Airmen, veterans and elected officials gathered Saturday morning to celebrate a $5.6 million investment that will enable the Iowa Air National Guard unit in Fort Dodge to continue its high technology work in a modern complex.
Members of the 133rd Test Squadron stood in formation as Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, the adjutant general of Iowa, used a pair of oversized scissors to cut a blue ribbon marking the rededication of the facility on Webster County road P56 north of the city.
Later, Orr presented a plaque and a certificate marking the squadron's receipt of the 2012 Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, the adjutant general of Iowa, speaks during a rededication ceremony Saturday morning at the headquarters of the 133rd Test Squadron in Fort Dodge. Orr talked about the unit’s contribution to the nation’s security following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
''I just can't tell you how much I appreciate what you do,'' said Orr, who is the commander of all Iowa National Guard units. ''I'm your biggest fan.''
Orr presented the award inside the recently remodeled headquarters building. That 1950s vintage structure was revamped and a new vehicle maintenance garage was built during the construction project which began in July 2009.
The headquarters building is heated and cooled by 30 geothermal wells beneath the parking lot, according to Lt. Col. Scott Holloway, the project director for the squadron. He said replacing the outdated boilers with the geothermal system has already saved $10,000 in utility costs.
He said the rooms in which squadron members work on electronics have floors made of electrostatic discharge tiles that prevent a buildup of static electricity that could ruin equipment.
Holloway said a 7,000-square-foot vehicle maintenance facility featuring a 5-ton capacity crane was built.
He thanked the Iowa National Guard leadership for making the project the top military construction priority in the state.
Before he held the blue ribbon for Orr to cut, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, thanked U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Clive, for securing the money needed to upgrade the facility. Latham, who wasn't present, represented the Fort Dodge area for more than a decade before the reapportionment following the 2010 census prompted him to move into the new 3rd Congressional District.
State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, thanked the squadron members for their dedication to duty.
''Thank you for all that you do and all that you are,'' he said. ''Your service has not gone unnoticed. A very grateful Iowa appreciates that service.''
State Rep. Helen Miller, R-Fort Dodge, congratulated the squadron members on their ''stellar accomplishment'' of earning the 2012 Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. She read a resolution passed by the House of Representatives in April to recognize the squadron.
During his remarks before the ribbon cutting, Orr explained the squadron's contribution to the nation's security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said the local airmen developed a new system which improves radar coverage of the skies over the United States.
''Our skies are safer today, not in Iraq and Afghanistan, but here in the United States because of you,'' he said.
''Prior to 9/11, we knew what was outside our country,'' he added. ''We knew what was flying around the world. We didn't know what was flying here. We fixed that. You fixed that as part of the Air Force testing.''
''It's an honor to serve with each and every one of you,'' Orr said.
He said the Fort Dodge community is ''a great partner'' for the Iowa National Guard. In addition to the squadron, there is an Iowa Army National Guard unit in Fort Dodge called Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery.
Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, tours of the complex were offered. Orr also presented awards to various squadron members.
The 133rd Test Squadron specializes in testing new communications gear, radar, data links and software for all branches of the military. It is the only Air National Guard unit of its type.
Lt. Col Jeff Clemens, the squadron commander, said radar equipment that can be deployed anywhere in the world to support American troops will soon become part of the unit.