Sixteenth Air Force Deputy Commander visits Grand Forks AFB

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Roxanne Belovarac
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Maj. Gen. Thomas Hensley, 16th Air Force deputy commander (Air Forces Cyber), visited Grand Forks Air Force Base Oct. 30, 2023, to learn about the dynamic and expanding mission of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing -- home to Airmen referred to as ‘Griffins.’

Hensley’s visit began with a recognition ceremony for 58 Airmen who enabled three Wing-wide events, relocation of the Wing headquarters building, simultaneous base visits from the Chief of Space Operations and Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

The Airmen also supported elected and distinguished official visits and garnered superior performer praises collectively culminating in the Wing’s ‘effective’ Unit Effectiveness Inspection rating; all of which took place in a span of five weeks.

Hensley addressed the Airmen being recognized and commended them for their efforts, including how they mitigated the effects over 100 Airmen deploying in support of Air Force Force Generation cycle 24.1.

“You’ve been sprinting the entire time; from retired 3-stars visiting, Senators, 4-stars and in every single instance you hit long-balls, you hit home runs,” said Hensley. “What you haven’t done is taken your eyes off the global responsibility of this Wing. Whether it’s the Pacific, whether it’s the European theater, whether it’s the crisis in Israel and the (Central Command area of responsibility), you’re able to pivot and cover down on all those things.”

Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Sixteenth Air Force is the Air Force’s Information Warfare Numbered Air Force that integrates Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; cyber; electronic warfare and information operations.

The Sixteenth Air Force has a broad reach that spans the globe, including nine wings and two centers which specialize in gathering insights on adversaries, ensuring that the United States is not only equipped to handle current threats but also those that may emerge in the landscape of strategic rivalry.

Hensley’s one-day visit included stops to ten locations on and near Grand Forks AFB providing him insight into the many ways the 319th RW supports the Air Force’s Information Warfare Numbered Air Force.

Following the recognition ceremony, Hensley transitioned to the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron’s Reconnaissance Operations Center where deployed-in-place pilots and sensor operators fly and operate the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40 24-hours a day, seven days a week. These aircrew members pilot missions remotely across the globe and deploy to conduct missions from two geographically separated units: the 7th Reconnaissance Squadron housed at Sigonella Naval Air Station, Italy; and the 4th Reconnaissance Squadron, housed at Anderson Air Base, Guam or Yokota Air Base, Japan depending on the time of year.

The work of these aircrew teams and the permanent party Airmen of the 7th RS and 4th RS provides Combatant Commanders ISR enabling them to make informed decisions and maintain situational awareness.

“I know you’re watching events that are happening around the world, it is a very, very tense time world-wide,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Timothy Monroe, 319th RW commander. “There are a lot of critical things that are actively supporting operations in the Pacific theater, and moreover, actively supporting operations that you see unfolding in the middle east right now. Those things are happening from this installation or from our geographically separated units.”

Hensley also received multiple briefings related to current and future missions being housed at or enabled by Grand Forks AFB, one of which being the U.S. Space Force’s direct reporting unit, the Space Development Agency.

Grand Forks AFB will house one of two SDA operations sites, Operations Center North, the sister-site to Operations Center South at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Operations Center North is expected to be running by 2024.

These operations centers will enable SDA’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, composed of constellations of hundreds of space vehicles providing data transport; missile warning, targeting and tracking; and will be the backbone of Joint All Domain Command and Control that will provide interoperability and connectivity to joint, coalition and partner forces globally.

Additionally, Grand Forks AFB will be home to SDA’s only Test and Checkout Center that will test the operational features and functionality of satellites before they’re transitioned to one of the operations centers. The TCC is expected to be functional in 2026.

Hensley also visited the 319th Communications Squadron High Frequency Global Communications System. The 319th Reconnaissance Wing is responsible for one of two operating locations that monitors signals and Emergency Action Messages for senior leader communications, to include the President of the United States, around the world.

Hensley’s visit to Grand Forks AFB concluded with an update on the installation’s infrastructure, and a visit with the 319th Security Forces Squadron Combat Arms Training and Maintenance facility.

In addition to multiple global operations, future space operations and the oversight of five geographically separated locations, the base supports the Test Resource Management Center’s SkyRange program through an extended lease with the Grand Sky business and aviation park.

Hensley spoke with representatives from Grand Sky, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics to discuss the innovations they’re developing for the future of hypersonic and unmanned aerial system capabilities.

“This is my first opportunity in my 30-plus year career to visit Grand Forks and I’m very excited about visiting with the ‘Griffins’ today,” said Hensley. “From my perspective, being the 16th Air Force deputy commander, I couldn’t be more proud and more happy for the outcomes that this Wing has been achieving.”