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Local view: 148th’s relevance and need are undiminished

September has marked the 67th anniversary of the establishment of the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth. For many, the wing's presence in the Twin Ports is about as commonplace as the gulls. It's simply an Air National Guard unit that flies jets over ...

148th F-16
An F-16 pilot with the 148th Air National Guard Fighter Wing prepares to land at the Duluth International Airport in 2009. (File / News Tribune)

September has marked the 67th anniversary of the establishment of the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth. For many, the wing’s presence in the Twin Ports is about as commonplace as the gulls. It’s simply an Air National Guard unit that flies jets over the city.
It wasn’t until another September in 2001 that we began to learn the wing wasn’t just a noisy neighbor - it was a national treasure.
Ironically, a few years after the 148th was called up in response to 9/11, and in the midst of its first combat deployment overseas, the unit was targeted for possible closure by a Base Realignment and Closure commission. Not only did the 148th survive BRAC, it has enjoyed a decade of solid achievements since then. Not that you don’t hear about it much anymore. With our large-scale military adventures in foreign lands sputtering to an end, the attention on the 148th has diminished.
That doesn’t mean its relevance has diminished, though - or its need.
After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan kicked in, the 148th Bulldogs were in high demand. Three times the wing deployed an “air package” of  about a half-dozen jets and a couple 0f hundred airmen. They went to Balad, Iraq, in 2005, 2007 and 2008, for several months each time. They repeated this in 2012, but this time to Kandahar, Afghanistan. At the same time, hundreds of other airmen were scattered in groups and as individuals to locations around the world to support the Global War on Terrorism. This is still happening. In 2014, the unit sent 175 airmen overseas.
During all of this running around, the 148th has continued to transform. In 2010, the wing received Block 50 F-16CM, the newest and most capable F-16 fighter jets in the Air Force. With that improvement in operational capability, the wing also took over Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) for our nation. Its mission to “defeat America’s enemies” was dramatically improved with these technical and operational changes.
Likewise, the 148th has undergone an extreme makeover on its campus. In addition to the $24 million, state-of-the-art consolidated maintenance complex, more infrastructure has been added or upgraded, like a fire station, new base entrances, munitions and fuel storage, alert crew quarters and a fuel cell hanger.
Most importantly, the 148th consistently has maintained a beefed-up, highly trained, diverse workforce. 2014 marked the 14th consecutive year the wing had more than 100 percent strength. It maintained a retention rate of better than 90 percent, an aircraft mission-capable rate of 77 percent and a mission-ready rate of 96 percent. And it regularly scored “excellent” or “outstanding” in inspections.
As Wing Commander Col. Frank Stokes remarked, “The members of the 148th Fighter Wing continue to prove that we are ready to do anything and everything the state and country asks of us.”
This year sees the beginning of the 148th as an active association unit, which further solidifies its role in our nation’s national defense system. Other future initiatives include the construction of the Consolidated Logistics Readiness Squadron Facility, Weapons Load Training Facility and the F-16CM Simulator Training Facility. Next year will see the reconstruction of runway 9/27, which will benefit Duluth’s aviation cluster, including the 148th. It’s a project U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said he hopes can be completed while the 148th is on its next scheduled deployment. He said the wing deserves the investments.
“There is a reason the 148th is still around a decade after the BRAC,” Nolan said. “Because the Pentagon realized the Bulldogs are needed. There’s a reason for all the overseas deployments and base projects. They’re needed. The 148th consistently answers the call, and they accomplish their missions with efficiency, professionalism and patriotism. And our nation needs that.”
It’s been almost seven decades of efficiency, professionalism and patriotism - a legacy of excellence.

Dave Boe of Duluth is a writer and regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He served in the Public Affairs Office at the 148th Fighter Wing from 2003 through 2006.

Jet engine mechanic
Erin Ansell, a jet engine mechanic at the 148th Fighter Wing, inspects and cleans one of the Block 50 F-16 jet engines at the base in 2012. She’s using a socket wrench to loosen an internal bolt. (File / News Tribune)

Opinion by Dave Boe
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