Planes, People & Possibilities: Part One

By KBJR News 1

February 25, 2013 Updated Feb 25, 2013 at 11:45 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - From the September 11th Terrorist Attacks to the war in Afghanistan, the 148th Fighter Wing has played a crucial role on the front lines.

Its role now rapidly expanding on the home front.

"Our goal here is to make this the preferred training center for people in the F16 realm," said Lt. Col Rob Roningen, commander of the aircraft maintenance squadron at the 148th.

The move, announced this time last year, blends active duty air force members with the national guard, slashing costs at the federal level while strengthening the base in Duluth.

"It gives us more capability," the Lt. Col said. "We can better the product for national defense."

44 air force members are expected in the transition, beginning as soon as this summer.

They'll work alongside the current 1,000 guard members maintaining recently acquired F16 Block 50 jets.

New offices are in place for arriving members.

"Our main goal is to make them a bulldog. We're going to slap a bulldog patch on them," said Lt. Col Audra Flanagan, the executive wing commander for the 148th.

In a first of its kind mission to Afghanistan this past summer, the 148th paired up with a sister unit from Japan providing air support for ground forces.

It gave the guard a feel for what it's like working alongside active air force members.

As military communities across the nation brace for the impact of sequestration, there is some relief.

Duluth officials say the automatic spending cuts won't have an effect on active association.

In fact, the move spares the burden on the Department of Defense, currently facing billions of dollars in cuts.

"Within the department of Defense, just proceeding with the initial plan is a very positive thing," said David Ross, the president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber and the 148th spent years pushing for the base with key military officials in Washington D.C., vital to securing its future in Duluth and in opening up more options for the base.

The merger lays out a new mission for the base and with it comes the potential to acquire new jets ten years down the road.

"If we become the training facility, because we have the space on the ground here, at the guard, plus our air space is second to none in the US, for the pilots to train in, we would certainly be a candidate for the F35." said Lt. Col. Roningen.

The F35 is the newest jet on the market and is currently in the early stages of testing.

For now, the 148th is focusing on a smooth transition for the newest Bulldogs.

We're going to give them cold weather gear, slip resistant boots. We want to give them the tools to succeed," said Lt. Col. Flanagan.

The impact on the community through Active Association will be along the lines of $5 million.

The integration, however, doesn't come without hurdles.

Tuesday night at ten, a look at the daunting task ahead as the Air Force members begin to arrive in the Northland.

Kevin Jacobsen
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