Lessons learned, Operation Odyssey Dawn

  • Published
  • By Airman Hrair H. Palyan
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Nearly one year ago in the early hours of March 27, as the mercury dipped to 28 degrees, Aircrews from the 28th Bomb Wing launched in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, North Atlantic Treaty Organization's mission to protect civilians from enemy attack during the uprising and civil war in Libya.

For the first time in history, B-1B aircrews executed a global strike mission originating from the continental United States.

With a mere two days notice, Ellsworth Airmen were tasked to prepare several aircraft and build hundreds of precision munitions to provide the specific combat configuration needed for the mission.

A challenging task in the best of conditions, the work was made especially difficult by dismal weather - including four inches of snow, glare ice, extremely limited visibility, sub-zero temperatures, and freezing fog.

Col. Steven Hiss, 28th BW vice commander, said Air Combat Command called that Friday, March 24, 2011, at noon and asked if it was possible to have B-1Bs over Libya with a 5 a.m. takeoff the following Sunday. He said they wanted an answer in 45 minutes.

"I was at the Dakotas club having lunch with my nephew, who was visiting me because he was interested in joining the Air Force," said Hiss. "I got a call from my secretary saying ACC wanted to talk to me on a secure phone."

At the time, then 28th BW commander Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro was on leave in Washington D.C. Hiss reached Taliaferro on his cell phone to let him know he needed to speak to him on a secure phone line and the former commander quickly made his way to the Pentagon where he was made aware of the urgent request. Following careful coordination with the group commanders, Taliaferro decided, "Let's do it."

Once tasked, the gears of the 28th BW machine began to churn at full speed. Drawing from an already reduced pool of resources -- with nearly 700 Ellsworth Airmen and assets already deployed around the world in support of contingency operations -- work began in earnest. Immediately, 1,100 aircraft maintainers began working 12-hour shifts around the clock to generate as many aircraft as possible, and Airmen from various functions around the base teamed up to make the mission a reality.

"Our biggest challenge was putting together a solid plan on such short notice," said Capt. Matthew Tull, 34th Bomb Squadron defensive systems officer for the first mission. "I walked into work on Friday morning to plan for a standard training sortie the following Monday. By mid-afternoon, we were working on developing weaponeering solutions for targets in Libya."

In the freezing dawn of March 27, 2011, four B-1 bombers launched from Ellsworth to strike targets in Libya. Capt. Donavon Davis, mission commander for the first mission, said the weather conditions were particularly challenging during the launch. But, the danger was mitigated by good communication among the crew chiefs, the aircrew, higher-level base leadership and all other functions.

"We had a very small window for takeoff," said Davis. "We were ready to take full advantage of it."

After takeoff, aircrews spent the majority of the next 72 hours in flight inside the close quarters of their B-1 cockpit. Battling fatigue and anxiety, they managed to stay focused and continued communicating back and forth with different command and control agencies along the way to eliminating their pre-planned targets deep inside Libya.

After decimating their targets, the crews landed at a forward operating location, debriefed with maintenance and intelligence specialists and then entered mandatory crew rest for return flight. Specialists rearmed and refueled the aircraft, and a mere 33 hours later, the crews launched once again, attacking targets in Libya on their mission back to Ellsworth.

"We flew for about 12 hours before reaching the area of operation, so we had to react quickly to updates about the tactical situation once we got there," said Tull. "The training we receive on a daily basis, and during exercises like Red Flag, enabled us to make those changes quickly and effectively."

When the dust settled, Ellsworth B-1s had successfully destroyed Libyan ammunition depots, missile and vehicle maintenance facilities, and command and control buildings with an accuracy rate of 98 percent.

The herculean effort made by Ellsworth maintainers, operators, munitions builders and loaders, mission planners, aircrews, civil engineers, security forces, logisticians, and other combat support agencies -- under the harshest conditions -- accomplished a remarkable mission that no other nation can match in terms of distance, responsiveness, and volume, while demonstrating the ability to strike targets around the globe on short notice from the security of our nation's borders.

"We train like we fight and fight like we train, so we were exceptionally well prepared," said Davis.

With many milestones established by Ellsworth for long-range air strike capabilities, the historic mission not only provided invaluable experience for the Airmen involved, but was recognized around the world for what it achieved.

"What we accomplished out there validated to the world what the B-1Bs are capable of," said Hiss. "This mission gave us a chance to learn and improve on effective communication with other command and control agencies."

Hiss said that Air Force and Department of Defense leadership was pleased with the results achieved and added that in regards to the execution and completion of OOD, our Airmen were, "awesome."

"The takeaway from Airmen at Ellsworth should be to learn your job and train hard, because you never know when you might go into work on a Friday morning and go to war less than two days later," Tull said.