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Eighth Air Force
Task Force 204

The 'Mighty Eighth' has long been known as America's bomber command. That's still true, but that's not the whole story. The Eighth Air Force is a general purpose numbered air force with a war fighting mission to support the US Atlantic Command and US Strategic Command. The Eighth currently performs that role in various large-scale exercises each year.

Task Force 204 has the mission of managing and sustaining the US nuclear bomber forces in support of United States Strategic Command tasked missions. Task Force 204 is responsible to U.S. Strategic Command for the day-to-day readiness of the nuclear-capable bomber fleet. Under Air Combat Command since 01 June 1992, Eighth Air Force controls assets throughout the central United States and at two overseas locations.

In addition to operating all of the nation's B-2s and B-52s, and most of the B-1s, 8th Air Force provides a fighter force of nearly 300 F-15, F-16, and A-10 aircraft, which are assigned to the Air National Guard and Reserve units within Eighth Air Force. It also provide a bomber and fighter combat planning and execution capability.

The VIII Bomber Command (later redesignated Eighth Air Force) activated as part of the U.S. Army Air Forces on 28 January 1942, at Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia. Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker took the headquarters to England the next month to prepare for its assigned mission conducting aerial bombardment missions against Nazi-occupied Europe.

During World War II, under the leadership of such generals as Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, Eighth Air Force became the greatest air armada in history. By mid-1944, Eighth Air Force had reached a total strength of more than 200,000 people (it is estimated that more than 350,000 Americans served in Eighth Air Force during the war in Europe). At peak strength, Eighth Air Force could dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and more than 1,000 fighters on a single mission. For these reasons, Eighth Air Force became known as the "Mighty Eighth".

The Mighty Eighth compiled an impressive record in the war. This achievement, however, carried a high price. Half of the U.S. Army Air Forces' casualties in World War II were suffered by Eighth Air Force (more than 47,000 casualties with more than 26,000 dead). Seventeen Medals of Honor went to Eighth Air Force personnel during the war. By war's end, Eighth Air Force personnel earned 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, 850 Silver Stars, 7,000 Purple Hearts, 46,000 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals. Many more awards were made to Eighth Air Force veterans after the war that remained uncounted. There were 261 fighter aces in the Eighth Air Force in World War II; 31 aces had 15 or more aircraft kills apiece.

With the war ended in Europe, Eighth Air Force headquarters moved to Okinawa in July 1945, where it trained new bomber groups for combat against Japan. The Japanese, however, surrendered before Eighth Air Force saw action in the Pacific theater. In June 1946, the headquarters moved to MacDill Field, Florida, to become part of the newly established Strategic Air Command, and four years later in November 1950 Eighth Air Force headquarters transferred to Forth Worth Army Air Field (later Carswell AFB), Texas.

Eighth Air Force units deployed to Japan to fly combat missions over Korea. Eighth Air Force, however, played a minimal role in this conflict. In fact, only one Eighth Air Force unit, the 27th Fighter-Escort Wing (FEW) at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, received a call to arms. On 1 May 1951, Eighth Air Force notified the 27th of its return to the U.S. The wing then redeployed between June and July with normal operations resuming at Bergstrom in late September. Afterwards, the Eighth spent the next few years building its strategic capabilities. On 13 June 1955, Eighth Air Force moved to Westover AFB, Massachusetts, where it guided the transition of its units into the jet age with B-47 and KC-97 aircraft. The Air Force phased out those aircraft in the early 1960s for newer B-58 and B-52 bombers, and KC-135 tankers. Additionally, the Eighth acquired Atlas and Titan intercontinental ballistic missiles at that time.

In 1965, Eighth Air Force started performing combat operations in support of the Southeast Asian conflict. At first, stateside-based Eighth Air Force wings deployed periodically to operating bases in Guam, Okinawa, and Thailand, but then in April 1970 Headquarters Eighth moved to Anderson AFB, Guam, to direct strategic operations. The intensive bombing of the Hanoi and Haiphong areas during 11-days in December 1972, known as LINEBACKER II or the Christmas Day Bombing Campaign, was but one highlight of that period. Those missions influenced the Hanoi Government to return to the negotiating table. After the hostilities ended in Southeast Asia, Eighth Air Force moved to its next home at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, where it replaced Second Air Force on 1 January 1975.

