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Minnesota National Guard
National Guard chief addresses Chamber dinner

Gen Craig McKinley praised the 148th Fighter Wing and complimented the Chamber of Commerce's work in supporting the Air National Guard unit

When Gen Craig McKinley's boss asked him why he was leaving the Pentagon Thursday morning, he cheerfully answered, "I'm going to Duluth"

Gen Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, addressed an audience of about 1,000 at the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and dinner Thursday evening (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnewscom)

At least that's what the chief of the National Guard Bureau told the crowd of 1,000 at the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and dinner Thursday evening McKinley was the keynote speaker at the event, which honored the 148th Fighter Wing

McKinley wasn't being glib about traveling to Duluth - he's been here before In fact, McKinley, the only four-star general to ever lead the National Guard, went to high school at Shattuck-St Mary's in Faribault His mother's family hails from Brainerd, while his father once worked in Hibbing Many of his relatives now live in St Paul

"It's a privilege to be back in Minnesota," he said

He spoke of the spirit, vitality and energy of Minnesotans and said that those in the 148th Fighter Wing have worked hard to earn their history and place in Duluth

He commended Col Frank H Stokes, the 148th's commander, for doing a magnificent job of carrying on a legacy of strong leadership Then he complimented the Chamber of Commerce's work with the 148th

"You don't see many chambers who recognize their local military," he said "Thanks for taking care of the (service men and women) that make Duluth a rich community"
He also recognized Joseph Gomer, a Duluth resident in attendance who served as a fighter pilot with World War II's famed Tuskegee Airmen

"He broke barriers," McKinley said of Gomer's participation in the first all-black fighter squadron to fly combat aircraft "Not just sound barriers, but barriers we can't begin to know how hard"

To keep the 148th thriving long-term, McKinley cited the need to bring several hundred active duty Air Force personnel to work on the base with Air National Guard members, an arrangement known as "active association" This concept is in the trial phase at a few bases in the US and the Duluth Chamber is currently lobbying the government for the opportunity

"That's the next step, which will lead to the conversion to F-35 (fighter jets), which will take this unit decades into the future," he said

Published October 21 2010
By: Lisa Baumann, Duluth News Tribune

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Related Article, with video
Four-star General McKinley Highlights 148th Fighter Wing at Chamber Dinner

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