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Projects build on base's contributions: Commander Rodney Lewis

Col. Rodney Lewis, commander of Grand Forks Air Force Base, told a Tuesday morning crowd at the Ramada Inn that he hadn't stayed up on Tuesday night to watch the election unfold. Instead, he said, he read the oath of office he'd taken in the Air ...

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Col. Rodney Lewis, commander of Grand Forks Air Force Base, told a Tuesday morning crowd at the Ramada Inn that he hadn't stayed up on Tuesday night to watch the election unfold. Instead, he said, he read the oath of office he'd taken in the Air Force before going to sleep.

"A long time ago, I raised my right hand just like all the other members that you see in uniform and many of our civilians that are out there, and it starts like this: 'I, Rodney Lewis, do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic,' " he said. "We live in a great country, and I'm so proud to be an American. Period."

Lewis delivered the remarks on the heels of Republican Donald Trump's election Tuesday evening, and at the top of his State of the Base Presentation, an update for the community on ongoing projects and links between the base and the community. In a roughly hour of remarks, Lewis moved quickly from discussion of the election to matters at the base, from developments at Grand Sky to potential new missions to $220 million in local economic impacts stemming from the base in its 2015 fiscal year.

Near the end of his remarks, Lewis offered a peek into a few marquee projects unfolding at the base. He mentioned Grand Sky in particular, the aviation business park designed around fostering unmanned aircraft development -more commonly known as drones.

"It's amazing what you can do as community, going from sticking shovels in the ground in September to actually flying in July," he said. "I will tell you that we lead the country in (unmanned aircraft systems), and Grand Sky is going to be apart of that. ... Operations are moving quite nicely in that space. That is a future we can depend on."

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Lewis also referred to work to attract the KC-46A tankers to the base , including a recent visit by evaluators

"I can only tell you, without getting ahead of my bosses, that the evaluators came out to our base, (and) they left with an understanding that we have great facilities and a great community," he said.

The address also gave a peek into the composition of the base, which has shifted significantly over the years . Lewis offered notes on base population, which he said is at about 3,500 people-with about 1,600 active duty military members, 400 civilians and 1,500 family members. Leaders of various forces at the base, such as the 69th Reconnaissance Group, offered brief summaries of their duties and missions.

UND President Mark Kennedy called the link between the base and the university "vitally important."

"If you look at what we do on UAS, and what they do, combined, that's really the magnet that brought in Grand Sky and it's really a great opportunity for Grand Forks, the region to diversify our economy beyond energy and ag."

Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland praised the base as an "asset" for the community.

"We are the base of the 21st century, and I'm always impressed by Col. Lewis and his team," Feland said.

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Related Topics: TODD FELANDMARK KENNEDY
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