'MISSION COMPLETE': GFAFB bids farewell to air refueling wingGrand Forks said a formal farewell Friday to a 50-year neighbor — the KC-135 Stratotanker wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks said a formal farewell Friday to a 50-year neighbor — the KC-135 Stratotanker wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Friday’s event was a “mission complete” ceremony, as the last of the 319th Air Base Wing’s fleet of KC-135s, which once totaled as many as 60, prepares to leave this morning, bound for McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
Weather permitting, it might make a flyover in downtown Grand Forks, at about 11:30 a.m. However, air base officials said Friday the forecast did not look good for flying at an altitude of 2,000 feet.
Guidons (flags) were furled, marking “mission complete” for the:
_ 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
_ 319th Maintenance Operations Squadron
_ 905th Air Refueling Squadron.
_ 319th Maintenance Group.
_ 319th Operations Group.
They officially will be deactivated Dec. 31. Base officials said the 319th designation will not leave Grand Forks, and that the coming unmanned aircraft mission likely will be part of the 319th.
The KC-135 was designed to refuel other aircraft in midair, to help reach enemy targets too far away to reach given their fuel capacity.
Gen. Raymond Johns, commander of the Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., keynote speaker, talked Friday of the KC-135 and the role the Grand Forks base has played in world affairs, from the Cold War to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Without the KC-135, we couldn’t be so global, so powerful,” he said. “We were fueling the fight. Superbly, proudly, precisely and safely, you completed this mission.”
After the ceremony, community leaders gathered with airmen and officers to reminisce, and to autograph the last of the mammoth KC-135 Stratotankers remaining at the base, using chalk to print farewell messages on the fuselage.
“Thank you for my Freedom” wrote John Marshall, a Grand Forks attorney and founding father of the local Base Retention Committee, which helped Grand Forks survive two rounds of base closing exercises over the past decade.
Other comments helped to capture the moment:
_ “Warriors of the North — Mission Complete.”
_ “God Bless the Air Force Base.”
_ “You will be Missed.”
_ “No words can thank you enuff”
And a statement about the tanker’s role in the nation’s global military strategy:
_ “Can’t Kick A** Without Tanker Gas.”
The Warriors of the North — the moniker shared by thousands of airmen who have served at Grand Forks in the past half-century — is not going away. It will carry with the base’s new mission.
The base currently is undergoing about $8 million in construction projects to prepare for the arrival, by July, of a fleet of Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, said Col. Don Shaffer, base commander.
They’ll later be joined by Predators, piloted remotely by members of the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Shaffer said. “I’m really proud of the leadership and the maintenance group. They’ve made this transition almost seamlessly, all while they were on assignment.”
“The enemy has changed,” Johns said. “Today, we have to deal with an enemy that is hard to find. . . . Now, the Grand Forks Air Force Base will keep an unblinking eye anywhere in the world with the Global Hawk.”
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to email@example.com.