Air station celebrates 35 yearsIt seems fitting that Jim Hines runs a Main Street business in Cavalier called The Treasure Trove, a store filled with antiques and memories of days gone by.
By: By Kevin Bonham , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
CAVALIER, N.D. — It seems fitting that Jim Hines runs a Main Street business in Cavalier called The Treasure Trove, a store filled with antiques and memories of days gone by.
Among the prized possessions on display — one not for sale — is a signed, framed print of the 12-story-tall radar installation that stands like a fortress 16 miles west of town.
Hines has fond memories of the place and of life in Cavalier. The Chicago native and his wife, Mary, moved here in the fall of 1974 when he was an Army captain.
“I was learning the system, and I was learning about rural life,” he said. “We loved it here.”
The framed print bears the signatures of 40 people that Hines worked with at the radar installation, and he has hauled it around the country from one assignment to another until he retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Hines and his wife initially settled in El Paso, Texas, before deciding in 1987 to move back to Cavalier to continue to raise their three sons, who themselves serve or served in the military.
Over the years, the radar installation, now part of the Cavalier Air Force Station, has played a big role in this town of 1,500 and in surrounding communities. The Air Force spends money here on services, supplies and electricity; the powerful radar consumes vast amounts. The station’s airmen bolster the economy and the community, sending their children to area schools and volunteering.
This weekend, Cavalier celebrates its 35-year relationship with the air station.
Today, there is an open house at the station from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a formal program beginning at 11 a.m. includes a B-52 flyover.
“We’re extremely proud of being part of this community,” said Lt. Col. Lorinda Frederick, commander of the 10th Space Warning Squadron based at the air station, which is part of the 21st Space Wing.
A dozen airmen and their families, including 34 children, from infants to age 16, live in family housing units at the air station. Another 28 airmen assigned from Grand Forks Air Force Base about 55 miles to the south live in dormitories at the station.
The school-age children attend nearby schools, mostly in Cavalier and at North Border in Walhalla, N.D. Over the years, the base’s student population has remained fairly constant, about evenly split between the two districts.
Cavalier Superintendent Jeff Manley said his school has 14 of the children this year.
Base personnel also contribute to area schools.
“One of the Air Force moms has been a teacher’s helper, working with students on art projects,” said Jana Carlson, elementary school principal at North Border.
Cavalier High School’s head cross country coach is a recent Air Force retiree from the Cavalier air station, according to Manley. Others over the past decade have included coaches in basketball, football and softball programs.
“It’s always tough to find coaches from the area,” Manley said. “It’s worked out nicely. I think it’s been good for our area, good for the community. It’s been an important part of our military history, too.”
The remainder of the 160 to 170 people who work at the Cavalier air station are civilians contractors who live in the surrounding communities. Scores of others have worked at the air station or some military facility in the region at one time or another.
About half of the air station’s annual $8.4 million budget is paid to civilian contractors and businesses that service the facility, according to Frederick. About a third of that goes to utilities, with electricity supplied by Nodak Electric Cooperative. The rest is spent in area businesses, for parts and other small purchases.
“It’s a major part of our local economy,” said Shari Hanson, Cavalier Chamber of Commerce director.
Cavalier Mayor Ken Briese said he got a job almost immediately after he was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1974. Working at the former anti-ballistic missile base in nearby Nekoma, N.D., and later at the Cavalier station, he was a systems control specialist, troubleshooting missile launch sites.
“The ties are strong,” the mayor said. “There’s a core group of people living in the area who have been a part of this facility since the beginning. It’s provided careers.”
The Cavalier radar installation was built in the early 1970s as part of the Safeguard project, a U.S. Army mission to detect and destroy Soviet nuclear missiles coming over the North Pole.
The building that houses the radar is designed to withstand a nuclear strike with 8.5-foot-thick walls. It contains more than 58,000 cubic yards of concrete and 8,000 tons of steel reinforcing bars.
Congress halted the Safeguard project in 1975, just a day after it officially became operational, as part of an arms treaty with the Soviet Union. The anti-ballistic missiles at the Nekoma base and other launch sites were removed.
The city of Cavalier commemorated that era on Friday with the dedication of a 55-foot-tall replica of one of the missiles at a park at the north entrance to the town.
What remains is the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System, upgraded to be the most powerful of five warning radars operated by the 21st Space Wing. With a monitoring range of nearly 3,700 miles, it continually scans the skies for missiles and other space objects, such as satellites and space junk.
The one-of-a-kind facility is on the National Register of Historic Places, a testament to its Cold War role.
Many connected with the Cavalier air station find themselves also very connected to their communities.
Current and retired military members serve together with their neighbors on local church boards, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.
Frederick, like most base commanders, is a board member of the local Chamber. She’s been here since June 2011.
Jim and Mary Hines have been active in the community, too. Mary Hines has served as the local librarian and as Chamber director.
Whether Jim Hines is hauling sugar beets during the annual fall campaign or working at his downtown store, rare is the day that he doesn’t visit with an old friend, someone he’s met in the nearly four decades since the Hines first moved to Cavalier or since the family moved back.
“They’re all friends,” he said. “It really is one community — and it’s home.”