Hundreds of veterans are in Grand Forks this week for the state American Legion convention and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion.
And today, an event at Grand Forks Air Force Base will draw a crowd as the base wing will be officially redesignated from the 319th Air Base Wing to the 319th Air Reconnaissance Wing. As Mayor Mike Brown writes in the Herald today, it will effectively mean the United States Air Force’s worldwide Global Hawk mission is based here.
The event coincides with a change of command at the base – Col. Cameron Pringle will assume command as the previous commander, Col. Benjamin Spencer, moves on to another assignment.
It’s a red, white and blue time in Grand Forks.
At the base, the changes probably won’t be visible to the layman. But those who closely follow developments at the base know it’s big news for Grand Forks.
In 2005, the base lost its tanker mission, a development that caused unease. Back then, many worried about the future of Grand Forks Air Force Base. With the redesignation, that tension has subsided.
“We don’t have to live in fear anymore of the ‘Are we going to lose our base?’ question,” Tom Ford, coordinator for the Grand Forks Base Retention and Investment Committee, told the Herald in April. “With Grand Forks Air Force Base owning the mission, the future for our base is very bright.”
And that’s important to Grand Forks, since the approximately 4,000 military and civilian personnel at the base churn $250 million in economic impact in the region. What a difference a decade makes.
And what a difference a century makes. That’s the time span that has passed since the American Legion was born at the conclusion of World War I.
In that century, the American Legion has seen membership climb as high as 3.3 million, following World War II. As recently as 1992, there were 3.1 million members. But membership has been on the decline in recent years, down to approximately 1.7 million today.
The American Legion is important for many reasons. It recommends public policy for veterans, while also providing so many opportunities for youth, ranging from Boys and Girls State to scholarships to American Legion baseball.
The Legion members in town this week have been busy in meetings, but they will break out in a big way Saturday. That’s when “Patriotism in the Park” activities will begin.
Opening ceremonies will start at 9 a.m. at Williamson Park, by Gambucci Arena, with a parade starting immediately afterward. The parade will begin at Lincoln Park Drive and wind 1.8 miles through Grand Forks, ending at Williamson Park.
There will be entertainment and displays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Williamson Park; entertainment and information booths from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Gambucci Arena; Legion baseball games from noon to 5 p.m. at Kraft Field; and a movie (“Operation Dumbo Drop”) at 6 p.m. at Gambucci Arena.
Technically, the American Legion convention and the redesignation at Grand Forks Air Force Base are separate events.
Yet both adequately portray the importance of the military in this city and region.