By (Ret.) Col. Warren Ward
Special to Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs
Warren Ward, deputy chief of programming division, Air Force Global Strike Command, stands next to the nose art on "Grim Reaper II," the B-52G he flew January 16, 1991, during Operation "Secret Squirrel." The aircraft was one of the seven strike aircraft used during the top secret mission. The original nose art was cut off and preserved, and is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Courtesy photo)
Warren Ward, second to left, served as a B-52G co-pilot on a top secret mission nicknamed "Secret Squirrel," the first bombing mission of Operation Desert Storm. The operation marked the first use of conventional air-launched cruise missiles in combat. The crew returned to Barksdale in a single sortie and with a few day's rest, Ward was called back to duty and continued flying the B-52 throughout Operation Desert Storm. Today, Air Force Global Strike Command air crews remain ready to execute the mission on a moment's notice just as they were ready 25 years before. The B-52, along with the B-2 and ICBM forces, remains an important part of the nuclear triad. (Courtesy photo)
Reunions are special times to renew friendships and reminisce over our shared experiences. As the veterans of a B-52 mission affectionately dubbed “Secret Squirrel” by those who flew it 25 years ago gather in Shreveport Jan. 15-17, we will certainly jest about receding hair lines and expanding waist lines, but we will also honor several men who have “gone west” in the two- and-a-half decades since we flew into combat together.
Through the fall and early winter of 1990-1991, our families prepared for Thanksgiving and Christmas. These same families prepared to joyfully ring in a new year, despite the unknown of a pending military action against Iraq. In the backdrop of individual family preparations for the holidays and a time when ideally we should wish the Christmas proclamation “Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men,” Airmen at Barksdale’s 596th Bomb Squadron were quietly preparing for war.
Sworn to secrecy, I can attest we could tell no one – not our wives, parents, children, friends or even uncleared coworkers – what exactly we were preparing to do. It was a time of internal compartmentalization for each individual. I was certainly aloof and brooding as often I questioned what I could and could not say, so I opted just to say nothing. While the personal dedication of preparing to execute a special mission was exhilarating and satisfying, it was still a double-edged sword to keep my own family in the dark and yet realize that if my preparations indeed played out into mission execution, several Iraqi families would grieve over the loss of loved ones.
Over a two day period, Jan. 16-17, 1991, preparations and opportunity met as seven B-52s took to the skies for the longest combat mission in the history of aerial warfare up to that point. The men and their machines would ultimately fly more than 14,000 miles in 35.4 hours, refuel in the air four times and launch 35 AGM-86C Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles in their first-ever combat debut. The missiles destroyed early warning and communications systems and were among the first salvos of weapons into Iraq. Yet, even upon return, the veil of secrecy remained and we could not tell our families why there were two days “missing” in our lives.
Now, 25 years after the fact and with grateful appreciation to the Strategy Alternatives Consortium and Louisiana State University-Shreveport, our families will hear the story during a symposium on the LSUS campus on Jan. 16th. The symposium is open to the public and we hope the historic perspective will spark renewed interest in the United States’ long-range strike capabilities.