Barksdale active duty, reservists complete first 'Total Force' B-52 sortie

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Greg Steele
  • 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
After completing a five-hour sortie, the wheels of the B-52 Stratofortress touched down on a still wet runway at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. The drag chute deployed, gradually slowing the jet.

Rain, hail, and two "lightning within five" delays couldn't put a damper on the significance of the day's event. Despite the relentless challenges of the weather, operations and maintenance personnel from the 2nd Bomb Wing, 343rd Bomb Squadron and 707th Maintenance Squadron persevered with the launch and recovery of a B-52H bomber on a mission that was history in the making and a definite win for the Total Force Enterprise. Senior leadership in the 307th Bomb Wing has always expressed that TFE would succeed, and it did.

"This is the first time regular Air Force and reservists combined to generate a B-52 sortie on a Unit Training Assembly weekend," said Capt. Chris Robinson, 343rd BS co-pilot. "It is a truly blended effort."

The 343rd BS, along with its maintainers in the 707th MXS, are classic associate Air Force Reserve squadrons assigned to the 2nd BW at Barksdale.

The term "classic associate" means an active duty Air Force unit retains the principal responsibility for a weapon system or systems and shares the equipment with one or more reserve component units. In layman's terms, the 2nd BW owns the B-52s and equipment, while the reservists supply personnel to fly and support the mission side-by-side with active duty Air Force personnel. This is the Total Force Enterprise; sharing resources, reducing duplication of efforts, and reducing the number of people needed to accomplish a task.

"Right now, with the help of our maintainers and reservists, we can put together a 50/50 mix to support the flying," said Col. John Vitacca, 2nd BW Operations Group commander. "The 343rd BS is a fully integrated squadron within the ops group and wing (2nd BW). When their folks go to work tomorrow, they'll roll right into the same lineup with our people as a combat squadron."

For the Airman involved, the task at hand was to generate a nuclear training sortie for the 343rd BS, which happened on March 5, 2011. While aircrew members of sortie "Skull 61," all reservists assigned to the 343rd BS, assembled at their squadron for a pre-flight briefing, 707th MXS and 2nd BW maintenance personnel battled the weather to ready the jet for aircrew arrival and takeoff. After a few lightning delays, the aircrew arrived, engines were started, and the B-52, tail number 60-008 and flag ship for the 8th Air Force, was off the ground.

"The mission ... is continuation training to refresh currencies for members of the crew who haven't flown in awhile," said Maj. Jimmy Jackson, 343rd BS flight commander.

The mission consisted of the aircrew flying the B-52 over West Texas and simulating the launch of nuclear Air Launched Cruise Missiles. They met up with a KC-135 refueling jet to give the pilot and co-pilot in-air refueling practice. Once completed, they turned the B-52 north for the Smokey Hill bombing range near Salina, Kan. Once there, the aircrew practiced the simulated release of nuclear gravity bombs while evading surface-to-air radar guided missile tracks.

"The pilots ... training on air-refueling and providing a stable platform for the navigators to release the weapons, and the electronic warfare officer ... are practicing on defending against missile threats. The whole crew getting into the action," said Major Jackson.

"In the military, we often refer to an occasion as historic. I'm not sure this will be remembered as a historically significant event, but it is an extremely important sortie," said Lt. Col. Jeff Stogsdill, commander, 343rd Bomb Squadron. "If it isn't recorded into a history book, that's okay, because we know it as a crucial step in the classic integration of the 343rd BS into the 2nd BW."