40 years of change

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Kevin Nelson remembers when he came to work for the civil engineer squadron at Minot Air Force Base that the unit didn’t have computers. That was 35 1/2 years ago.

He said probably the biggest change for the base and how it does business was the addition of computers.

“When I started here, you didn’t have a computer. We had typists typing everything with Wite-Out,” he said. Now he said people don’t know or many don’t remember what Wite- Out is the correction fluid to “paint over” mistakes.

“We used to have three secretaries who did nothing but specifications,” he said. He said now there are none. The civil engineer squadron personnel now do all the work on computers.

When presentations were made to higher level officials and distinguished visitors, overhead projectors were used, he said.

“Everybody has a cell phone now. We never had a cell phone,” he added.

Nelson, the current director for installation support for the base’s 5th Mission Support Group and prior to that was the deputy base engineer with the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron, will retire Aug. 2.

Open house

A retirement open house for Nelson will be held on his retirement day, Friday, Aug. 2, from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Grand Hotel, former Grand International Inn, in Minot.

A federal Civil Service GS-14, Nelson is the highest level civilian at the Minot base.

Nelson began working for the federal government doing research and development with the U.S. Army Materiel Command 40 years ago on July 9. Since Dec. 17, 1977, he’s been at Minot AFB where he started with the civil engineer squadron running a new environmental engineer section. He then was the design chief and in March 1986 became the deputy base engineer. In December 2009, he moved to his present job director for installation support for the 5th Mission Support Group.

Of his 35 1/2 years at Minot AFB, 32 of them were with the civil engineer squadron 23 of the 32 years as deputy base engineer.

Nelson has been at the forefront of many Minot AFB construction projects during his years at the base.

He recalls many changes that have taken place at Minot AFB since he arrived there in 1977.

“When I started here there were F-106s on alert and B-52s, KC-135s, Minuteman IIIs and they also had T-38 trainers. The 106s changed out to the F-15s which later left. The KC-135s left as part of the one BRAC round,” he said. BRAC stands for Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

He said when a new weapon system came in, it also brought new construction.

When the base got F-15s, there was new construction with it. When the air-launched cruise missiles ALCMS for the B-52s came in, there was extensive construction with it.

“Rivet MILE has been upgrading the missile infrastructure for years,” he said. The MILE of Rivet MILE stands for Minuteman Integrated Life Extension program. He said the program started here in the late 1980s.

When he started at the base, he said there was only a single chain link fence around the weapons storage area and barbwire on the base perimeter. That has changed with extensive security now.

In regard to housing, the dormitories for unaccompanied airmen have had a major change.

When the base started out, he said, it had dorms with gang latrines and two people to a room. Then it was a room-bathroom concept with, depending on the size of the room, one or two people and a bathroom between every room.

The newest concept is the quad and each person has a private room with a private bath with a small common area for every four rooms, he said. “That’s a really big change to me on the quality of life for the airmen,” Nelson said.

Family housing at Minot AFB has changed considerably.

“When I started here we had 2,461 houses which was the largest housing village in CONUS (continental U.S.),” he said. All of the houses had a garage unlike installations that didn’t have any garages or only a carport.

“We used to paint them all the time. They had no air conditioning,” he said of the family housing.

The homes were upgraded, including some major renovations. “We replaced the roofs, the siding, the windows, the kitchens, the bathrooms and all the electrical systems,” he said. “And then they were torn down.”

New homes have been built to modern standards and the family housing will be privatized when the final papers are signed Aug. 1.

He said all the industrial buildings were heated through a central heat plant. There were miles of pipes and all with asbestos on them to insulate them.

“We decentralized the heat plant and put natural gas to all the buildings,” he said. Now ground source heat pumps are being installed because they’re much more efficient, he said. The natural gas distribution system was privatized and Montana-Dakota Utilities takes care of it for the base.

None of the industrial buildings had air conditioning because the base was far enough north and didn’t have enough cooling degree days, he said. “Since then, that has changed and our buildings have had air conditioning put into them,” he said.

Installing ground source heat pumps at buildings started several years ago. “We’re kind of the ground source heat pump capital of the Air Force,” he said.

He said all the electrical systems were above ground at the base. Work was first done in the housing area. “It really made a difference in how attractive the housing area was not to have power poles strung out all over but everything underground,” he said. The work also was done in other areas of the base.

In a separate deal, he said the base’s entire electrical distribution system was privatized. Verendrye Electric was awardeed the 50-year contract.

He said there has been extensive replacement to the water and waste systems, including refurbishing all the water towers, replacing much of the water line to Minot, building a new tower in housing and expanding the sewage lagoon. Now the water and wastewater system is being privatized. The deal is expected to be completed in the next couple months.

During Nelson’s time at Minot AFB there have been 28 Military Construction, often referred to as MILCON, projects done, including the hospital (now clinic), new gym addition and alteration, refurbishment of dorms and new dorms, new control tower and base operations, missile roll transfer facility, Security Forces headquarters, education center/library, child development and youth centers, and six projects to replace base housing with new. (The last with local contractors Rolac, Mattson and Real Builders was the largest contract ever awarded by the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.) The under construction MILCON projects include the new double dock hangar for B-52s, new conventional bomb buildup facility and ALCM trailer maintenance facility.

Three large projects that were not MILCON projects were the new commissary, base exchange and shoppette

With Operations and Maintenance monies, he said probably every roof was replaced on over 300 facilities, repaved every road and parking lot at least once, replaced every window for energy conservation, put brick facing on about 20 buildings, and replaced many interior lights and every street light for energy conservation.

Nelson and his wife, Carlene, reside in Minot. Both are originally from Makoti. His current plans for retirement are to spend time with family and do some traveling, including a trip to Australia and New Zealand in a few months.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to mdnews@minotdailynews.com.)