ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D.-- Twelve years ago, on March 27, 2011, history was made when B-1B Lancers, assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron, launched from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn (OOD).
OOD began March 19, 2011 when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) put forth a mission to protect civilians from enemy attack during the civil war in Libya.
The 28th Bomb Wing’s participation in OOD commenced when notice was given that in 48 hours, B-1B Lancers would have to be in the air to support the mission and establish a no-flight zone in Libya.
“We were briefed that the base had been asked to launch sorties over to Libya as part of Odyssey Dawn” said Col. Derek Oakley, 28th Operations Group commander. Oakley was a Maj. assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron at the time. “The question asked was ‘could we do it, do we have the crews to make this happen?’ and at the same time they asked maintenance whether or not we had the jets to make it happen.”
In short, responses to all questions of whether Ellsworth could provide support were yes and soon after, mission planning began. The jets were ready to go, aircrew had been notified about their tasking, and conventional maintenance crew members began to build the joint direct attack munitions (JDAM) that would be used to execute the mission.
“In under 42 hours from notification we had munitions assembled and all the aircraft loaded and jets were launching,” said Thomas Brack, 34th Bomb Squadron unit deployment manager. Brack was a Master Sgt. assigned to the 28th Munitions Squadron during OOD.
In spite of the blizzard-like conditions, Ellsworth Raiders put forth the work required to build over a hundred 2000-pound weapons in under 48 hours.
“We immediately went into two 12-hour shifts, day and night,” said Brack. “Our bomb build site was just going like clockwork, a well-oiled machine, an assembly line of munitions.”
The two days leading up to March 27 proved to be taxing but when the time came, the jets were loaded with JDAMs and ready to depart.
The objective was to destroy ammo depots, combat aircraft and vehicle maintenance, and Libyan air defense sites to ensure the establishment of a no-flight zone.
“It was the first time that I had ever dropped 24 weapons at one time on one bomb run,” said Lt. Col. Christopher McConnell, 37th Bomb Squadron commander. At the time, McConnell as a Capt. assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron. “It was definitely a moment where you understand that you had trained and prepped for that [mission], but in the end it was the first time, I think, that anybody in our crew had ever executed anything of that significance.”
The initial target run was successful, and the aircrew continued on to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, to debrief and rest while the jets were refueled and reloaded with weapons for their second strike on the return flight to Ellsworth.
“It was a quick turn and while that was happening, we as a group went back into the mission planning cell because we were now in charge of planning and briefing the crew to get them back home,” said Col. Seth Spanier, 28th Bomb Wing vice commander. Spanier was a Capt. assigned to the 37th Bomb Squadron and deployed to Al Udeid Air Base at the time. “Also noting that they were going to strike targets again on the way back to Ellsworth.”
After approximately 24 hours, the bombers departed Al Udied and successfully completed their final strike.
“When we landed back at Ellsworth, there was a great sense of accomplishment as to what the Wing had completed,” said McConnell.
Operation Odyssey Dawn showcased the abilities and readiness of Ellsworth Air Force Base as a whole. Ellsworth’s participation in this operation set a precedent for all future taskings by proving the capabilities of not only the B-1, but also that of the personnel attached to the 28th Bomb Wing.
“The part that sticks with me about Odyssey Dawn is that it is the most clear and real vignette that I’ve ever seen that combat operations are a whole of base effort,” said Spanier.