Grand Forks Air Force Base well-positioned for the future

Barry Wilfahrt

Since 1957, Grand Forks Air Force Base has been host to several vital defense missions. Becoming the nation’s Global Hawk base is one of the most significant. Now, Grand Forks Air Force Base is being officially redesignated from the 319th Air Base Wing to the 319th Reconnaissance Wing.

The redesignation aligns Grand Forks AFB’s wing and its mission. Since 2011, GFAFB has been the host wing for the 69th Reconnaissance Group (RG), which flies the high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely-piloted RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft. It has been aligned under the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB in California, which operates the U-2 Dragon Lady fleet for intelligence gathering. The 9th also managed and commanded the Global Hawk operations and fleet.

With the redesignation, Global Hawk and U2 missions are now separate and equal. The 69th RG Mission and personnel now align under the 319 Reconnaissance Wing and the new unit will be known as the 319th Operations Group (OG). The 69th Reconnaissance Group goes inactive. Going forward, the 319th OG will execute the Global Hawk’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission in support of worldwide, full-spectrum operations to protect our military and our allies.

Why does this matter for Grand Forks? This puts Grand Fork’s AFB in its most stable position since the BRAC 2005 realignment resulting in the tankers leaving Grand Forks in October of 2010. A base with a tenant mission that belongs to another base is vulnerable. The change in command a year ago from Air Mobility Command (AMC) to Air Combat Command (ACC) was good as ACC is growing major command. This change aligns our mission with our base and its command group. To be the nation’s Global Hawk base with a growing mission is a good thing, and now we have detachment squadrons at Beale AFB, Guam, Japan and Italy.

Most importantly, these changes benefit the airmen at GFAFB and their families. Airmen have new promotional opportunities, and will be under leadership that is focused on their mission. The direct report of the Global Hawk mission will now be the commander at GFAFB instead of the commander at Beale AFB in California. Any issues will be dealt with here instead of through a chain of command with a base halfway across the country.


Quality of life for airmen and their family is a top priority for the Air Force. Grand Forks has long had a strong reputation of taking care of airmen and their families. In fact, GFAFB is consistently ranked by airmen in the top 10 “bases for airmen” out of 70 bases in the Military Times annual poll.

From a national security perspective, GFAFB is one of only four northern tier bases remaining in the country. With China and its hypersonic capability, Russia’s investment in the Arctic, North Korea’s emerging nuclear capability and a resurgent Iran, threats to our national security have never been more urgent. Geographically, we are well positioned. GFAFB has up-to-date infrastructure, virtually no encroachment on the base's perimeter and a community and state that are military friendly.

These and other factors position our base well for future missions in addition to the Global Hawk.

Barry Wilfahrt is president and CEO of the Chamber and a member of the Base Retention and Investment Committee (BRIC). He also is the Air Combat Command Civic Leader for GFAFB.

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