Whiteman marks three combat anniversaries for B-2

3 min read
By JH

from Capt. John Severns - 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- In a historic coincidence, this third week of March marks not just one anniversary, but the anniversary of three separate combat engagements by the B-2 Spirit Bomber.

The first occurred 14 years ago when B-2 bombers flying from Whiteman AFB were the first manned aircraft to engage in hostilities during Operation Allied Force on March 24, 1999. Operation Allied Force was a NATO military operation launched to force Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, to end a campaign of violence by Serbian forces against the people of Kosovo.

Ten years ago, B-2 s operating from Whiteman Air Force Base and other forward locations participated in the opening salvos of Operation Iraqi Freedom, dropping dozens of bombs on high-value targets in Baghdad on March 20, 2003. Operation Iraqi Freedom marked the highest-intensity bombardment ever conducted by B-2s, with the aircraft dropping over a million pounds of ordnance during the opening days of the war.

Finally, and most recently, three B-2s took off from Whiteman AFB on March 22, 2011, and flew more than 6,000 miles to Libya, where they took part in Operation Odyssey Dawn, a NATO operation to enforce a UN no-fly zone to prevent Muammar Gaddafi from using his air forces to attack civilians. The aircraft destroyed a series of hardened aircraft shelters at an airfield near Sirte and resulted in the nearly complete destruction of Gaddafi's air forces.

All three anniversaries highlight the enduring contributions of the B-2 Spirit to our nation's defense, according to Brig. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing.

"This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the arrival of the B-2 at Whiteman Air Force Base, and this week we commemorate three of the B-2's four combat employments," Bussiere said. "In Serbia, Libya and Iraq, we saw professional Airmen flying from bases around the world to successfully destroy targets with pinpoint precision. The B-2's ability to enter the most restricted airspace in the world, attack critical targets, and then fly home, is unmatched in any other air force in the world. Our people deserve to be proud of the outstanding missions they contributed to in each of these conflicts."

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the delivery of the first B-2 Spirit, the Spirit of Missouri, to Whiteman Air Force Base on Dec. 17, 1993. Air Force Global Strike Command has designated 2013 as the "Year of the B-2," and throughout the year the wing will be marking a variety of important dates in the B-2 program.

Over the years, many of the Airmen who participated in the combat operations as pilots later went on to leadership positions in the B-2 community. One such pilot, then-Lt. Col. Scott Vander Hamm, was commander of the 325th Bomb Squadron here when Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched.

"Our mission was to go after Saddam's critical infrastructure, to degrade his ability to respond," Brig. Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, now the Director of Plans, Programs, Requirements and Assessments at Air Education and Training Command, said during an interview last week with the British newspaper The Telegraph. "Our priority of course was avoiding Iraqi civilian casualties but we were bombing office buildings in the wee hours of the morning.

"It was a 38-hour-long flight from Missouri and back again, with five mid-air refuels. As we were flying over Iraq towards Baghdad, we could see the precision strikes by the Navy's Tomahawk missiles, but otherwise, the night sky was very quiet and I could see the outlines of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers where they converged," he continued.

The B-2's first combat employment, in Kosovo, was a nerve-wracking time for the mission planners back in the states, but for the pilots in the air, job one was to focus on the mission.

"Once you get into the target areas, the target runs, you are doing a lot of aiming, a lot of radar scope interpretation, so you are very busy," said then-Lt. Col. Eric Single, who was commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron at the time, in a book by Rebecca Grant on the B-2's actions in Kosovo, "The B-2 Goes to War."

"You don't have time to think about anything but getting the weapons out," he continued.

"The B-2 was designed to deliver weapons on the first day - yesterday was the first day of the war and the B-2 was there," said Col. Tony Imondi, who was the 509th Operations Group commander during Operation Allied Force.

More recently, during Operation Odyssey Dawn, the B-2 Spirit demonstrated its incredible flexibility as a platform for conducting global strike operations. The three aircraft flew more than 25 hours to their target in Libya and joined a coordinated assault involving U.S. Navy and other Air Force assets.

Although Libya's air defenses were considered antiquated by modern standards, the B-2 Spirit gave U.S. commanders a degree of certitude that only comes with a precise, stealthy aircraft. During all three anniversaries being celebrated this month, the men and women of Whiteman Air Force Base demonstrated the full range of capabilities of American airpower.