by 55th Wing Public Affairs
8/12/2015 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- On
Aug. 9, the 55th Wing's personnel and its RC-135V/W Rivet Joint
aircraft hit 25 straight years of continuous deployment to U.S. Central
Command's area of responsibility.
What started out as a single ship response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait
on Aug. 2, 1990, has now turned into what is believed to be the longest
single continuous deployment in U.S. Air Force history.
"On behalf of the men and women of Air Combat Command, I'd like to
personally extend my deepest gratitude to the warriors of the 55th Wing
for their amazing record," said U.S. Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle,
commander of Air Combat Command. "What started over 25 years ago and
continues today is truly a benchmark for service and symbolizes the
unwavering dedication to the mission that best represents ACC.
"Not only do the outstanding Airmen of the 55th Wing 'Provide for
Today,' but they are experts in 'Preparing for the Future' as
exemplified by their uninterrupted stretch of combat action from
Operation Desert Shield to the current fight against violent extremism
in Operation Inherent Resolve," he added. "As I routinely highlight our
Airmen as ACC's asymmetrical advantage, it is your Airmen, whose average
age is equal to the number of years you've been deployed, that set the
On Aug. 8, 1990, a 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing crew deployed a
Rivet Joint from Hellenikon Air Base, Greece, to Riyadh Air Base, Saudi
Arabia. After its initial flight over the AOR on Aug. 9, two more RJs
arrived at Riyadh and 24-hour coverage commenced on Aug. 11.
"We were not ready for a tactical, bare base environment when we
arrived, but we did it," said retired Col. David Wolfe, who deployed
from Offutt on Aug. 8, to serve as commander of the first RJ unit at
Upon arrival in Saudi Arabia, Wolfe said his team of about 65
maintainers and support staff had no provisions, no transportation, no
place to stay, and incredibly, no way of communicating with the aircraft
that was about ten hours away from returning from its first mission.
"To say the least, it was a little stressful," he said. "However, I'm
proud to say our troops stepped-up and carried the load. It was a super
effort on everyone's part to make the mission happen."
As things smoothed out and launching missions out of the desert became
commonplace, the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth remained on the hunt after Iraq
accepted the terms of a United Nations ceasefire on April 6, 1991,
supporting Operation Southern Watch with valuable intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for more than 10 years.
All operational 55th Wing personnel and assets transitioned from Riyadh
Air Base to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, in 1996, while also
continuing support of Vigilant Sentinel, Desert Strike, Desert Thunder
I, Desert Thunder II and Desert Fox among others.
"It's safe to say the men and women of the 55th Wing have been involved
in every major operation in the CENTCOM AOR over the past 25 years,"
said Col. Marty Reynolds, 55th Wing commander. "Their ability to
continually answer our nation's call is inspiring."
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 55th Wing's
mission in the CENTCOM AOR increased even more as they became key
players in Operation Enduring Freedom, which started in October 2001.
They also played a major role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which
commenced in March 2003.
For the majority of aircrew and maintenance personnel assigned to the
wing over the past 25 years, the standard deployment cycle has been 3.1
deployments per year with an average of 60 days on and 60 days off. That
means that if someone spent their entire career with the Fightin'
Fifty-Fifth, they would have been deployed roughly 2,400 days.
"The ops tempo here is just a fact of life and it's truly humbling
watching our Airmen execute our mission downrange," Reynolds said.
"They're always willing to step up to the challenge as they know the
important role our mission plays in the fight."
And while OIF and OEF ended in 2011 and 2014, the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth
has continued to be called upon to support Operations New Dawn,
Freedom's Sentinel and Inherent Resolve moving forward.
"The idea that as we reduce the footprint on the ground in Afghanistan,
there would be a measurable reduction in the operations tempo is not
really the reality," said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody,
during a visit to Offutt in March. "That region has been extremely
critical to us and is going to remain critical. To have our ISR assets
and Airmen engaged there is essential for the security of our nation and
So for a brief moment, the 55th Wing will pause to reflect on 25 years
in the desert. However, they do so knowing full well there's no clear
end in sight as the nation's decision makers continue to thirst for the
intel that only they can provide.
"I had no idea that when I took the unit over there 25 years ago that
we'd still be there today," Wolfe said. "But this wing always steps up
and gets the job done as needed."
"It is most impressive to witness your historic efforts," Carlisle said.
"The 55th Wing has my deepest heartfelt appreciation for its continued
sacrifice to our nation's calling."