Columbus AFB is a small air base located in Mississippi nine miles south of the city of Columbus, in the northeastern part of Mississippi. The base is surrounded by small towns with the nearest city with population over 50,000 being 70 miles away in Tupelo. Columbus has a population of 25,944. The major unit at Columbus AFB is 14th Flying Training Wing which is part of the Air Education and Training Command 19th Air Force.
There are 1,250 active duty military members stationed at the base and 636 civilian employees. The mission of the base is to provide undergraduate flight training for the air force and allied forces. Approximately half of the pilots in the Air Force received their pilots training at Columbus AFB. The base may be small, but it has the busiest air traffic control tower in the world. There are six separate training squadrons and one operations support squadron located at Columbus AFB.
In 1941 the War Department approved the site of the present Columbus AFB and training began in 1942. Over 8000 students came through the base, which was then known as Columbus Army Air Field, for pilot training during World War II. The air field was the largest in the southeast at the end of the war. There were four large runways and seven auxiliary fields. At the end of World War II the air field was closed until the Korean conflict began to heat up. The base was reopened in 1951 as a contract flying school with the goal of training 10,000 pilots to help defend South Korea. The Air Force had only recently become a separate military service and was not prepared to train the number of pilots needed so the military contracted with California Eastern Airways to manage the pilot training program. The role of the military was to manage the base and oversee the training program.
Once the Korean war efforts ended, the contract school was disbanded. This did not result in a base closure because the Strategic Air Command (SAC) was just coming into existence. Military leaders felt that the constant threat to SAC bases posed a problem in that they were a major target with all the fighter jets located at known SAC bases. The decision was made to disperse the planes and Columbus AFB was one of the new sites chosen to house the aircraft. Columbus AFB underwent a major expansion effort with new runways being built to accommodate the larger aircraft. At the same time, housing was built for the service members and their families. When the U.S. became involved in the Viet Nam war, Columbus AFB began flying missions over Southeast Asia. In all, 100 flying missions were completed by pilots from Columbus AFB and not one plane was shot down. After the Viet Nam war the base reverted to a training mission only.
There are 706 family housing units available on base, most of which are newly constructed. Military members may choose to use their basic housing allowance to either rent on base, or to rent or purchase off base. On base homes are available in two to four bedroom sizes. There is a short waiting list. Temporary housing is available on the base. The local economy is such that it is very affordable to buy a home in the area.
There are no schools located on base. Students that live on the base will attend Columbus High School for grades 9-12, Lee Middle School for 7th and 8th grades and one of three local elementary schools for K-6th grades. Transportation is provided for all students on the base.
There is a small commissary and a small base exchange and shoppette. The child care center can accommodate 78 children. The base also has a youth center, medical clinic and small hospital, library, hobby center, and post office.