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Ellsworth B-1 team wins LeMay Award

The 2015 General Curtis E. LeMay award winning aircrew from the 37th Bomb Squadron stand next to a B-1 Lancer at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 7, 2016. Their success in a bombing mission during Operation Iron Resolve destroyed oil fields supplying income to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and won the award for the best bomber crew of 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Denise M. Jenson)

The 2015 General Curtis E. LeMay award winning aircrew from the 37th Bomb Squadron stand next to a B-1 Lancer at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 7, 2016. Their success in a bombing mission during Operation Iron Resolve destroyed oil fields supplying income to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and won the award for the best bomber crew of 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Denise M. Jenson)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --

The desert sun is sleeping, and the cool, night sky is empty above Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on Dec. 19, 2015. A B-1 bomber aircrew from the 37th Bomb Squadron from Ellsworth is carrying out their final preparations for a bombing operation.

The mission: destroy oil fields that are supporting Al-Raqqa, the sixth largest city in Syria and headquarters for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

As the lead jet, they would be the first aircraft for the multiple aircraft strike. F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-4 Phantoms and two other B-1’s would also play part in the operation.

They didn’t know it at the time, but their actions that day would cripple ISIL and win them the General Curtis E. LeMay award for the greatest bomber crew of 2016.

“The mission was pretty much straight forward,” said Maj. Nathaniel, the weapons systems officer on the lead jet. “But, there was a lot of planning and coordination that went into it.”

The mission ran smoothly until the crew turned back to land, having successfully employed all their munitions on target.

“Things kind of went awry when we started coming back and they closed our airfield,” Nathaniel said. “We were coming back into Qatar and were starting to run low on gas and they closed the airfield because a fog rolled in. So were sitting here, flying up and down the gulf chasing down tankers, trying to make sure that we wouldn’t have to divert.”

The team eventually landed in Al Udeid, and were greeted by their commander, who praised them for a successful mission.

“We didn’t know exactly what we were setting out to do,” said Capt. David, the main pilot for the strike. “We knew it was bigger, but when we were up in the jet, it was just another mission for us. (ISIL) had to cut their fighters’ pay after our strike because we took out a lot of their revenue.”

Nine months later Gen. Robin Rand, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, awarded the team with the LeMay award at the annual Air Force Association Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.  

The late General Curtis Emerson LeMay served in the Air Force from 1930 until his retirement in 1965. During that time he was a pursuit pilot, commanded operations for the Berlin Airlift and was the fifth Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.

Widely known as “Old Iron Pants” and “Big Cigar,” LeMay was notorious for his emphasis on bombing strategy.

“Flying fighters is fun,” LeMay said during the Vietnam War. “Flying bombers is important.”

For the crew of BONE 11, receiving the LeMay award meant more than just winning a plaque. 

“It was a tremendous honor,” David said. “We knew we flew a great sortie with a significant outcome in the fight against the enemy.”