ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. — Bringing the past to the present, honoring 100 years of heritage, the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons and associated aircraft maintenance units have always played a significant role in the nation’s defense — a heritage stemming from World War I that has only strengthened over time.
Always there to meet national security obligations, the teams have been breaking barriers through their long history of continual wartime or rotational presence. Knowing history is important in understanding leadership and instills a sense of pride.
“Broadly speaking, history is about events that shape the human condition over the years,” said Col. John Martin, commander of the 28th Operations Group at Ellsworth. “Heritage makes history human … it’s about the people within the events. It’s about people whose leadership and character were instrumental and powerful enough to shape history. Culture is about connecting with that heritage and subsequently harnessing it to shape Raider posterity.”
Since the inception of the two bomb squadrons, the aircrews have consistently proven themselves in combat and proven to be second to none. The 34th BS “Thunderbirds” and 37th BS “Tigers” are the very foundation for combat airpower. However, that airpower would not be possible without the support of the maintainers.
“The support from maintainers goes well beyond the approximately 15 maintenance man-hours required for every one hour the B-1 is flown,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Beck, commander of the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “It is a symphony of flight line, back shop and munitions Airmen working together to produce the nation’s premier non-nuclear, long-range strike capability. Working side-by-side with the aircrews, we continue to grow and refine this capability, which continually contributes and builds upon the foundation laid before us.”
Aircraft maintainers are vital to ensuring aircrews are able to garner success in combat. From the beginning of both squadrons’ lineage in WWI, the recognition of honors received during that war was telling of what was to be expected in the future.
Key players in the Doolittle Tokyo Raid on mainland Japan that boosted American morale, the actions of the crewmembers served as a watershed moment during WWII. The brave members that embarked on what was termed an “impossible mission,” demonstrated the dedication and heroism of American Airmen.
The Japanese people felt their homeland was protected by divine winds known as the Kamikaze. Over time, Japan would perceive that their island nation was quite simply an impenetrable fortress. Colonel Martin said Jimmy Doolittle set out to find and train a group of men, now known as the Raiders, to audaciously prove otherwise.
“Again, heritage largely is about people,” Martin stated. “We build a culture through connections with those people. We have the proud and distinct privilege of being Raider posterity – Jimmy Doolittle’s ‘own’ 34th and 37th bomb squadrons. The Doolittle Raid is the cornerstone of our heritage. It clearly defines us, sets us apart, motivates us and propels us forward against today’s threats.”
The pride of being tied to the historic event that forever changed the way airpower was utilized is shared by every member – past and present – who has been a part of the squadrons.
“It is an honor and privilege to be a part of the Doolittle Raider heritage, a heritage that brings definition to our squadron,” said Capt. Nathan Boyer, a flight commander assigned to the 37th BS. “I am humbled every time I look at photos of the original Raiders on the USS Hornet. Their actions serve as motivation to continue the hard work in defense of our nation.”
Fast-forwarding approximately eight years, the squadrons flew interdictions and close support missions during the Korean War. The night interdiction missions against communist forces earned the 37th BS the current Tiger name after being described as, “… hunting at night, like tigers.”
“In Korea, we had to quickly refresh ourselves on practices that were learned during World War II,” said Antonio G. Fucci, a Korean War vet. “The area of Korea we operated out of was the great north-south wall of mountains with peaks as high as 9,000 feet above sea level … we wondered how we managed to get in and out of that place without hitting something. Despite everything we endured, our efforts and others saved a nation from the enslavement of communism and preserved peace, freedom, and prosperity.”
Executing a key role in two wars did not limit the units’ ability to supply aircrews and aircraft during the Cold War and Vietnam. Eventually, after supporting both conflicts, the time came for the nation to shift focus to Southwest Asia as tensions arose in the area. The two squadrons stood ready to support. The 37th BS first deployed to the region in 1997 in support of Operation Desert Thunder as part of the air expeditionary force.
One year later, the 37th BS deployed again in support of Operation Desert Fox where the B-1 flew its’ first combat sorties over Iraq, striking Republican Guard barracks. In 1999, they flew combat sorties over the sky of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia in support of Operation Allied Force, flying over 100 missions and dropping over 1,260 tons of Mk-82 munitions. That was only the beginning of what would be a continuous operational tempo well into the 21st century.
After the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, both bomb squadrons were deployed. The 34th BS departed that same month and employed more than 6.9 million pounds of munitions, hitting Taliban and al Qaeda targets in the first 101 days of combat.
Supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, aircrews dropped more than 60 percent of all Joint Direct Attack Munitions used in the conflict and flew more than 360 sorties. Ellsworth flew more than 5 percent of the strike missions but dropped nearly 40 percent of the total tonnage of bombs – over 1,730 tons – effectively driving the Taliban from power in what is now a democratic Afghanistan.
Two years after the initial retaliation for the terrorist attack on American soil, the squadron operated from a forward location in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Aircrews flew combat missions over Iraq and two B-1s from the 34th BS were credited with bombing high priority targets in Baghdad, bringing an end to the ruling regime and their ability to conduct major combat operations.
Some of the other missions supported included Operations Southern Watch, Odyssey Dawn, Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve. In Odyssey Dawn, for the first time ever, aircraft launched from U.S. soil to strike military targets in Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Despite the blizzard conditions of March 2011, maintenance personnel readied four B-1s that launched within 72 hours from receipt of the order.
In 2015, the 34th and 37th supported Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan and Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria. For more than 10 years, Airmen from the 34th and 37th experienced high operations tempo, but continued to exceed all expectations and overcome challenges faced.
Looking at those more recent record-setting deployments in 2015 in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility the two squadrons and AMUs were credited with employing more than 7,000 munitions against enemy targets, flying more than 900 combat sorties. That was after spending more than 15 years in the USCENTCOM AOR, and just before transitioning to a new location with a new mission.
In 2016, the 34th BS was the first of the two squadrons to transition to the Pacific Command AOR. During that first deployment, more than 900 combat sorties were flown. The B-1s flown by aircrews and readied by maintainers provide the global reach that not only deter aggressors but assures our allies of America’s commitment to international security.
“In the last 20 years, the B-1 has won the Lemay Trophy for the best bomber aircrew in the Air Force 13 times,” Martin said. “The 34th Bomb Squadron and 37th Bomb Squadron have won that award a combined eight times – more than all other U.S. bombers combined – punctuating a century of dominance and deepening a well-established culture of excellence in all we do.”
Having operated in various locations and supporting multiple missions, as it stands today, the aircrew and maintainers of the 34th and 37th will continue the legacy that started 100 years ago.