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The B-52: Deterrence throughout history

By Lt. Col. Heath Wharton 11th Bomb Squadron, commander

Sequestration and budgetary constraints have certainly made for some challenging times. In days like these, it is always important to look ahead and find better ways of "doing the business of warfare."

As a student of military history, I think it is equally important to keep an on eye on the past because our past serves to shape our decisions and can inform our future. History also serves to inform our service heritage, and heritage is critically important in these challenging times. Heritage can be a rallying point for Airmen, and heritage reminds us that we have endured many challenges over the years.

There is no greater example of the importance of military heritage than the heritage earned by the mighty B-52. The men and women who fly, fix and maintain this aircraft have much to be proud of, and we could all do a better job of recalling and recounting the great victories won by those who have served and continue to serve in the greatest military machine ever built.

No other military weapon system has influenced the outcome of this nation's wars and political objectives than the B-52. Designed in the 1950s at the dawn of the cold war, tested and proven throughout the 60s and 70s in Vietnam, steadfast "on alert" against the Soviets through the 80s, and merciless against the Iraqi Republican Guard in the 90s. The mighty B-52 has delivered throughout the ages when diplomacy has failed.

Consider that the greatest war that was never fought--the Cold War--was won in part by bomber airmen sitting on alert. Consider that the men and women who fly, fix and maintain this aircraft fought off more than 20,000 North Vietnamese regulars at the Battle of Khe Sanh in '68 and are credited with saving over 6,000 U.S. Marines.

The Linebacker campaigns in 1972 are epic in our heritage as B-52 Airmen, there are missions that showed the utility of airpower in bringing our adversaries to the negotiating table.

Many aviators and maintainers still assigned here did it again in the 90's, forcing Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic to participate in peace talks while prompting headlines from European newspapers in 1998 that read, "B-52s lie in wait as Milosevic Runs out of Gambles." Barksdale's men and women, active duty and Reserve, are credited by some military authors with the destruction of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program during Operation Desert Strike and Operation Desert Fox.

In 2003, we revisited Sadaam Hussein and ousted his Ba'ath party who had brought decades of bloodshed to Iraq.

From close air support and 'danger-close missions' to maximum-effort air operations and nuclear deterrence. Clearly the venerable B-52, and the men and women who support and enable its mission, have had tremendous impact upon our nation's wars.

No other weapon system even comes close, the B-52's history and heritage remains untouchable as the most influential, persuasive, and powerful weapons system ever designed. Throughout it all, our men and women have faced challenges and periods of fiscal austerity and today is no different.

Fiscal responsibility is a necessary discipline for the United States. With the myriad of threats on the horizon, we cannot afford to allow budgetary crises to become worse threats to national security. We must face the music when staring at new realities and 'do the right thing', but B-52 Airmen should take solace in the fact that we've been here before and our men and women are adaptable, flexible, innovative, and positive in the their outlook and in the future of this bomber. We should rally around our rich history and heritage, read the national headlines that show in obvious detail, even today, that this 'old warrior', this 60-year-old bomber is still a cornerstone of U.S. defense policy and still functions proudly as America's 'Sledgehammer', our nation's premier bomber aircraft in 21st century warfare.