MINOT AIR FORCE BASE – Members of the 23rd Bomb Squadron and B-52s at Minot Air Force Base were away fighting ISIS in the Middle East when their squadron's 100th anniversary took place in June.
So today the squadron will hold an observance at the base in honor of its 100th year. A static display, retreat ceremony, B-52 fly-by and a roll call of current and former "Bomber Barons" is planned, according to the base Public Affairs office.
Located at Minot AFB since the late 1960s, the 23rd Bomb Squadron has had various names and been assigned to various locations worldwide during its history.
Originally, the squadron came into being as the 18th Aero Squadron on June 16, 2017, at Camp Kelly, Texas. Besides Minot AFB, it had home bases in New York, England, France, California, Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, Japan, Kansas, Idaho and Guam.
According to the Minot Daily News files:
The original unit was not a U.S. Air Force unit because there was no U.S. Air Force at the time. It was then called the Army Air Service, later becoming the Army Air Corps in 1926 and finally a separate Air Force in 1947.
Consisting of 11 officers, three flying cadets and 76 enlisted men under the command of a captain, the unit didn't have a very glorious mission. For its first six months it flew patrol flights in the forest sections of Southern California, checking on fire conditions.
When the squadron moved to Hawaii in the early 1920s, it started engaging in training missions consisting of formation flying, gunnery, high-altitude bombing and photo reconnaissance.
One of its most spectacular achievements was in 1935 when the squadron was given the job never attempted before by a bombardment group – to silence a volcano that was erupting in Hawaii.
The 23rd was handed this unique assignment when Mauna Loa was blowing its top and pouring lava down toward the city of Hilo. Volcanologists thought the city might be saved if bombs were dropped to divert the path of the molten lava stream. Carrying out its orders, the squadron dropped 20 600-pound bombs in front of the lava, making some rearrangement of the landscape and diverting the lava flow and saving the city of Hilo.
Commemorating that mission, the squadron's patch to this day depicts the bombing of Mauna Loa.
On Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the squadron, with its headquarters at Hickam Field in Hawaii, lost 23 men and sustained 21 injuries plus the loss of three aircraft, with another three seriously damaged.
The squadron quickly converted into wartime operations, participating in the Battle of Midway, a major turning point in the Pacific war.
At the end of the war, the squadron's mission was photo mapping the Philippines, Formosa and Southwest Pacific, which it accomplished from bases in Japan.
For a time the squadron lost its aircraft when it was redesignated a reconnaissance squadron but later was put back to its task of strategic bombing in the mid-1950s.
Minot AFB, one of the newest bases in the Air Force, became the 23rd's home in the late 1960s, where the squadron acquired the best and newest of the B-52 bombers, the "H" model.
For about 49 years the 23rd has remained at Minot AFB, longer than it stayed anywhere.
The 23rd, along with the 69th Bomb Squadron, are integral parts of Minot AFB's 5th Bomb Wing and the U.S. Air Force.
Recently personnel and bombers from the 23rd returned to the Minot base after spending several months this year in the Middle East. The unit was deployed to the Middle East supporting U.S. Central Command's Operation Inherent Resolve, a combined joint task force operation to eliminate ISIS terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.
"They flew over 500 sorties," Col. Sloan Hollis, vice commander of the 5th Bomb Wing, told the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee members recently. "They dropped well over 4,000 bombs, several thousands of target engaged – did a lot of good work in the fight against ISIS (in) Iraq and Syria."
"(It was) one of the largest air campaigns that has gone on since Vietnam is what they said," he added.
That deployment was the first time in 12 years B-52s from Minot AFB were deployed to the Middle East for combat operations. Currently, members and B-52s from the base's 69th Bomb Squadron are in the Middle East.