As my colleagues may be aware, the 321st is one of the longest-serving and most decorated ICBM units in the United States Air Force. After flying B-25 bombers in the Mediterranean theater during the Second World War as the 321st Bombardment Group, this fine unit undertook several aircraft and basing changes before coming home to the prairies of North Dakota at Grand Forks AFB in 1964.
As the 321st Missile Wing, this unit was the very first to deploy the Minuteman II ICBM during the mid-1960s, and became one of the first to upgrade to the Minuteman III missile in the early 1970s. The 321st consistently won awards, being often regarded as the best ICBM wing in the Air Force. After this unit was selected for closure, its personnel ably continued the strategic deterrence mission, while also--ahead of schedule--realigning the 321st Missile Group's assets.
North Dakotans have always had a special attachment to the 321st. Unlike other military units which are sometimes seen at a distance, at air fields and barracks behind chain-link fences, the 321st Missile Group has literally been based in North Dakota's backyards. Its roots of steel and concrete are sunk deep into the prairie soil of the Flickertail State.
One hundred and fifty ICBM silos and fifteen missile alert facilities dot the fields of eastern North Dakota, covering an area larger than the state of New Jersey. As the missileers and their hardware stood at the very frontlines of the Cold War, we North Dakotans in our nearby farms and communities knowingly and proudly stood with them. For over three decades, we have been pleased to open our small town coffee shops to personnel on their way to inspect a launch facility, or to groups of officers returning to base after pulling long strategic alerts in launch control facilities beneath the wheat fields of the Red River Valley.
Mr. President, the men and women of the 321st have been a part of North Dakota in a very special way. To everyone who has served in the 321st over its long history at Grand Forks, I say this: you will always have a home in North Dakota. You are part of the family.
There is no question that we are sad to see the 321st go. Even so, I think it is important that we put the departure of this unit in its proper context.
The 321st is being realigned because our country won the Cold War. The triumph of America and its ideals over communism and tyranny is worth celebrating.
As we celebrate this victory, however, we must not forget that it was the men and women of the 321st who provided America the strategic deterrence and stability that allowed the Cold War to end peacefully. Around the clock, year after year, the 321st stood ready to deliver 450 nuclear warheads to targets throughout the Soviet Union in just a few minutes time. This made it clear to Moscow that a thermonuclear war with the United States would be a conflict they could never hope to win.
I would urge my Colleagues in the Senate not to forget that the motto of the Strategic Air Command was `Peace is Our Profession.' Truly, the 321st has been an organization of `peace professionals.'
It is good to know that the spirit of the 321st Missile Group will live on at Grand Forks AFB with the 319th Air Refueling Wing, a `core' tanker unit of KC-135 Stratotankers. I hope that the 319th and the Air Force will be with us in North Dakota for many years to come.
Today, Mr. President, as the 321st prepares to retire its colors, I would send to the 321st Missile Group, all who have and do serve her, and the Untied States Air Force that has protected us so well, a message of thanks and congratulations. The Senate--and all Americans--owe you a deep debt of gratitude.