Grand Forks AFB: Support that Spans the Entire Spectrum!

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher Mann
  • Vice Commander, 319th Air Base Wing
A curious phenomenon occurs when I'm traveling and inform a fellow Airman that I'm stationed at Grand Forks AFB; I suspect many of you have had this same experience. After we get past the obligatory discussion of the weather ("Yes, it does get a bit cold!"), the conversation frequently turns to our mission. More often than not I'm asked, "Do you still have missiles/bombers/tankers?", "What's it like with no airplanes there anymore?", or - most disappointingly - "When are you going to get a mission?" Statements such as these remind me that I - and every Airman assigned to our base - have a duty to educate others about the tremendous contributions our Airmen and mission partners make to the defense of our nation each and every day. If you're willing to spend a few moments of your time reading the remainder of this article, I'll share with you how I respond to this question.

First and foremost, Grand Forks AFB truly is "the Base of the Future." Our Airmen and mission partners leverage leading edge technology to project combat power across the globe and into space each and every day, and we can do much of it from within our own base perimeter! While a parking apron full of "big iron," the smell of JP-8, or the constant roar of jet engines have served as physical reminders of American combat airpower for decades, the Air Force of the future will necessarily be smaller and lighter, but it must also be more capable, flexible, stealthy, and lethal. As a Service, we face shrinking budgets, a smaller workforce, and reduced access to main operating bases overseas. In contrast, the enemy is generally more decentralized, less predictable, and more willing to attack innocent civilians and other noncombatants to achieve their objectives. We must adapt to these evolving internal and external conditions to ensure we continue to win our nation's wars, and I submit that no one demonstrates this adaptability better than a Grand Forks AFB Airman! Whether at home station or deployed, our Airmen are on the front lines each and every day protecting our nation and its allies across the entire spectrum: locally, nationally, globally, and in space.

Locally, we enjoy one of the best partnerships with our host community I've witnessed in my 26-plus years of service. While the community supports us in innumerable ways, we also give back to our community by hosting vital federal resources and contributing manpower for our annual flood fight efforts; volunteering thousands of man-hours for community improvement projects; partnering with civilian law enforcement, health services, and emergency response agencies for training opportunities; providing air traffic control for one of the busiest airspaces in the United States (Did you know we operate the second busiest radar approach control in AMC?), and protecting the lives and property of the citizens of the greater Grand Forks area when needed.

On the national scale, we support the Department of Homeland Security via our mission partners in Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The Airmen of CBP fly the MQ-1B Predator remotely from GFAFB, and they're charged with providing protection for our country's northern and southern borders. Although they may wear a different uniform, let there be no doubt they are Grand Forks AFB Airmen!

Globally, more than one hundred of our Airmen are constantly forward deployed in harm's way to carry out a multitude of wartime missions, and they perform their duties Proficiently, Professionally, and Passionately. Here at home, at any time of the day or night, a Grand Forks AFB Airman is remotely piloting an RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft located halfway around the world or operating the Global Hawk's sensors, ensuring Combatant Commanders receive the intel necessary to make strategic decisions and the warfighter on the ground has the communication bridge needed to amass decisive firepower on the enemy and protect the lives of our comrades. Our Total Force partners in the 119th Wing remotely fly the MQ-1A Predator from GFAFB to conduct armed reconnaissance against critical targets worldwide. And our High Frequency Global Communication Station (HFGCS) is only one of two assets in the world capable of controlling more than a dozen global stations providing 24x7 command and control capability to support the President and Secretary of Defense as well as our nation's tanker and cargo aircraft.

As if that weren't enough, GFAFB also supports the Spartan Warriors of Cavalier Air Force Station. The Airmen of Cavalier operate the world's most powerful radar--so powerful it can track tens of thousands of spaceborne objects and provide ample warning to relocate our nation's vital satellite resources (or even the International Space Station!) in the event a potential for collision is detected. Ensuring the security of this one-of-a-kind resource is the job of GFAFB Airmen. At this very moment, more than a dozen of our Defenders are deployed for up to six months to protect Cavalier AFS, and several of our squadrons provide Cavalier with direct administrative and functional support.

So, the next time someone asks what it is you do at Grand Forks AFB, you can tell them you have one of the most important jobs in the Air Force: you support our Service's most diverse set of mission partners to conduct operations that span the entire spectrum--local, national, global, and space!