Speaking with school board members, representing schools for both the city of Grand Forks and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota last week, Col. John Michel talked about the loss of base personnel as the 319th Air Refueling Wing approaches deactivation and its impact on the student population. The Grand Forks Herald reports that Michel, who commands the 319th ARW, said, “We’re in a very rapid drawdown now. … There’s a lot of angst, but we’re actively involved in this and we have a very positive outlook.” The wing, which fell prey to BRAC 2005, will lose 44 percent of its aircraft and 48 percent of its aircrews over the next six months, reports the newspaper. At least temporarily, according to Michel, the base may need to consolidate its two schools (one elementary and one elementary/middle school), but he said “hard numbers” upon which to base projected attendance would not be ready until later in December. The Air Force already has said that the base would lose around a thousand airmen with deactivation of the refueling wing, and the new mission—unmanned aerial vehicle operations slated to begin in September 2011—would bring in only about 300. Already, Michel knows that the remaining population will not fill base housing, so he is advocating that the Air Force open housing to other federal government workers in the area.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.