By Senior Airman Michael Charles, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 05, 2012
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Staff Sgt. Deidre Nickolson-Edie stood on the windy flight line at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, reading a book filled with maintenance checklists. It was December 1998, the start of Operation Desert Fox, and Nickolson-Edie, an avionics specialist, was part of the maintenance team that would soon launch the first-ever combat mission of the B-1.
"That was the first time service members would rely on this aircraft to potentially save lives in actual combat," said Nickolson- Edie. "I wanted to make sure that we gave the pilots the best opportunity to fulfill their objectives without worrying about anything going wrong with the aircraft."
Fourteen years and 9,999 combat missions later, now-Senior Master Sgt. Nickolson-Edie is a lead production superintendant for the B-1 aircraft here and part of the team that launched the 10,000th combat mission--or sortie--today.
"After launching the first combat sortie I never thought I would have the opportunity to participate in the 10,000th," said Nickolson-Edie. "It's a testament to our Airmen who train day in and day out to continue to ensure that we are able to fly such a diverse and always evolving weapon system."
The B-1, or "Bone" as it is affectionately known, flies with a crew of four. The aircrew selected for today's mission felt honored to represent all the men and women involved in the missions that led to this milestone.
"It's about more than just the jet," said Lt. Col. Alejandro Gomez, mission team lead. "It is a testament to the people who have flown, maintained and supported the B-1. Without their dedication and hard work over the years, there is no way we could continually support our overseas objectives the way we have."
The 10,000th combat mission provided support to operations in Afghanistan, said Capt. Mark Kimball, aircraft commander.
"I tried to approach this mission the same way I would approach any mission," said Kimball. "The close air support we provide to our service members on the ground continues to be an effective way of deterring enemy combatants and saving the lives of service members."
The mission had a personal meaning to Capt. Laura Hunstock, weapons system officer for the mission.
"My father flew a bomber for 23 years and I'm excited to carry on our family tradition and legacy," said Hunstock. "I talked with him briefly before we came out here and he's excited."
To be part of history was a huge honor, said 1st Lt. Anh-Vu Nguyen, co-pilot, and final aircrew member of the mission.
"This is my first deployment with the B-1, and this is my ninth sortie with the 9th Bomb Squadron," said Nguyen. "I'm actually the youngest aviator--part of the team, so I'm very honored."
Maintenance of the B-1 is versatile and ever-changing, said Ron Hunter, an Air Force Engineer and Technical Services technician deployed here.
"These maintainers who work on the B-1 are my family," said Hunter. "Almost every Airman who has worked on a B-1 in the last two-plus decades has a unique bond and is taking pride in keeping the aircraft flying for this long. I wouldn't be surprised if most if not all maintainers of the B-1 has had a hand in some way of maintaining the aircraft that flew the 10,000th mission."
Hunter, who retired as an Air Force Master Sgt. in 1998, gives credit to the Airmen who put service before self in getting the mission done.
"Whether our Airmen are working in 100-plus degree weather in Dyess or below zero in Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., our Airmen are more than willing to put in what it takes to get the job done," said Hunter. "That's a major contributing factor to them being able to fly more than 10,000 combat sorties."
The B-1 was initially developed in the 1970s as a strategic bomber and a replacement to the B-52. Its first combat mission was during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. During the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom, eight B-1s dropped nearly 40 percent of the total tonnage delivered by coalition air forces.
Several upgrades have been made to the B-1 over the last 30 years in order to make it a highly versatile, multi-mission weapon system. The aircraft can carry the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory, making it the backbone of America's long-range bomber force. It can rapidly deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision weapons against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time.
This aircraft, and the people associated with it, have continually evolved to meet emerging missions, said Lt. Col. Matthew Brooks, commander of the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron.
"The B-1 has proven its ability to evolve to meet our national defense challenges, and it is postured for the future," said Brooks. "10,000 combat missions is just the beginning. This aircraft, and the people behind it, stand ready to rise to any challenge."