Mission accomplished: Air Force returns former Chanute AFB land, assets to community

  • Published
  • By Mollie Miller
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force representatives joined Village of Rantoul leaders and residents, and other state and federal officials to celebrate 106 years of partnership, support and friendship during a ceremony marking the complete transfer of the former Chanute Air Force Base back to the community.    

“The spirit of partnership that made Chanute and Rantoul the home of choice for thousands of Airmen and their families over the years is also the force behind the transfer of this base back to the community,” said Col. Kathryn Kilker, Air Force Civil Engineer Center Installations deputy director. “This is a huge success for our Base Realignment and Closure team and this village. It is a credit to their professionalism, determination and vision of a bright redevelopment future.”  

AFCEC, a primary subordinate unit of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, manages the environmental restoration and property transfer of installations closed by Congressionally mandated BRAC actions. 

Chanute AFB was established May 23, 1917, as Chanute Field when the United States government leased 640 acres of agricultural land in Rantoul to build an aviation field to train pilots for World War I. Additional acres were added throughout the following decades as the nation’s military activities and missions evolved. Chanute was recommended for closure by the U.S. Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 1988 and all military operations ceased Sept. 30, 1993.  

“We are grateful for the history that has been created here at the site of the former Chanute Air Force Base,” said Village Mayor Charles Smith. “The Village of Rantoul will now continue to use these assets to build a very progressive community for generations to come.”   

Since Chanute’s closure in 1993, the Air Force has committed more than $200 million to environmental clean-up efforts closing out 276 sites with significant soil and groundwater contamination. During the last 30 years, the Air Force transferred 2,200 acres to the state, local redevelopment authority and private buyers.  

“The Air Force Civil Engineer Center folks here at Chanute are the quiet professionals who made today possible,” Kilker said. “The Air Force put their best and brightest on transferring Chanute and gave them one goal – put this property back in the hands of the community. They never lost sight of that goal.”  

One of those quiet professionals is Paul Carroll, the Air Force environmental coordinator at Chanute. He has been part of the Chanute team since 2006 and shepherded numerous innovative restoration projects including the planting of groves of hybrid poplar and willow trees to contain groundwater contamination near old landfills at the base. 

“This was a large, complicated cleanup,” he said. “The great progress that has been made here is thanks mostly to the dedication of so many members of this community who worked diligently to ensure the success of this project.” 

Calling the Chanute restoration “the gold standard for cleanup,” Illinois Environmental Protection Agency representative Christopher Hill offered his thanks to Carroll and to the Air Force team for their commitment to caring for the environment.  

“I want to emphasize the quality of the cleanup here,” Hill said. “I find myself telling others over and over again about how we tackle issues at this base to illustrate how I think things ought to be done.”  

Although the former Chanute is now officially in the community’s hands, the future will still include the Air Force. Officials have earmarked more than $60 million for future cleanup needs, and Carroll and his team will continue to monitor 15 sites at the former base and while staying prepared to address any remaining contamination.  

"To all who we have partnered with to achieve this landmark milestone, you have successfully implemented Congress's number one BRAC mandate: 100 percent whole-base transfer,” said Greg Gangnuss, chief of AFCEC’s BRAC program. “I salute you. Mission accomplished!" 

Former restoration advisory board member Dr. Ian Wang joined his community to honor the end of one chapter and celebrate the beginning of a new one. Wang, an Oxford-trained physician, volunteered for the advisory board when it was established in 1994 because he felt it was his responsibility to use his knowledge to ensure the success of the base’s restoration operations. Wang sat on the board until the RAB adjourned in 2019.  

“This has been a very long process and I’m glad we finally made it to this day,” he said. “We are going to make these assets work for the entire community and get back to the business of building Rantoul’s future.”