‘Secret Squirrels’ Visit Eglin To Celebrate Longest-Ever Bombing Sortie

‘Secret Squirrels’ Visit Eglin To Celebrate Longest-Ever Bombing Sortie

A squirrel with a cape on it that sits inside of a military-style patch.
Members of the 596th Bomber Squadron celebrated the 33rd anniversary of their historic mission against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The operation, named "Operation Senior Surprise," but also known as "Operation Secret Squirrel" remains a testament to courage and resilience, marking the longest bombing run ever recorded.

On Saturday, former members of the 596th Bomber Squadron reunited at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base to celebrate a unique accomplishment – the longest-ever bombing sortie.

The retired airmen gathered together to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the mission, which struck some of the first blows against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – destroying communications infrastructure that would have helped the Iraqi Army resist American and coalition forces. 

The mission, by the way, goes by two names: Operation Secret Squirrel and Operation Senior Surprise. 

The gathering began with a speech from Rob Lightner, one of the event’s organizers. 

Lightner summarized the mission and discussed the importance and meaning of the operation, then proposed a toast. Following the toast, members of the squadron gathered together for photos and to look back on the special memories that they shared.


The Course of Events

Thirty-three years ago, the members of the 596th Bomb Squadron boarded seven B-52 bombers in pursuit of executing a top-secret long-range missile strike over Iraq known as ‘Operation Senior Surprise.’

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The mission amassed a staggering 14,000 miles over 35 hours and 24 minutes- making this mission the longest bombing run in history. 


Lt. Col. Rick Holt (Right) celebrates his retirement in 2013. Holt's mates on the Secret Squirrel Mission credit him with saving the day when he fixed a serious communications problem aboard the B-52 he served on.

Despite six months of preparing the B-52s for the arduous mission, the radios on each plane lost all function just moments after takeoff. However, electronic warfare officer Rick Holt, aboard the B-52G called the ‘Petie 3rd,’ removed a few panels and investigated the electronic wiring, eventually finding and repairing a loose connection.

According to his comrades on the flight, Holt’s ingenuity saved the mission by providing the aircraft with a mode of communication among the six other airplanes.

Holt retired as a Lieutenant Colonel out of Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in 2013.

A bad comms line wouldn’t be the only SNAFU the crews would have to overcome to complete their mission successfully. 

The bombers would have to refuel twice before the attack and twice afterward. Bad weather scared the crews on the eastern side of the Atlantic as they tried to refuel – but the planes got their gas and eventually made it back to Shreveport, Louisiana – where their Odyssey began. 

According to the Eighth Air Force’s website, a total of 57 aviators carried more than 244 tons of munitions to announce to Saddam Hussein that the American Air Force was in town that evening. 

McKinsey Lamm

McKinsey Lamm

McKinsey Lamm writes about Niceville High School Sports for Mid Bay News. She covers local football, girls and boys soccer. She also works as the sports editor for the Eagle Echo - Niceville High School's Newspaper.

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