Our View: The 148th a 'quiet' neighbor? Thankfully, no
At a chamber luncheon last week in Duluth, Col. Jon Safstrom said his 148th Fighter Wing is "kind of a quiet organization." Quiet? Cotton-area residents might disagree after their houses shook in January when an F-16 fighter jet from the 148th, d...
At a chamber luncheon last week in Duluth, Col. Jon Safstrom said his 148th Fighter Wing is "kind of a quiet organization."
Quiet? Cotton-area residents might disagree after their houses shook in January when an F-16 fighter jet from the 148th, during nighttime training, broke the sound barrier and created a sonic boom over their heads.
Also disagreeing might be anyone in the Northland who has been paying attention during the 148th's nearly 70-year history here of community service, service to country, and global missions.
"Quiet" and "148th" in the same sentence? Thankfully, no.
This is the same Minnesota Air National Guard wing, after all, that patrolled the skies over Washington, D.C., in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorism attacks, that played key roles in Operation Iraqi Freedom, that was solely responsible for monitoring the top of the globe for sneak attacks during the Cold War, and that is now our seventh-largest employer with about 1,000 members and an $80 million-a-year economic impact.
"It's another one of Duluth's hidden gems," Safstrom, the 148th's commander, said as the keynote speaker at the luncheon held inside the Kitchi Gammi Club. "Our folks take a lot of pride in what they do. They're very good at what they do. And they live and work here in Duluth, so that's fantastic."
What the 148th does has shifted since the wing's creation in 1948. Toward the end of the Cold War, during the 1970s and 80s, the wing added low-level reconnaissance flights to its responsibilities. In 1999, it had bombs strapped to its wings for air-to-ground combat. Today, the wing also is trained in air-to-air combat, its fliers able to neutralize enemy resistance in support of air missions.
The 148th's federal and state responsibilities additionally include responding to and assisting with natural disasters and other emergencies.
"We also like to be good neighbors and give back," Safstrom said, touting that 148th members regularly contribute more than 4,700 hours of volunteer time every year in our community.
The 148th is as much a fixture in the Twin Ports as its 70-acre campus at Duluth International Airport is a local landmark. With the shifting responsibilities, the base has seen changes, upgrades, improvements, and expansions, each new construction project employing more Northland workers and boosting the local economy even further. An estimated $110 million of work has been completed in about the last 15 years.
A recently approved $7 million training facility at the base is expected to begin construction this year, Safstrom said.
As much as the wing has benefitted the Twin Ports, the community has supported the wing. That included a Twin Ports lobbying delegation to D.C. in 2011 when bases were being closed across the country. The 148th was spared from "sequestration," its benefits and bang successfully sold by chamber officials and other community leaders, their message including that Air Guard wings operate at a fraction of the cost of Air Force bases.
"There are a lot of guard units across the United States; not many of them have the kind of support and cohesion between the military and the business community (that we have)," Safstrom said. "It's something we cherish."
Chamber President and CEO David Ross does, too. He called the 148th "a treasure" with "strong leadership."
Considering all of this, how is it possible that Safstrom was able to grow up in eastern Duluth without knowing much about the 148th, as he claimed last week? How could the 148th possibly be a "quiet" giant here?
"A lot of times it just doesn't receive a lot of notoriety, which is good - but it's also bad from the standpoint that we want to share our story and let people know what we do," said the commander. "I would say we have a good thing going."
No sonic boom is necessary to remind Duluthians and Northlanders of that. So let's not be so quiet about it.