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Viewpoint: Look north, North Dakota, and be UND proud

UND has many distinguished scholars and alumni of which to be proud. One of the more prominent alums is Carl Ben Eielson of Hatton, North Dakota.

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Contributed / Mark Kennedy
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A tradition of winning and great facilities are critical ingredients for a successful sports program. Certainly the University of North Dakota hockey program enjoys both. So does the university, which has the heritage and now the facilities to foster success. Debbie and I recently toured the updated campus, and it took our breath away. Kudos to President Armacost and his team. The facilities complement UND’s tradition of excellence in many endeavors.

UND has many distinguished scholars and alumni of which to be proud. One of the more prominent alums is Carl Ben Eielson of Hatton, North Dakota. Together with Captain George Hubert Wilkins, Eielson earned acclaim in 1928 for a non-stop, 2,200-mile flight over the North Pole. That same year, the pair also completed a 1,200-mile flight over the Antarctic, where they discovered six new islands. Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska is named in his honor. Together with fellow United States Air and Space Forces Civic Leaders, I visited Alaskan bases with Lieutenant General Jake Jacobson. I found the Eielson Air Force Base a fitting tribute to an alum who was a forerunner of UND’s nation-leading aviation program.

Eielson Air Force Base is just outside of Fairbanks in central Alaska near a small town fittingly, given Eielson’s achievements, called North Pole. The base is important for two reasons. First is Alaska’s strategic position. Echoing the view of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in testimony before Congress in 1935 that “Alaska is the most strategic place on earth,” Lieutenant General David Krumm, the Air Force leader in Alaska, emphasizes how when you look at the globe from above it becomes clear how all locations in the northern hemisphere are close to Alaska, pointing out that Alaska is closer to Tokyo than Hawaii and closer to Moscow than Washington DC. Its vital location is reflected in it serving as home to two squadrons of fifth-generation F-35 Lighting II jets.

The second reason Eielson is important is that it is home to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC). JPARC is the Ralph of training ranges, the best in the nation. Alaska is more than twice the geographic size of the next largest state – Texas. With its immense size, much of which is not densely populated, Alaska provides a million cubic miles of training in the JPARC, being substantially larger than any other range, including the Nevada ranges supporting Nellis Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Fallon, today’s real home to Top Gun training.

The size of JPARC permits large training exercises including RED FLAG-Alaska and Northern Edge. These are realistic, multi-day combat training exercises held multiple times a year. They are multi-service, multi-platform and include our NATO and Asian allies, allowing teams to engage against live and synthetic threats. Investments in digital, multi-array radars allow pilots to face realistic electronic warfare threats in density. New threats can be rapidly programmed into the system to ensure that pilots called into action have experience in mitigating the threats they will face. The range’s remote location makes it harder for prying eyes to observe the training and technology.

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With a recent $500 million investment, the Eielson Air Base has great facilities. Carl Ben Eielson

reflects the base’s winning heritage. Eielson’s aviation achievements and his dedication to helping others make him a worthy namesake of an important United States Air Force base. It’s important to note the kind of man he was as well. He died in service to others, attempting to rescue passengers and cargo from an ice-bound ship in the Bering Strait.

Of further note, Lieutenant General Jacobson was based at the Grand Forks Air Force Base during his career. His wife Nancy recalls the Grand Forks community being exceptionally supportive of Air Force families.

My visit to Alaska gave me and all North Dakotans many reasons to be UND proud.

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