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Legacy of Leadership -- Decade of Dominance

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Martin
  • 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron Commander
October 7, 2011, will mark a decade since America began combat operations in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom commenced with the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron as the lead B-1 unit. Ten years later the "World Famous" Thunderbirds are stationed in Southwest Asia with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. We will mark the upcoming milestone with a fitting bookend -- once again proudly leading sorties into OEF.

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush sagely captured the pulse of the nation when he stated, "Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger, we have found our mission and our moment. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution."

His message resonated effortlessly throughout the military. America had a sovereign right to defend herself. The mission had never been clearer -- our nation's moment of need was now.

In late September of 2001, "Bones" from the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons deployed to Diego Garcia from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., to defend this great nation. Shortly thereafter, these two squadrons merged into the 34th EBS. I had the profound honor of partaking in that historic deployment as well as this one. From the opening retaliatory strikes against the Taliban and al-Qaida, Thunderbird airpower dominated the skies over Afghanistan. The 34th EBS dropped the first combat Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), cluster bombs and penetrator munitions for the B-1 community. While flying only 5 percent of the strike aircraft missions on this first OEF deployment, the 34th dropped 39 percent of the precision-guided munitions in the opening months of the conflict -- effectively becoming the hammer to our ground forces' anvil. Due in no small part to the airpower brought to bear; U.S. forces removed the Taliban government a mere month after OEF began. This victory was not the first time our nation called the 34th Bomb Squadron to restore our nation's honor.

The "World Famous" Thunderbirds proudly enjoy a legacy of leadership. On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led the 34th Bomb Squadron in this nation's first retaliatory strikes against Japan after Pearl Harbor. "Doolittle's Raiders," the crews of 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers took flight from the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet. Their mission defined audacity. The last time a foreign nation had attempted a direct attack on mainland Japan was more than 700 years before when Kublai Khan sent a naval armada from China. Khan ultimately failed in the attempt due to a typhoon. Over time Japan would perceive that their island nation was quite simply an impenetrable fortress -- favored by the heavens with divine winds or the "kamikaze." Doolittle and the 34th Bomb Squadron proved otherwise. For his heroic efforts in leading the Raiders through a one-way combat mission, achieving our nation's first World War II victory and safely returning the majority of Raiders, Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Almost a decade since the onset of OEF, we continue to be a nation at war. The "Bone" (B-1) has been providing air support in Southwest Asia for most of that time. The past decade has indeed been a dominant one for the 34th Bomb Squadron. In 2003, the 34th EBS was the lead B-1 unit in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which ultimately led to the ousting of Saddam Hussein. In 2008, the 34th EBS was the first B-1 squadron to deploy with the Sniper targeting pod. At the time, this targeting sensor was the combatant commander's number one urgent operational need. The pod allows aircrews to detect and analyze targets on the ground through real-time imagery.

Col. Kevin Kennedy, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) vice commander, was the 34th EBS commander in 2008. On the significance of that deployment, he stated, "Before we didn't have the television or infrared capability on the jet. Now we have that technology. We can look at something on the ground with our targeting pod and the (joint terminal air controller) on the ground can also see it." The success of that deployment revolutionized B-1 Close Air Support (CAS) employment, making it a platform of choice in Afghanistan.

Continuing the legacy of combat power projection, in March of this year the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron supported Operation Odyssey Dawn with the first B-1 combat sorties launched from the continental United States. These sorties struck Libya with more than 90 weapons and were recently cited by Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz in his annual speech to the Air Force Association. Schwartz cited four fantastic Air Force achievements in 2011 -- events "like B-1s departing in the middle of a snowstorm, below minimums -- certainly combat rules -- to fly 20-some hours to Libya, and help enforce U.N. Security Council mandate." In 72-hours-time, and under extreme weather conditions, the 34th Bomb Squadron struck targets en route, landed at an overseas forward operating location, rearmed and refueled, launched again, attacked targets in Libya and returned home. No other nation can match this feat in terms of distance, responsiveness, volume and demonstrated ability to strike targets around the globe on short notice from the security of our nation's borders.

On Sept. 12, 2001, President Bush boldly stated, "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or justice to our enemies, justice will be done."

Like many of our sister units in the 379th AEW, we execute our mission daily to continue to ensure that justice is done. The 34th EBS trail blazed into OEF in 2001. On this deployment our young Thunderbirds will parallel that historic effort; writing their own chapter in our history and punctuating a decade of dominance.