It was a chilly afternoon. Mayor Tom Ross and I had played a round of phone tag, but we finally found time to meet in Mayor Ross’s office at Elison Assisted Living in south Minot. As Mayor and Executive Director at Elison, Tom has learned that each day will present a challenge. Even today, permission was given for the Mayor to do a bit of multi-tasking as he would answer those “important” emails in between my questions and his answers. Still, as a journalist I could certainly appreciate the time I was afforded to review Tom’s first nine months in office.
Today’s interview would begin by discussing his relationship with Col. Daniel Hoadley, Commander of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base. “You know, it’s been unbelievable,” starts Mayor Ross, “learning about him, learning about his family, his kids and mostly learning about his duties as commander of the 5th Bomb Wing… his love and passion for all things Air Force.”
Ross and Hoadley are alike in that they would rather shine the spotlight on someone else. “We’re not ones that need the spotlight on us,” according to Ross. “We’re more comfortable shining the spotlight on someone else… [we try to] empower that and make that happen. That’s a cool thing that Dan and I have in common.”
Mayor Ross was not completely new to the base’s Honorary Commander Program, having served as an Honorary to the 5th Operations Support Squadron commander, and he said that he had met some great individuals who are still good friends to this day. “We’re watching their families grow, and they’re watching us grow. I have experience of being in the Honorary program for, I dare say, 10 years.”
This long-standing program strengthens partnerships between Minot and Minot AFB leaders by assigning a civilian Honorary Commander whose job and role in the community align with a wing, group, or squadron commander at the base. Mayor Ross believes that the Honorary Commander Program is critical and vital to the relationship between the community of Minot and Minot AFB. “Hey, we’re eight miles from the base, but by having a group of volunteers who are passionate and understand, they get why they need to take part in it. They don’t [become Honorary Commanders] because their arms are being twisted or there is someone out there begging them, they do it because they love it! They want to get involved and they want to build that relationship,” he continues.
According to Ross, the relationship between Honorary Commanders is unique in that it is relatively short-term. Most commanders on the Air Force side are assigned to Minot for only two years. That two-year relationship builds a bridge, and that relationship continues on both sides, long after their tenure. “We still keep the relationships of the past, while forging new ones,” says Mayor Ross.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say that the relationship between the City of Minot and the Minot AFB is the strongest it’s ever been,” continues Ross, “and it will continue to get stronger and stronger.” The Mayor is afforded the opportunity to sit down with Col. Hoadley and 91st Missile Wing Commander, Col. Kenneth McGhee, over a cup of coffee and have open conversations about life. “That’s what builds the relationship and makes it stronger. They know they can call me at a moment’s notice…” And conversely, Mayor Ross feels comfortable calling either Col. Hoadley or Col. McGhee to ask for a favor. “I have yet to hear the word no from either one of them, or I would hope they could say the same thing for us.”
There are challenging days ahead for the City of Minot and the surrounding communities, which has moved the city to put in a request for $900,000 from the legislature for base retention. SB 2240, as of this writing, is still being debated and probably will end up in a House/Senate conference committee.
“I try to tell the legislators that if we lose oil in North Dakota, it would be devastating. But if we lose the base in Minot, it would be impossible to replace a 600 million dollar impact. If the base-related and other military spending left, Minot would be a much smaller community. You just can’t replace 600 million dollars in economic impact. If you could spend 1.5 million dollars to get 100 million back, would you, do it? In a heartbeat,” says Ross.
The conversation would continue for a few more minutes as we discussed the importance of the Minot AFB to our community, and the many construction projects that will take place at the Minot AFB, including the proposed Sentinel missile modernization project.
Mayor Ross will continue to deal with challenges in the City of Minot, including a shortage of daycare and the never-ending challenge of workforce shortages. And we look forward to reporting an “all on board” attitude from Mayor Tom Ross and the rest of the City of Minot when it comes to working together to continue to strengthen and grow the relationship with Minot AFB.