Families of the 7th Special Forces Group at Camp Bull Simons, Florida, will finally get their wish: a child development center located on the compound.
“Working closely with the Air Force, we now have plans to build a new CDC at Camp Bull Simons” in fiscal 2025, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth announced during her speech at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army. She has been personally involved in the issue.
“It was wonderful to hear,” said Molly Tobin, family readiness group leader for 7th SFG’s 3rd Battalion, and one of the people at the forefront of the effort to get a CDC at Camp Bull Simons. Families have struggled with child care since 7th Special Forces Group was moved to Florida a decade ago under the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment action.
The camp has few amenities. Barracks, a chapel, a troop clinic, and an AAFES shopette and services were built, but there’s no child development center, family housing or commissary. Army families want a child development center built near the chapel on Camp Bull Simons, where it would be convenient for soldiers.
But the Air Force had pushed back because of safety concerns. The camp was carved out of an active bombing range used in its testing mission.
Families and their advocates point to the fact that there’s never been an evacuation of Camp Bull Simons, nor is there even a plan for an evacuation.
“We were told ‘no’ so many times,” Tobin said. “Our families are very excited. My phone has been ringing off the hook...
In the future, she said, “People won’t dread coming to 7th Group because of the lack of child care.”
The year 2025 is a ways off, but families have been asking for this child development center for years. Like many other families currently stationed at the camp, Tobin and her 22-month-old daughter won’t see the benefit. The family is scheduled to move to a new duty station next summer. “But our future families will benefit from this. That’s what matters most to me. So many have had to put their careers on hold” because of lack of child care, she said.
Lack of access to child care is a problem in a number of military communities. It’s important that Army families have access to quality child care, Wormuth said, and noted officials have funded five new Army CDCs in the past few years, with one under construction.
Child care is in short supply in the civilian community near Camp Bull Simons, and there’s a long waiting list for child care at Eglin Air Force Base. Families value the quality, security and safety of military child care centers. About 60% of 7th SFG families live in Crestview, 20 minutes northeast of Camp Bull Simons and 45 minutes to an hour from Eglin to the south. To get to child care on Eglin, they must pass the camp.
So families in that area spend three or four hours a day in the car to drive to and from Eglin, depending on traffic — if they can get a spot.
“7th Special Forces Group has a high op tempo. They are highly deployed. They’re not home very often, so they need to make the most of their time when they are home,” Tobin said.
Meanwhile, plans are moving forward to help fill the need for child care sooner. Higher Ground Education, the parent company of Guidepost Montessori, is scheduled to open two Guidepost Montessori child care centers in the area by the fall of 2023. One center will be in Crestview and the other will be in Navarre, Florida, where a number of families live and commute. Military families will get priority, and Army and Air Force officials are helping prepare the centers to use the military child care fee assistance programs when they open.
Tobin said the Montessori child care centers will also be a huge win for the families. “The more spots we can have, the better,” she said.
She credited the Global SOF Foundation, and its president and CEO, retired Army Special Forces Col. Stu Bradin, as well as Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and their staffs for their work to get a child development center on Camp Bull Simons, as well as 7th Special Forces Group command leadership.
She also thanked “the countless spouses who have voiced concern and stood by with faith in us that we’d get this.”
Tobin plans to come back to Camp Bull Simons for the groundbreaking ceremony. “I want to see shovels,” she said.
“I’ll come back to watch those shovels going into the ground … just to make sure it’s really happening.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.