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A New Era Begins

Defence Minister, Gordon O'Connor and Sgt. David L.

Defence Minister, Gordon O'Connor and Sgt. David L. Pitcher's family unveil memorial plaque,

The face of Canadian Air Defence at 22 Wing/CFB North Bay changed, as an era of underground defence ended today and the beginning of a new era began with the official opening of the above ground NORAD complex.

Defence Minister, Gordon O'Connor was in North Bay to open the new Sgt. David L. Pitcher complex during the naming and dedication ceremony.

With help from Pitcher’s Widow Sylvie, and sons Christopher 21 and Alexander 20, O’Connor unveiled a plaque honouring Pitcher.

Pitcher, who served in North Bay from 1988 to 1993, died after the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft he was on ingested birds on take off and crashed in Alaska September 22, 1995.

“I felt really proud today. Not everyone has father who has a building named after them,” says son Christopher. “And it’s and important building.”

O’Connor echoed the importance of the complex, stating that moving above ground marks a new beginning for CFB North Bay as the new building is equipped with state of the art equipment that can control every aircraft, commercial and military in Canadian Air Space.

The Defence Minister also said that although the Canadian Forces are in an aggressive recruiting campaign, he does not see an expansion of this base any time soon, although he didn’t rule it out completely.

“The immediate plans … I’m not aware of air force plans at the moment to expand the base. We’re certainly going to make sure all the proper levels of manpower are here, because for a number of years we’ve been short of air force, army and navy, and we haven’t been able to maintain our proper establishment.”

“So certainly the establishment of this base will go up in the sense that they’re supposed to get more corporals or more sergeants and more officers, they would be getting those.”

“Part of our policy is that we’re going to increase the regulars by 13,000 and the reserves by 10,000 and that process is starting now.”

O’Connor said the chief of defence staff and the senior officers back at headquarters in Ottawa are currently devising new and innovative plans to increase recruitment.

“We’re actively trying to increase the size of the military and that will start to effect every military establishment in Canada,” he says.

“So existing ones like this will be brought up to their proper manpower levels, and we’re also going to be establishing new units throughout the armed forces.”

Also on the agenda was a meeting between O'Connor and Mayor Victor Fedeli to review the city’s proposals on how they see the underground facility put to use.

“I’ve only heard allusions to commercial enterprises, that’s all, but I don’t know any details.”

“It will be handed over to another government agency to dispose of, that’s my understanding unless in the next 6 months we come up with another idea of why we would use it.”

“I believe that the local base commander is in negotiations with the city, I’m going to talk to the mayor to find out from the mayor what he wants and what he is looking for, because I talk to the military so I want to hear both sides.”

The day’s events were capped off with a celebratory dinner.