Shaffer: Air Force Base population to reboundBefore Col. Don Shaffer took command of Grand Forks Air Force Base a year ago, he’d heard about the departure of all the base’s flying tankers and thought the place was “drying up.”
By: By Tu-Uyen Tran, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Before Col. Don Shaffer took command of Grand Forks Air Force Base a year ago, he’d heard about the departure of all the base’s flying tankers and thought the place was “drying up.”
He must’ve thought everyone else still thinks that because Tuesday, speaking to an audience of businesspeople and government officials, he spent most of his time explaining in detail why the base wasn’t drying up.
Base population will rebound at the start of the year and more new aircraft are coming, he promised. Last fiscal year, he said, the Air Force put a third more money into base projects than the prior fiscal year.
“It’s coming, it’s on time and a lot of people are coming with it,” he said.
About 130 attended the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored “state of the base address.” The first one was delivered by Shaffer’s predecessor, Col. John Michel. The chamber and many local leaders value the base, in part, because of the economic impact it has on the community.
Currently, the base has 1,500 personnel and another 2,200 dependents and civilian workers and four KC-135 Stratotankers. Those tankers are leaving next month.
Starting the following month, Shaffer said, new personnel are arriving with their family to prepare for the July arrival of the first Global Hawk, the nation’s most advanced unmanned spy plane.
The base already hosts Predator unmanned aircraft owned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and will host more Predators flown by the National Guard’s 119th Wing in Fargo.
By about September, he told the Grand Forks Herald, the base likely would have 2,000 personnel, not including dependents and civilian workers. He expects, he said, that the base would top out at around 2,400 personnel when all eight Global Hawks arrive.
More may be coming, he said, but that’s not his department as they belong to Air Combat Command and he’s in Air Mobility Command, which owns the base.
The ACC contingent will be a reconnaissance group reporting to the Ninth Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, north of Sacramento, Calif.
Grand Forks personnel will fly, operate sensors and maintain the Global Hawks, Shaffer said, while the data from those sensors will stream to Beale.
To prep the base for the new mission and the people that come with it, the Air Force authorized $89.4 million in infrastructure. That’s everything from a new gym, to a new control tower — Shaffer quipped that he’ll be the only base commander with a new tower and no planes — to the data network that can handle the 500 gigabytes of radar and imagery data that each Global Hawk can crank out an hour.
Tu-Uyen Tran is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by Forum Communications Co.