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The men and women of the 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota National Guard base in Duluth generally maintain a low profile. Consequently, many of us have little idea of the unit’s contribution to our nation’s security.
But at the 148th’s recent annual dinner, commander Col. Chris Blomquist called 2018 the squadron’s toughest year on record, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
In 2018, more than half of the 148th’s 1000 mission-qualified members were deployed across the world and United States for up to 90 to 180 days at a time. On top of that, the Duluth base hosted President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on their two separate trips.”This has been the most taxing year in the history of the 148th,” Blomquist told the crowd gathered inside the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center’s Symphony Hall on Sunday afternoon for the 148th’s annual retirement and awards ceremony.
Air national guardsmen are no longer solely weekend warriors once a month. Hundreds of the Duluth squadron’s airmen this year were sent to an undisclosed location in the fight to defeat ISIS, known as Operation Inherent Resolve.
For the first time in its history, nearly half of the base was deployed at the same time. Some of the details are posted on the unit’s DOD web page.
These Airmen were assigned to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group, serving as part of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CTR-OIR). While overseas, they generated, executed, and sustained combat airpower across their assigned region. CTR-OIR was committed to defeating ISIS and setting conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability.
The 148th Airmen were deployed for three to four months, depending on the needed skill set, and were well-trained and ready, performing to an extremely high level to support their overseas mission.
Their commander said the unanticipated deployments had stretched some families to their limits.
“There were countless times that people volunteered to help families of a deployed 148th member in need,” said Blomquist. “I would like to personally thank the community, families, friends and employers of our Airmen for supporting them during this time.”
In previous years, the Duluth airbase has also had to fight a battle on the home front in order to justify its existence. But with the Air Force currently expanding there may be reinforcements on the way with additional personnel to take off some of the pressure in future deployments.
Blomquist said 52 full-time positions were already added to the base in 2018, mostly in aircraft maintenance, and that the 148th, which currently flies F-16s, will again lobby for new F-35 fighters.
For years, the 148th has tried to upgrade to the F-35 in an effort to ensure the base stays in Duluth.
“We are now going to advocate for next-generation aircraft so that the 148th Fighter Wing may continue to serve this country and the thousand-plus airmen in job security here in Duluth,” Blomquist said. “As the Air Force makes its case for ‘The Air Force We Need,’ we will grow from 312 operational squadrons to 386 operational squadrons. So now is the time to pursue F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or a newer manned-fighter aircraft in Duluth at the 148th Fighter Wing.”
So it appears the Duluth squadron won’t likely be going anywhere for now, except on missions like Operation Inherent Resolve.