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Published December 22 2011

UPDATED: Hoeven says new cargo plane mission on track for Fargo Air Guard base

FARGO – Air National Guard Maj. Jerrad Krapp has piloted the massive KC-135 Stratotanker and the smaller, sleeker C-21 Learjet. But the cargo plane slated to become the new mission of the 119th Wing here in 2013 will be a first for the Dilworth resident.

“I’ve never flown a new airplane before,” he said.

Sen. John Hoeven on Thursday announced funding that he says keeps the new C27-J Spartan lined up for a Fargo landing.

A defense bill approved Saturday includes $480 million to expand the Spartan fleet and bring four of the planes to the 119th Wing, Hoeven said, with the first two expected to arrive in February or March of 2013.

“We’re on track now, but you know there’s real pressure on funding programs across government because of debt and deficit, and that’s certainly true in the military,” he said. “And so this is a very important step, but we’ve got to stay after it. … You can’t take anything for granted.”

The Fargo base, which ended its 60-year fighter plane mission in 2007, will house and maintain the C-27J in addition to its Predator drone mission. For now, the “Happy Hooligans” are flying the C-21 Learjet as a “bridge” mission so pilots and crews can stay certified until the Spartan arrives.

Hoeven, R-N.D., who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he worked to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the defense bill and advocated for the Spartan mission and funding.

In addition, committee members included language urging the Defense Department to keep the Spartan in the 2013 budget and future budgets and to keep the Spartan fleet under the guidance of the Air National Guard.

Three units already have the Spartan. An Ohio unit has been deployed with the plane since July in Afghanistan, flying daily missions and “proving that it is truly an effective and efficient way to get people and supplies forward,” said Col. Rick Gibney, commander of the 119th Wing.

Roughly 250 to 300 of the 119th Wing’s flying and maintenance personnel will work directly with the Spartan, said Gibney, who was pleased the expansion of the fleet has funding.

“Every bit of good news is just more momentum moving forward,” he said

Given the recent speculation on defense cuts, Krapp said, “It’s nice to hear that the money’s there.”

The Happy Hooligans, whose main mission with the Learjet is to transport military VIPs, are excited about working with the Spartan, Krapp said.

“There’s a lot of guys kind of chomping at the bit to get out there and do that, be part of the fight,” he said. “It’ll be good.”

Hoeven and U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., also highlighted legislation they co-sponsored that makes the chief of the National Guard Bureau a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, giving Guard members a stronger voice in shaping U.S. defense policies. The legislation passed last week.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528