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