MINOT AIR FORCE BASE - When Minot Air Force Base's newest B-52 squadron members arrived in Guam several months ago, its members immediately were put on conventional alert.
"Because of unrest in North Korea and actual artillery exchange between North and South Korea, the B-52s went on alert and North Korea settled down," said Col. Doug Cox, commander of the base's 5th Bomb Wing.
He said he'd like to think that the Minot group's preparedness and deter effect in the Pacific made the difference.
Submitted Photo • A B-52H Stratofortress from the 5th Bomb Wing takes off during a rapid launch exercise at Minot Air Force Base April 13, shown in this photo by Senior Airman Jesse Lopez.
It was the 69th Bomb Squadron's first deployment since the squadron was reactivated at the Minot base in September 2009, joining the 5th Bomb Wing's 23rd Bomb Squadron.
Cox spoke to members of the Minot Rotary Club April 25 about the 5th Bomb Wing and what its people do at Minot AFB.
This is his second assignment at the Minot base. He also was assigned here in the 1990s. He has held a number of staff and flying assignments during his Air Force career. He is a master navigator with more than 3,000 flying hours in the B-52, including combat missions over Afghanistan.
B-52 will remain for some time
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Is there a new bomber on the horizon?
"The Air Force currently plans to continue deploying the B-52 in full service as it is now until the year 2040," said Col. Doug Cox, commander of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base.
By 2040, it will be an 80-year-old bomber, he said.
"However, all of us do realize that in the year 2040 even though the B-52 has been extensively upgraded with its avionics and its weapon system capability internal inside that airplane it's a lot more modern than the outside of the airplane," he said.
"Despite that, we all recognize and the chief of staff of the Air Force recognizes that a new long-range, strike-platform is required," Cox said.
He said the Air Force is working on a new long-range strike platform but no bolts or rivets are in place yet.
"We know we need one and we're working on it (but) in today's fiscally constrained environment, it's going to be a tall order," he said.
The Minot base has two wings - the 5th Bomb Wing with its B-52H Stratofortress bombers and the 91st Missile Wing with its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The bomb wing is the host wing at the base, with Cox also serving as installation commander. Col. Julian Tolbert is vice commander of the bomb wing and Chief Master Sgt. Kent Smith, the command sergeant.
The bomb wing supports the missile wing's mission.
"They have an 8,500-square-mile missile field. It's got intercontinental ballistic missiles and the 91st keeps them on alert every single day. Our role is to make sure when they are in garrison that they have full support from vehicles to civil engineering, contracting support - anything that they need to get their mission done. That all falls under the installation commander role that I have," Cox said.
Both the bomb wing and missile wing are units of Air Force Global Strike Command.
The bomb wing is organized by groups.
The 5th Operations Group is led by Col. Troy VanBemmelen. His role is to teach all aviators and the personnel who support all the aviators how to do their jobs and to make sure they're ready to do it every single day, Cox said.
"It's a huge responsibility," Cox said. He said the B-52 has a five-member aircrew - pilot, co-pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer - who are all officers. Each has a different and complicated role to get the weapons on target. "It's not just nuclear weapons but also conventional weapons in a wide variety," he said.
He said there's an incredible amount of training involved and VanBemmelen's role, first of all, is to make sure they're trained, second, they're proficient and third, they're ready to go.
The Minot bomb wing has 27 flyable B-52s that are used for combat training and combat deployments, Cox said.
He said the 28th plane has a small crack, which engineers decided would be very difficult to repair so it is used for practicing loading weapons.
Minot AFB's B-52s came off the assembly line in 1960 and 1961 and although they are middle-aged, Cox said they fly very, very well.
As a consequence of their age, he said, it does take a lot of work to keep them airborne, which is the work done by members of the bomb wing's maintenance group led by Col. Cliff Stansell.
"We are super proud that our maintenance professionals launch B-52s every single day, every single night - whatever condition is required - they are right there," Cox said, referring to a PowerPoint presentation showing some of the extreme weather conditions the maintenance people work in at the base.
"One of the things that we don't have at Minot Air Force Base is a lot of indoor space so as a consequence our maintainers spend a lot of time out on the line when it's super cold working in those conditions, and they are tough and they are good."
He said the maintainers make sure the B-52 can get airborne and the aircrew members fly the planes out to the target.
The 5th Mission Support Group also has an important role in the bomb wing carrying out its mission. He said this group, led by Col. Mike Dilda, provides the massive support package and includes cooks, firefighters, security forces, the contracting office and many others.
The 5th Medical Group is equally important as the other groups to the mission, Cox said. Col. Karlan Hoggan leads the 5th Medical Group.
"In our enterprise we have to make sure that our human element is fully qualified and reliable just like our mechanical elements or our infrastructure elements. I want to make sure that they are feeling 100 percent and that they don't have something weighing over them that's going to distract them or distract their concentration," Cox said.
He said the medics help do that. "They make sure everyone is feeling OK and feeling up to the challenge of doing their duty, and I assure you it's a huge challenge because there are so many things for these young folks to learn. There's so many things that they have to execute perfectly and they're always being inspected - all the time," he said.
Cox is well-acquainted with the local community as a result of having spent several years assigned to Minot AFB during his Air Force career.
"This community - there is no dispute in the entire United States Air Force - is the finest, most supportive community Air Forcewide," Cox said. "We've got so much backing from all of you - you always take care of all of us and our airmen, and help us to do our job.
"We're just so fortunate we have this location just north of Minot in North Dakota because that's what makes it possible for us to deliver what we owe to you and that's national defense and deterrence with B-52s and with support of the 91st Missile Wing and their ICBMs," Cox said.
5th Bomb Wing mission
The 5th Bomb Wing's mission is to develop and provide combat-ready forces for nuclear deterrence and global strike operations safe, secure and effective to support the president of the United States and combatant commanders.