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Base fight urged: Haugen says 119th should seek growth

The 119th Fighter Wing is positioned not only to survive an upcoming round of base closures but could see its defense role enhanced, according to North Dakota's adjutant general.

The 119th Fighter Wing is positioned not only to survive an upcoming round of base closures but could see its defense role enhanced, according to North Dakota's adjutant general.

"We might have the potential to do the opposite of what we fear. We may be in a position to grow," Maj. Gen. Mike Haugen told members of the Fargo-Moorhead Air National Guard Support Group on Friday.

"That's what we should be promoting," group member Tom Kenville of West Fargo's Mid-America Aviation said. "Why should we be playing for a tie? We should be looking to double in size."

The support group met Friday at the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead to review a consulting firm's report on the Fargo-based Air Guard unit's standing as it prepares for scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Defense's upcoming Base Realignment and Closure committee.

The Spectrum Group, an Arlington, Va., military consulting firm that prepared the 50-page report for the Fargo-Moorhead support group, estimates up to 15 of the nation's 40 Guard and Reserve fighter wings could be recommended either for closure or "blending" with Air Force units.


Several Air National Guard and Reserve bases and units are expected to be included along with Air Force bases and units on a list the BRAC committee is expected to release next May.

The 119th Fighter Wing's 365 active-duty and 700 part-time members, known as the "Happy Hooligans," fly or support the mission of 22 F-16 fighters based out of Hector International Airport in Fargo and Langley (Va.) Air Force Base. The 119th leases 250 acres from the Fargo Airport Authority for $1 a year. The Fargo air base is home to 20 major structures, including a $5 million weapons training facility completed in 2003.

"As we progressed through the assessment, it became clear that the unit in Fargo has many strengths and is not likely to be closed," according to the Spectrum Group's report. The primary threat to the 119th and the Fargo-Moorhead community is a possible recommendation to relocate the unit to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, Spectrum consultant Bryan Scharratt told the support group Friday by speaker phone from Arlington.

"The Hooligans are really an excellent unit, with a record for safety that is unsurpassed in the military," Scharratt said. Moving the Hooligans to Grand Forks would have the same impact as a closure to Fargo-Moorhead, he said.

"Every factor we've seen indicates that recruiting deficiencies in Grand Forks would be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome," Scharratt added.

Haugen, former wing commander of the 119th, said the North Dakota Army National Guard's 188th Air Defense Artillery unit would have to be moved out of Grand Forks if the 119th moved north. The 188th's recruiters already face a recruiting challenge from Army and Air Force ROTC programs at the University of North Dakota, he said.

Further, "the entire readiness of our military would be lowered," he said.

Haugen said the 119th Fighter Wing must prepare to accept changes in its mission and aircraft. Today, it flies some of the oldest fighters in the nation's fleet: F-16 Falcons modified to fire AIM-7 air-to-air missiles. The wing has flown fighters continuously since its formation in 1947.


"They're flying older airplanes, but this is not a BRAC issue," said the Spectrum Group's Scharratt. "Airplanes can be moved around."

Haugen said North Dakota could play a key role in training with the military's next-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, by using available air space over the state in conjunction with retired missile sites acting as electronic targets.

The so-called Air Space Initiative, which emerged from Gov. John Hoeven's Military in North Dakota task force, would open the state's relatively lightly traversed skies to high-altitude training. More than one-quarter of the state's air space is already designated as special-use for military training, the Spectrum report stated.

"We need new airplanes," Haugen said. "Maybe the Air Space Initiative will help."

The local Guard support group has raised about $150,000 toward a $200,000 BRAC effort goal. Nearly all of the funding has come from local government agencies. Dick Walstad, the group's co-chairman, said he and other members will approach businesses and business groups for the rest of the funding.

In its report, the Spectrum Group recommends the local support group play up the high quality and quantity of potential recruits in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The report also says land-use management around the airport works in favor of keeping an Air Guard unit here.

The Spectrum Group lauds the Fargo-Moorhead area for its strong economy, yet advises against using it as a selling point before the Department of Defense committee.

"Virtually every other community can present a more compelling case of economic distress," the report said.


A North Dakota State University study recently showed that the 119th Fighter Wing has a $42 million impact on the Fargo-Moorhead region based on salaries, federal procurement and construction spending.

The reality, Haugen said, is that some air bases will be closed and some units relocated. The key is staying off the list that's due to come out in May.

"When it gets up to (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld's level, they are going to have to pick units that are going to be closed," Haugen said. "Our only weakness is that our economy is so good. What a weakness to have."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Gerry Gilmour at (701) 241-5560

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