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Senators consult on N.D. bases with nominated Air Force leader

North Dakota's U.S. senators said they met Tuesday in Washington with the man slated to be the new civilian head of the Air Force, after a series of missteps by Air Force leadership led to a house-cleaning at the top of the service last month.

North Dakota's U.S. senators said they met Tuesday in Washington with the man slated to be the new civilian head of the Air Force, after a series of missteps by Air Force leadership led to a house-cleaning at the top of the service last month.

Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan said in news releases that they discussed North Dakota's air bases with Michael Donley, nominated by President Bush to be the next secretary of the Air Force.

Donley, who was head of administration and management in the Pentagon, is acting Air Force secretary until his nomination is approved by the senate.

He replaces Michael Wynne, ousted in early June after at least two embarrassing mistakes made by Air Force personnel in the handling of nuclear materials. As Wynne left office, it also came to light that the Government Accountability Office ruled that the Air Force mishandled the bidding process for the new midair refueling tanker to replace the aging KC135s stationed at the Grand Forks base.

Conrad and Dorgan said they each bent Donley's ear about possible plans to assign the new generation of tankers to the Grand Forks base, as well as the mission already assigned to house unmanned aerial vehicles at the base as the old tankers gradually are transferred off the base.

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Conrad said there also are plans to assign another squadron of B-52 bombers to the Minot base, which would add 1,000 personnel to the base. They also discussed possible new missions at the Air National Guard base in Fargo.

Donley appeared last week before a Senate confirmation panel that grilled him about widely reported problems in the Air Force in recent years.

He and Gen. Norton Schwartz, nominated to replace Gen. Michael Moseley as Air Force chief of staff, represent an unprecedented swift and drastic change of the two top guns in the Air Force.

The Pentagon decision to rework the bidding on the new generation of refueling tankers means it will take longer for them to get manufactured, delaying their assignment to bases, whether a contingent of them gets assigned to the Grand Forks base.

While details of the new UAV mission at the base are still fluid, it's expected the change from being a tanker base to a UAV base will involve a steep reduction in the number of personnel stationed at the base, as well as civilian employees.

Conrad and Dorgan have said they continue to be optimistic that a new tanker mission can be obtained for the base.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com .

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