Airmen from the 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prepare a B-52H Stratofortress prior to take off at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, during a Bomber Task Force mission, June 16, 2020. Strategic bomber missions demonstrate the credibility of our forces to address a diverse and uncertain security environment. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Philip Bryant)
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- He who holds Alaska holds the world.
U.S. Army General Billy Mitchell first uttered those words in his 1935 testimony to Congress. Considered by many to be one the founding fathers of the U.S. Air Force, the World War I pilot declared what military aviators in the far north now know to be true—Alaska’s strategic location is second to none.
Located in interior Alaska, Eielson Air Force Base capitalizes on its strategic location and most recently, so did the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron; but this wasn’t the first time Eielson hosted a bomber unit.
In 1946, long before the F-16 Fighting Falcons and the F-35A Lightning IIs settled in Alaska, Eielson was home to the 97th Bombardment Wing under the Strategic Air Command. Infrastructure like the prominent Thunderdome hangar and extra-long runway were built specifically for bomber aircraft. During that time, aircrews executed missions over the Arctic Ocean.
Now more than 70 years later another bomber unit has made its way north to demonstrate, yet again, the nation’s airpower projection capability from the last frontier.
“The 96th Expeditionary Bomber Task Force is back in the interior, this time our mission is to provide combatant commanders with long range global strike capability,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Duff, the 96th Bomb Squadron commander. “These strategic bomber missions provide our Airmen with the realistic long-duration sorties that they require to remain highly proficient and ready to act when called upon to support the collective defense of the United States.”
The squadron flew seven sorties with joint and international partners in the Indo-Pacific and European theaters over the course of seven days.
Deployments, even those within the United States, do not happen overnight or without hard work and long hours from the Eielson team. With more than 130 pilots, maintainers and support personnel in tow, the Bomber Task Force looked to their fellow Airmen at the 354th FW to lend a helping hand.
“We’ve been working through all the logistics pieces of how do we actually bed down bomber aircraft, how do we get them the fuel they need, how do we support the aircrew, how do we support the maintainers and everything it takes to operate those bombers from this location,” said Col. David Skalicky, the 354th Operations Group commander.
The fighter wing pulled together to ensure the BTF mission went off without a hitch and saw to it that their wingmen were housed, fed, healthy, and had the equipment and resources they needed to do their jobs.
“The support here at the 354th FW so far has been excellent. Anything I have needed, the wing leadership has found a way to get for us,” Duff said.
The teamwork and collaboration on the ground culminated in the seamless integration and successful execution in the air with the bombers and Eielson’s newest fighters, the F-35A.
“Alaska is one of the most strategic places on earth. Having the bomber task force here in Alaska is full recognition of the power projection capability that we have in this location,” Skalicky said. “We’re building a combat capability with the F-35, the most advanced fifth generation fighter out there right now. Matching up the brand new F-35s with the B-52s that have been around for a long time and seeing those operate and compliment each other all from this location is a really neat thing to see.”
The mission is complete. The bombers have departed once again with one more success for the record books, and it may not be their last.