GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The Grand Forks Air Force Base was redesignated with the ceremonial switch of flags in front of a sea of camouflage and blue on Friday morning, June 28.

There was also a change of command, from outgoing Col. Ben Spencer to incoming Col. Cameron Pringle.

“I think we created something special here over the last two years,” Spencer said. “I’m confident we’ve left it better than we found it.”

The redesignation of the base from the 319th Air Base to the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, which took place from 9 to 10 a.m., means a shift in command at the base and the culmination of 18 months of work and thousands of man hours.

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‘Historic’ day

While the air base has no change in mission, the redesignation means the Grand Forks Air Force Base now owns the Global Hawk mission.

The redesignation aligns the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the 69th Reconnaissance Group, which was formerly under the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base in California. The 69th Reconnaissance Group has been a tenant in Grand Forks since 2011. The Global Hawk mission formerly reported to Beale Air Force Base in California.

Spencer called Friday’s redesignation “historic.”

“This is the right move at the right time, for all of the right reasons,” Spencer said.

The Global Hawk mission monitors enemy movement all over the world, O’Brien said.

Now that Grand Forks Air Force Base owns the mission, it can continue to be enriched by private sector UAS operations, such as those at Grand Sky. The work airmen and women at the base have been doing for the past several years has had a significant impact on the mission, O'Brien said.

Spencer thanked Grand Forks community leaders for supporting the UAS industry and the Global Hawk mission.

“The local community was all in from the start,” Spencer said. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without you.”

Change of command

Pringle is known as one of the best instructor pilots in the U.S. Air Force and worked in the Pentagon as a chief programmer for Fifth Gen Fighters, according to Maj. Gen. Mary O’Brien, who took part in the change of command and redesignation ceremony.

“I’m confident, and so should all of you, that Col. Pringle is a perfect fit for this air base,” O’Brien said.

Pringle’s taking over will be bittersweet to some. Former commander Col. Benjamin Spencer is leaving Grand Forks, which he called “home” of 18 months, with his family.

Spencer thanked his wife, Beth, who is accompanying him on his 12th assignment in 24 years, and his son, Evan, who has attended four different schools and is just starting third grade.

“Evan never complains about these moves despite truly loving North Dakota,” Spencer said.

After speaking to the airmen and women one final time, Spencer called his son on stage to give him a gift, wrapping him in a big bear hug.

In his time as commander, Spencer helped raise re-enlistment from below average to 10% above average and led the base to the on-time completion of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, O’Brien said.

“The future of this wing is bright because I know the Warriors of the North will never fail,” Spencer said.

Pringle gave his appreciation to Spencer for “setting the foundation we needed to succeed.”

Sen. Cramer, representatives for Sen. Hoeven and Congressman Armstrong and the commanders’ families attended the event.

Reporter Wren Murphy contributed to this article.