Warbird Airmen return from historic deployment

Airmen descend aircraft stairs to shake hands with the 5th Bomb Wing commander

Airmen with the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron exit an aircraft at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Sep 18, 2021. The 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron flew more than 20 engagements in support of U.S. Central Command ground-force objectives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Allison Martin)

spouses hug their loved ones as they return from deployment

Spouses reunited with thier husbands who have safely returned from deployment at Minot AFB, ND, Sept. 10, 2021. The aircrews that arrived were from the 23rd Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Saomy Sabournin)

The 5th Bomb Wing vice commander greets a pilot as he returns from deployment

Colonel Maginness, Vice Commander of the 5th Bomb Wing, greeted the troops returning from deployment at Minot AFB, ND, Sept. 10, 2021. The aircrews returning belong to the 23rd Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Saomy Sabournin)

A spouse hugs her spouse as he returns from deployment

Airmen with the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron reunite with their families at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Sep 18, 2021. The deployment, in support of United States Central Command, lasted April through September, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Allison Martin)

A B-52 taxis on the runway as it returns from Qatar from deployment

A B-52 Stratofortress taxis the runway as it returns to Minot AFB, N.D., from Qatar, September 10, 2021. The two aircrews that returned were from the 23rd Bomb Squadron at Minot AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Saomy Sabournin)

Minot Air Force Base --

During the week of Sept. 17, 2021, six B-52H Stratofortress aircraft and approximately 300 personnel assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing returned from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, ending a six-month deployment supporting U.S. Central Command mission requirements.

The aircraft and personnel formed the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron while attached to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, which is listed as the largest expeditionary wing in the world, and flew over 240 combat sorties over the course of more than 3,100 combat-flight hours.

“Once again, the B-52 proved itself one of the U.S. Air Force’s most versatile and reliable weapons systems”, said Lt. Col. Michael Middents, 23rd Bomb Squadron commander. “Our crews regularly stepped out of their traditional roles to enable the joint mission.”

One of the top priorities for the B-52 crews supporting USCENTCOM was flying top cover for U.S. and coalition ground forces in Afghanistan supporting the Department of State-led evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan evacuees.

“As Coalition capabilities decreased in Afghanistan, our crews offered armed over watch, striking close air support targets, but also provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as a beyond line of sight communications bridge to the Combined Air Operations Center for other airborne assets,” said Middents. “These crews met the commander’s intent every time they were called upon.”

During the deployment, the 23rd EBS provided on-call firepower support to urgent aeromedical evacuation operations and to the final U.S. forces departing Afghanistan.

Aircrews and supporting ground personnel enabled over 16 hours of close-air support with more than 20 engagements in support of ground-force objectives, flying a max-duration sortie lasting over 22 hours.

“While airborne, they enabled over 123,000 people to evacuate from Afghanistan,” said Middents.

With evacuees flowing steadily out of Afghanistan, mission support looked uniquely different from the typical bomber deployments many 5th BW Airmen supported in the past.

“Many of our crews voluntarily landed from combat sorties and immediately ran over to support the refugee effort at Al Udeid Air Base,” Middents said. “I’m incredibly proud of this team, if there’s such a thing as a standard combat deployment, this wasn’t it.”

According to Middents, the 5th BW personnel at Al Udeid helped support the care of over 55,000 of the very same evacuees they covered from the sky.

The deployment serves as a stark reminder for those who served in the early days of Operations Enduring Freedom.

B-52’s first deployed to Diego Garcia in late 2001 to support OEF ground missions, which commenced in October 2001.

According to Air Force historical records, air support provided by the B-52’s in November 2001 enabled U.S. backed Northern Alliance forces to capture Kabul, as well as securing the small air field which would grow to Bagram Air Base.

During 2002, the 5th Bomb Wing supported three deployments, providing an enduring bomber presence during Operation Anaconda.

With B-52s supporting the beginning of OEF ground operations and the U.S. draw down and evacuation of Kabul, the B-52 book ended the operations in Afghanistan demonstrating what it means to provide combat support, anytime, anywhere.