Double Dakota hit

North Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 2005  | July 2005 issue

Though it might have grabbed fewer national headlines than the closing of Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D., North Dakota nonetheless got socked as well when the Grand Forks Air Force Base was included in the Pentagon's May announcement of 29 smaller military realignments.

In part, the "smaller" designation comes from the fact that the base will remain open, despite major personnel and equipment cutbacks. The plan is to transfer out the base's 50 KC-135 air refueling tankers and 2,300 military personnel—about 80 percent of the base's military personnel—in the next few years. About 355 civilian jobs on the base also would be cut, according to Pentagon estimates. The base has been in operation for 45 years.

Maybe ironically—or tragically, depending on your view—about half of the tanker planes had been temporarily relocated already while the base's main runway received a $27 million renovation.

If officials cannot persuade the Base Realignment Closure Commission to take Grand Forks off the list of affected bases, the fact that it will remain open leaves the door open to further military missions—unlike the fate of Ellsworth, which is slated for full closure. In fact, the Grand Forks base has been rumored to be in the running for new homeland security missions, including unmanned aerial vehicles, known as UAVs.

Other military installations in the state came out mostly unscathed. The Minot Air Force Base, which consists of 40 B-52 bombers and 150 Minuteman missiles, remains intact, along with the Air National Guard wing in Fargo, though aging F-16s are being decommissioned within two years, according to the Pentagon.

Ronald A. Wirtz