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New Sheriff In Town

New Sheriff In Town

In 1986, the base made extensive preparations to phase out the aging B-52 fleet and become the new home for the advanced B-1B Lancer. Contractors completed new unaccompanied enlisted dormitories in March, a new security police group headquarters in October and gave Ellsworth’s 13,497-foot runway a much-needed facelift. In addition, they completed new aircraft maintenance facilities for the complex new bird. The last B-52H left in early 1986. In January 1987, the wing received the first of 35 B-1 bombers.

The 12th Air Division moved to Ellsworth on July 15, 1988. This organization was responsible for training B-1B, transient B-52 and the 28th BMW’s KC-135 Stratotanker aircrews. Headquarters SAC activated a third wing, the 99th Strategic Weapons Wing, at Ellsworth on Aug. 10, 1989. This wing assumed primary responsibility for B-1B and B-52 advanced aircrew training.

Internationally, the destruction of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 symbolized the imminent demise of the Soviet Union over the next several months. During this transition, the Air Force also had to reshuffle its organizations and resources to meet the diminishing, although shifting, threat. Changes came quickly.

On Jan. 3, 1990, SAC redesignated the 812th Combat Support Group as the 812th Strategic Support Wing, which, for a short time, became Ellsworth’s fourth wing. The 812th SSW consolidated all combat support activities into one organization. On July 31, 1990, SAC replaced the 12th Air Division with the Strategic Warfare Center, which provided operational command and administrative control over Ellsworth’s subordinate units. Then, on Sept. 1, 1991, as part of SAC’s intermediate headquarters and base-level reorganization plan, SAC renamed the 28th BMW the 28th Wing, the 44th SMW the 44th Wing, and the 99th SWW the 99th Tactics and Training Wing. Ten days later, SAC inactivated both the SWC and the 812th SSW. Once again, the 28th became Ellsworth’s host organization and it soon absorbed all previous 812th SSW functions. It was also during this period that, in acknowledgment of the elimination of the Warsaw Pact, the secretary of defense ordered alert operations to stand down. The decades-long Cold War was over.

On June 1, 1992, as part of the first major reorganization since the creation of the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force inactivated SAC and assigned Ellsworth’s organizations (including a renamed 28th Bomb Wing) to the newly activated Air Combat Command. After less than a year under the new command, the wing’s mission changed from that of strategic bombardment to one of worldwide conventional munitions delivery. The mission of the 99th Tactics and Training Wing (later to become the 99th Wing) also continued, albeit slightly modified to fit the requirements of the new force concept.

The 44th Missile Wing, however, had ably accomplished its deterrence mission. The wing permanently pulled the first missile from its silo Dec. 3, 1991. The first launch control center shut down April 6, 1992. Deactivation of the entire missile complex ended in April 1994. In keeping with its patriotic Minuteman tradition, the 44th Missile Wing formally inactivated July 4, 1994.

In March 1994, Ellsworth welcomed the 34th Bomb Squadron, a geographically separated unit awaiting airfield upgrades before it could return to its parent organization, the 366th BW, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The 34th’s B-1s were part one of the Air Force’s composite wings, which also include F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons and KC-135s.

Also during 1994, the Air Force selected Ellsworth as the exclusive location from which to conduct a congressionally mandated operational readiness assessment of the B-1B, known locally as “Dakota Challenge.” After six months of hard work, under both peacetime and simulated wartime conditions, the 28th BW and Ellsworth passed the test with flying colors and proved the B-1 to be a reliable and capable weapons system — the mainstay of America’s heavy bomber fleet for years to come.

In 1995, the 99th Wing also departed for a new assignment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, although a small contingent formerly attached to that wing remained behind to continue bomber tactics training and radar munitions scoring from a handful of dispersed detachments. In the same year, one of Ellsworth’s oldest units, the 77th Bomb Squadron, was inactivated. While the unit (as an administrative entity) departed to save Air Force dollars for development of new follow-on B-1 munitions, the organization’s aircraft remained at Ellsworth (in a flying reserve status) under the care of its sister unit, the 37th Bomb Squadron.

A reversal of fortune occurred March 26, 1996, when an announcement was made that the 77th Bomb Squadron would soon return to Ellsworth. On April 1, 1997, the squadron again activated at Ellsworth as the geographically separated 34th Bomb Squadron completed its transfer to its home at the 366th Wing, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. By June 1998, the 77th had six of its B-1s out of the reconstitution reserve. This number balanced those lost by the 34th Bomb Squadron.

In March 1999, the Air Force announced a reorganization plan that made Ellsworth AFB and the 28th BW partners in the new Expeditionary Air Force concept. The 28th BW was named a lead wing in the EAF. Under this plan, the 77th BS gained six additional B-1s, and Ellsworth gained about 100 more military personnel. The expeditionary forces helped the Air Force respond quickly to any worldwide crisis while making life more predictable for military members.

On Oct. 1, 2015, Ellsworth AFB and the 28th BW realigned to the Air Force Global Strike Command under Eighth Air Force, uniting all Air Force bombers under a single command. The consolidation of the five bomb wings and the Long Range Strike Bomber program under the command provides a unified voice to maintain the high standards necessary in stewardship of our nation’s bomber forces.

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