Relationship with Air Force could be future of Duluth's 148th base
Convincing the Air Force to base active-duty personnel in Duluth may be a key to ensuring the long-term viability of the 148th Fighter Wing. The goal of having active duty and National Guard members working together -- known in the military as "a...
Convincing the Air Force to base active-duty personnel in Duluth may be a key to ensuring the long-term viability of the 148th Fighter Wing.
The goal of having active duty and National Guard members working together -- known in the military as "active association" -- is "to do a mission and to do it better and cheaper than it currently being done," Col. Mark Johnson, the wing's commander said. "It's a fantastic idea."
Duluth would be one of a handful of bases with such a relationship -- which is part of a long-term military strategy.
Johnson made his comments this morning following a news conference at the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, where members of the chamber's Military Affairs Committee talked about efforts to ensure the long-term survival of the base.
Earlier in the day, members of the committee met with Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, the director of the Air National Guard, who is in Duluth taking part in an executive training course. Not only did the committee get to pitch the idea of a long-term mission for the 148th, but they got to hear McKinley's ideas, committee member Pat Mullen said.
Also discussed was the idea of active association and the possibility of up to 200 active-duty Air Force personnel stationed in Duluth.
Housing, medical services and the local economy were all discussed, Mullen said. Among the active association-related ideas discussed was the idea of a local developer creating housing for the active-duty personnel, who would likely live here for shorter periods of time than Guard members, Mullen said.
Under active association relationships, active-duty airmen are stationed at an Air National Guard location without the support functions -- such as housing, medical care or shops -- traditionally provided on an active duty base. Instead, air-men find those services in the local civilian community.
Having active-duty personnel living off base and obtaining services like healthcare and retail shopping in the community will require a large cultural shift for the Air Force, Johnson said.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is that the two groups have different chains of command. National Guard units are under the command of a state's governor, while active duty personnel are under the command of the U.S. president.
But active association is not an untried idea. The Air Force began trying active association with the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing in the city of Burlington three or four years ago, Johnson said.
In September, the Air Force announced it was expanding that association, continuing its active association at the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., and establishing active associations at Dannelly Field Air Guard Station in Alabama, the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, and the 301st Fighter Wing at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base in Texas.
The moves are "part of the service's total force integration effort designed to cement more than 680,000 active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Airmen and civilian employees into an even more capable and efficient Air Force," said Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in an Air Force news release in Sept. 2007.
The chamber wants Duluth to be the next community where active association is established, Mullen said.
The 148th employs 1,050 people, 450 of whom are full-time, according to spokeswoman Capt. Audra Flanagan.
The 148th currently flies Block 25 F-16 fighters from the early 1980s, which are the oldest F-16s in the U.S. Air Force arsenal. The wing and its supporters hope the unit eventually gets F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft. But it needs newer F-16s to act as a bridge between the Block-25 model and the F-35.
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman will tour the 148th Friday. He is one of the politicians working to win a long-term mission for the outfit.
Chamber of Commerce President David Ross said the government will make decisions within the next few months that will affect the military in 2012.
"Our work is cut out for us," Ross said.