Shootin' par with the Predators

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE -- As Stan Bruggeman approves of the repairs done on the No. 3 green at Plainsview Golf Course, a Predator flies overhead.

Stan Bruggeman
Stan Bruggeman, manager of the Plainsview Golf Course at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, checks out the first green of the nine hole course. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE -- As Stan Bruggeman approves of the repairs done on the No. 3 green at Plainsview Golf Course, a Predator flies overhead.

The course manager notes that the Predator is golf-friendly because it's considerably quieter than the tankers or the bombers of years ago.

Its flyover is symbolic about the times at the base. As unmanned aircraft such as the Predator move in to replace the departing tankers, life on the ground goes on as usual.

Despite a shrinking number of personnel, greens are being repaired, cart paths are being paved and trees are being replaced. It's that way across the base, said Don Fellers, the civilian deputy director of the force support squadron. No services, including recreation, are being dropped.

"When you're on the northern tier (of bases), you have to work twice as hard to make sure you have recreational opportunities for personnel and their families," Fellers said. "And when you're going through a downsizing, you have to work three times as hard."


Fellers said Col. Don Shaffer, base commander, has emphasized that "as we await our new mission, nothing changes."

Over the past 50 years, the base has had as many as 7,000 active-duty Air Force personnel at any given time. Today, about 1,800 active-duty personnel are stationed there. That number is expected to remain the same for the next few years as the addition of unmanned aircraft will offset the departure of the last KC-135 tanker squadron in December.

The first Global Hawk unmanned aircraft will arrive next summer, with more to follow over the ensuing few years. The Pentagon took away the tanker mission in the 2005 base realignment, with the last 12 tankers expected to leave in December.

Investment continues

The golf course is a small-scale example of how the Air Force continues to invest in the base. The number of rounds on the 40-year-old golf course has declined the past few years because of fewer personnel, but this summer's projects include new cart paths and additional trees. The wide fairways and big greens remain plush despite the alkali soil, a sign of liberal watering.

Maintenance standards haven't changed despite having fewer golfers, Bruggeman said. "Their recreation time means a lot to them because they have so very little of it," he said. "So, we need to keep it nice."

The course is open to the public, but civilians need to be escorted onto the base by personnel.

Another recreation facility undergoing improvements is the expansive sports and fitness building, about the same size as a bomber hangar. Artificial indoor turf is in place for soccer and other activities and new flooring has been installed in the two gymnasiums. Racquetball courts, weight rooms and exercise rooms have a brand-new look despite being 10 years old.


"If you know Col. Shaffer, you know that we'll not let these places sit empty," Fellers said.

The improvements aren't just in recreation facilities. A $12.6 million air traffic control complex is being built this year, with a $13 million fire station slated to be completed in March 2011. The base also is receiving $500,000 in funding for the planning design of a central deployment center, which will consolidate some of the base's functions in one spot.

"We might adjust the hours on some facilities, but nothing is going away," Fellers said. "If you shut something down, you send the wrong message to your people."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to .

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