Grand Forks AFB – NEW

Grand Forks AFB
This was the last Minuteman wing fielded, and the second to be located in North Dakota, which prompted some wags to boast that, were it a country instead of a state, North Dakota would be the fifth most powerful nuclear-armed nation in the world! Situated on the eastern edge of the Roughrider State, this base, established in 1955, was home to the 321st Strategic Missile Wing. Boeing had built the facilities for the Minuteman I at Wings I-V, but Sylvania got the contract for the Minuteman facilities at Grand Forks, and by the time Wing VI was activated in late 1964, the newer Minuteman II missiles were being readied for deployment, so this was the first “Deuce” wing. The Deuce Launch Control Centers were considerably larger than the earlier Boeing-built capsules, which Deuce crews characterized as VW “Beetles” compared to their “Cadillacs.” Additionally, the underground support building was now in a hardened capsule just like the LCC, and the support building at LFs was similarly constructed. There were other differences too, like the medium frequency radio that served as a back-up to the HICS (so Deuce crews did both a cable key-turn and a radio key-turn when launching), and also the radically different numbering system for the LCCs and LFs. LCCs were still designated Alpha through Oscar, but their numerical designation was zero, not “01” as in the Boeing system. Additionally, LFs were numbered 1-50 in each squadron, rather than 2-11 in each flight. Deucers were quite proud of their advanced system, so much so that they were sometimes heard referring to the “less evolved” missileers at the other five Minuteman wings as “knuckle-draggers.” The wing’s three tactical squadrons, 446th, 447th, and 448th Strategic Missile Squadrons, were activated in 1965 and the first missile arrived in August of that year. In March 1966, the base received the first Minuteman II to be shipped via aircraft, an Air Force first, and in December of that year the wing was declared operational. In the mid-to-late 1960s, the wing and base became infamous for a series of test failures. As the first base to deploy Minuteman II missiles, Grand Forks hosted "Project Long Life II" (“I” had been conducted at Ellsworth), a unique reliability test in which modified Minuteman missiles were fueled to travel a few hundred yards. The first attempted launch from a Grand Forks silo occurred on 19 October 1966 and was declared unsuccessful. Nine days later, a second attempt also failed. A third attempt under "Project Giant Boost" occurred in August 1968 and again proved unsuccessful. No more launches were ever attempted from an operational Minuteman base. From December 1971 to March 1973, the wing switched to Minuteman III missiles, but because of tradition, the missileers at Grand Forks (and Squad 20 at Malmstrom) and their weapon system were still referred to as “Deuce.” The 1990s were a decade of change for the 321st. First, the wing and its combat squadrons had the word “Strategic” stripped from their designations in 1991. In 1992, the wing was reassigned to Air Combat Command when SAC was inactivated, and the following year Air Force Space Command took the reins from ACC. In 1994, the 321st was downgraded from wing to group status, and the very next year the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) selected the 321 MG for inactivation, which occurred in 1998. Most of the Minuteman III missiles were transferred to Malmstrom AFB in Montana to replace the recently retired Minuteman II missiles in the 10th, 12th, and 490th Missile Squadrons. Beginning in 1999, the Minuteman silos of Wing VI were imploded in accordance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), with the last one destroyed in 2001. Today, the only remaining Minuteman “Deuce” facilities are at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site, which consists of two former missile sites near Cooperstown ND that were part of the 321 MW/MG: the Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility, and the November-33 Launch Facility. These have been preserved and are operated by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Of the six bases chosen for Minuteman deployment, Grand Forks was probably the least suitable. Due to its topography and proximity to rivers, the area around the base was prone to flooding. In fact, this was discovered during the initial construction. Flooding during the winter of 1964-65 ruined equipment, such as diesel generators, that had to be returned to the factory for rehabilitation. Following completion, a number of the launch facilities were flagged as “Flooders” that warranted close monitoring. Mother Nature often threatened wing readiness. The organizational history referred to a long series of weather-related disasters: "The Great Blizzard of '66" - " the storm of '75 that caused $10,000 in damages" - and 1977, "one of the harshest winters which 'hampered maintenance efforts' and had 'ice storms snapping power lines'." A quick thaw in April 1979 created one of the most devastating floods within the Red River valley basin up to that time. In addition to protecting the silos from flood waters, wing personnel volunteered to join the mostly successful 2-week struggle to keep Grand Forks and East Grand Forks dry. This effort was repeated in April 1989 and again in April and May 1997, but there were no successes that year. Members of Grand Forks AFB were called into action, first to help protect the town from the rising waters (but the sandbag-dikes were topped by 5 feet of floodwater) and later to house some of the 50,000 victims who fled the disaster. The Red River Flood of 1997 was the most severe flood of the area since 1826! Life at Grand Forks AFB during times such as these actually made a tour at Minot seem enviable! Now let’s look at the missile-related patches from “The Forks” (there were bombers there too). The patches in this album are presented as follows: the SMW-era wing-level patches are displayed first, followed by the MW/MG patches, and then the missile squadrons, including their flight patches and unofficial morale patches. Following the tactical units are the patches of the maintenance, security, and other support units, presented in numerical-alphabetical order, except for the hospital patches, which are grouped together in chronological order. The base patches are last.
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