MINOT AIR FORCE BASE - When 1st Lt. Daniel Welch arrived at Minot Air Force Base in January, he became part of the same squadron his grandfather commanded in the 1970s.
That squadron is the 23rd Bomb Squadron, a unit of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB.
Welch, a B-52 co-pilot, is keeping up his family's tradition as a B-52 Stratofortress flight officer.
Eloise Ogden/MDN • 1st Lt. Daniel Welch, a B-52 co-pilot at Minot Air Force Base, is a third generation B-52 flight officer. His grandfather and father also were B-52 aviators. Welch is shown on Aug. 19 when he was one of the speakers at a ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the first B-52 at the base 50 years ago.
Both his grandfather, retired Col. Don Sprague, of Sacramento, Calif., and his father, retired Lt. Col. Don Welch, of Las Vegas, were B-52 aviators.
Welch was one of the speakers Aug. 19 when the base held "Peace Persuader Day" to celebrate the arrival of the first B-52 bomber at the base 50 years ago. The day was named for that first plane. The first B-52 arrived July 16, 1961, but the ceremony was postponed until August because of the flood in Minot.
When he was asked to speak at the 50th anniversary celebration, Welch said he asked himself, "What have I done to be given this opportunity besides being born into a B-52 family of aviators?"
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Since he has just begun his career as a B-52 aviator, he chose to honor his grandfather and his father by telling a few of their experiences as well as about his grandmother and mother.
Welch said his grandfather grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was commissioned by ROTC. He went to Maxwell AFB, Ala., for additional training, where he met Daniel's grandmother, Marion.
"At the time that they met, my grandmother was an Air Force nurse. She outranked him and he had to salute her. To this day, we still give him a hard time for that," Welch said.
Daniel's grandfather attended pilot training in Texas. After graduation he went on to fly the F-86 Saber, the B-47 and then "the mighty B-52," his grandson said. "He's flown every model from the A model up to the H model."
Sprague flew combat missions in Vietnam. As a result of one of those missions over North Vietnam, he became a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, his grandson said.
Sprague returned from Vietnam and was assigned to Minot AFB in the early 1970s "where he became the squadron commander of my current squadron, the 23rd Bomber Barons," Welch said.
Welch said he felt it was pretty amazing when he looked through squadron history books and came across a picture of his grandfather and some of the news articles he was in while his grandfather was at the Minot base.
Sprague then was assigned to Mather AFB, Calif., where he became the wing commander. "That's where my father walked into the picture," Welch said.
The senior Welch had just been commissioned by ROTC. "My mother (Diane) was working at the base pool as a lifeguard. I've got to give my dad some credit for having the guts to date the wing commander's daughter," the lieutenant said.
Shortly after his parents got married, they were assigned to Guam in the early 1980s. "Sitting nuclear alert was part of the B-52 crews' lifestyle," Welch said. He said his father tells about the crews being at the base exchange with their families when suddenly they were notified. They would leave their families and run out the door to respond to their aircraft, not knowing if it was the real thing or a drill, Welch said. His father retired from the Air Force after 22 years.
"Growing up with my grandfather and father as role models made it pretty easy to decide that I wanted to pursue a career in aviation," Welch said.
"I was able to realize that dream after I attended pilot training after my graduation from the Air Force Academy in 2008," he said.
Welch was commissioned in 2008 and graduated from pilot training in December 2009. He started flying the B-52 in March 2010 at Barksdale AFB, La., and arrived at Minot AFB in January of this year.
Welch said he looks forward to the challenges and experiences that are sure to present themselves just as they presented themselves to generations before him.
But he pointed out that he would be remiss if he didn't mention "the glue" that has held the three generations of bomber crews together: his mother.
"As a daughter she endured Christmases and holidays away with her father being deployed; as a wife she endured time without her husband," he said.
Welch said it appears he will be deployed over the holiday season. "She's a proud B-52 mother," he added.
If he has a youngster some day, Welch said maybe there will be a fourth generation B-52 aircrew member.