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Viewpoint: The Thunderbirds are back, and Grand Forks Air Force Base has new missions

It is important for the community to know more than a third of the airmen on our base are on their first assignment in the Air Force. This is why it is extra important our community does everything we can to continue the long tradition of making them feel welcome.

Grand Forks Air Force Base front gate
Grand Forks Air Force Base front gate
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Grand Forks AFB will host the Thunderbirds on Saturday, June 18, celebrating 75 years of the U.S. Air Force. This air show expo will showcase our nation’s best pilots as well as the Wings of Blue (USAF Parachute Team), and many other aircraft and aerial demonstrations. 

Barry Wilfahrt
Barry Wilfahrt

It has been 12 years since the Thunderbirds last appeared in Grand Forks. Our community is honored to host them again. The air show is free and open to the public. GFAFB gates open at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and flying begins at approximately 11 a.m.

Bruce Gjovig
Bruce Gjovig

It is important for the community to know more than a third of the airmen on our base are on their first assignment in the Air Force. This is why it is extra important our community does everything we can to continue the long tradition of making them feel welcome. The Chamber‘s Military Affairs Committee (MAC) does this through a variety of programs and events aimed at connecting community members with our airmen.

For example, during the pandemic MAC had pizza delivered to the dorms on base a couple times to show how much our community appreciates what they do every day to defend our country. GFAFB is home to the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, which operates the RQ-4 Global Hawk worldwide to supply intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to our warfighters and national leaders.

At any given time, the 319th Reconnaissance Wing is managing three RQ-4 aircraft airborne, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Our Global Hawk mission generated 26,570 flying hours and 1,304 sorties (flights) from June 1st 2020 to May 31st 2021 across the world. From a mission perspective, GFAFB is expanding.

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At the end of June, U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer will host a ribbon cutting for the Space Development Agency to establish a Space Networking Center at Grand Forks Air Force Base. The Space Networking Center will support their new Low-Earth Orbit mission and serve as the backbone for all U.S. military communications globally. The new SDA mission represents an investment of more than $325 million in GFAFB.

Sens. Hoeven and Cramer have been very instrumental in securing this mission for the base and we are grateful for their leadership. GFAFB contributes more than $275 million dollars in economic impact annually. 

More good news: The 24 older Global Hawks are being retired, or “graduating” to Grand Sky, as Sen. Hoeven likes to say. The DoD Test Resource Management Center has contracted with Northrop Grumman to repurpose them for a new “Sky Range” program, which retrofits the Global Hawk from an operational drone to a test data collection configuration. Sky Range uses long-duration, high-altitude unmanned aerial systems to collect flight test data during long range missile and hypersonic testing.

The flexibility of the Global Hawk platform will enable an increase in long-range missile flight tests both in the Pacific and the Atlantic.

So, while you are at the air force base enjoying the Air Show, thank our airmen for the important role they play in our community and in our national defense.

Bruce Gjovig serves as an Air Force & Space Force civic leader to Gen. C. Q. Brown, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.  Barry Wilfahrt is an Air Combat Command civic leader to Gen. Mark Kelly, ACC commander.  In addition to these Air Force appointments, both have been members of the Base Retention & Investment Committee (BRIC) for 12 years. Wilfahrt also is the CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce.

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