers plenty of options for people who like different things — from the nightlife of St. Louis to the quiet country living of Belleville. Indianapolis and Nashville are also just a few hours away.

The base itself offers typical amenities, with pools, a youth center, golf course, outdoor recreation facilities and more. But in Belleville, your money stretches a lot further, leaving room for activities and trips in the budget. The median home cost is just $76,000 — some of the lowest in the country. It’s even less in the area just outside Scott ($57,000).

The summers here are hot and muggy, with cold, windy winters. Temperatures can flux between 25 and 89 F — rarely going below 9 F or above 96 F.

 

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