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Air Force inspector general speaks at Elks luncheon

DICKINSON - The inspector general of the Air Force addressed a lunchtime crowd Wednesday at the Dickinson Elks Lodge. The event was an early celebration of Armed Forces Day, which is Saturday.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Sams, the husband of Diane Pearson, a 1969 Dickinson High graduate, said the invitation to speak was a rare one.

"Nobody invites the inspector general to be anywhere. In fact, it's kind of like inviting the game warden to go hunting with you," Sams joked.

Sams highlighted in his speech the contributions the Air Force has made in fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 30,000 members of the branch are deployed in the two countries. Airmen fly about 200 missions a day to provide supplies to troops in Iraq. The Air Force has 23 remotely piloted Predator aircraft flying combat patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan, and two more will be added by July, he said.

Sams pointed out that the Air Force plays roles on the ground as well. The Air Force's explosive ordnance technicians have taken apart or investigated more than 8,200 improvised explosive devices in Iraq. The branch's medics give immediate care to wounded troops, he said.

Sams said Air Force satellites provide weather information, GPS, strategic early warnings and military intelligence.

"Your United States Air Force, we provide global vigilance, global power and global reach for the United States of America," Sams said. "The (intercontinental ballistic missiles) in North Dakota and the men and women who sit alert 24-7 are part of that global reach and global power."

He commended North Dakota's 445 airmen who are deployed overseas in various capacities.

"They're doing amazing things," he said.

Sams said he's in North Dakota to observe an inspection of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base on behalf of the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force.

In August 2007, the squadron mistakenly flew a B-52 bomber carrying six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The warheads were not armed, but did contain nuclear material. The incident was a black eye for the Air Force and led to leadership changes in the squadron and at the Minot base.

If the squadron passes inspection, it will regain its nuclear certification and return to a normal 18-month inspection cycle, Sams said.

"Inspections will hopefully be routine after that," Sams said in an interview following his speech.

The inspection starts Friday and lasts until Saturday, May 24. Inspectors from a host of military units will be involved in verifying the unit's compliance with regulations, said base spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Ortiz.

Ortiz said Minot's airmen have been working hard to prepare for the inspection.

"We're ready to wow the inspectors," she said.