Eighth Air Force demonstrated the importance of aerial refueling to a successful military action during the 1980s. In this decade, Strategic Air Command (SAC) increased the capabilities of its KC-135 Stratotanker fleet by upgrading the engines and modifying refueling systems to permit boom or the probe and drogue refueling. These improvements, along with the intro-duction of the KC-10 Extender, gave SAC the ability to meet the growing need for air refueling. Headquarters Eighth Air Force and its tanker force demonstrated this capability by providing essential refueling support to aircraft in Operations URGENT FURY in 1983, EL DORADO CANYON in 1986, and JUST CAUSE in 1989.

From 22 October-4 November 1983, Eighth Air Force sent its KC-135 and KC-10 tankers to provide refueling support for the U.S. assault on the Caribbean island nation of Grenada. After radical leftists killed the Prime Minister in a coup, President Ronald Reagan ordered Operation URGENT FURY as a preemptive strike against Grenada's government to preserve regional peace and to safeguard the 1,100 American lives on the island. Eighth Air Force tankers, operating from several stateside locations, refueled various fighters, reconnaissance planes, and other aircraft for URGENT FURY. They completing all assigned missions without degrading their ability to perform their strategic mission. General Charles A. Gabriel, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, recognized all participating units for their efforts.

Responding to terrorist activity sponsored by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the U.S. launched a joint Air Force and Navy raid against terrorist strongholds in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya on 14-15 April 1986. During the evening of 14 April, 28 Eighth Air Force KC-135’s and KC-10’s left the Royal Air Force (RAF) bases at Fairford and Mildenhall, England, to meet up with 24 F-111s from RAF Lakenheath. For this mission to Libya, named Operation EL DORADO CANYON, the Eighth’s tankers refueled the strike force four times under conditions of radio silence. On their return, the F-111s needed two more refuelings to get back to England. The mission took 14 hours to cover 5,500 miles nautical miles because France and Spain would not allow the formation to fly over their territory. Eighth Air Force’s refueling support made the longest mission ever accomplished by tactical aircraft a success.

On 20 December 1989, the U.S. initiated military operations against Panama in Operation JUST CAUSE to protect American lives, restore democracy, preserve the the Panama Canal Treaty, and to apprehend General Manuel Noriega. This operation was the largest and most complex air operation between the Vietnam War and Operation DESERT STORM. As the lead headquarters for SAC’s tanker support, the Eighth tasked, executed, and directed 144 missions to refuel 229 receivers with over 12 million pounds of fuel. According to General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Eighth’s "air refuelers did not just make a difference in this operation – they made it possible." This mission introduced the F-117A Stealth Fighter to combat for the first time.

Eighth Air Force units played a key role in the Gulf War, spearheading the air war campaign with B-52s strikes from Barksdale AFB to launch conventional air-launched cruise missiles on Iraqi targets. Eighth Air Force units in the theater and at nearby locations also bombed Iraq's Republican Guard and other important strategic targets. The Eighth's air refueling units provided most of the refueling support and tactical reconnaissance assets for the war too.

As lead planners, the Eighth's staff built an air bridge of more than 300 KC135 and KC-10 tankers to support the movement of aircraft and cargo between the U.S. and SWA. Eighth directed the deployment and redeployment of more than 1,500 aircraft across the ocean, and for DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM the tankers moved more than 7,000 tons of cargo and 13,600 passengers. After DESERT STORM, the Eighth also deployed tankers, crews, and planners to Turkey to support Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, the humanitarian relief effort in Iraq. In all, the Eighth flew over 11,000 tanker sorties to offload 85 million gallons of fuel to more than 35,000 aircraft for DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM

The Mighty Eighth managed the B-52 bombers and crews during the conflict. Eighth Air Force advisors on the Central Command (CENTCOM) staff successfully planned and executed the deployment of 74 B-52 aircraft and 155 aircrews to five forward operating locations before the war. Throughout the war, the Eighth's staff provided its bombing and navigation expertise to all deployed B-52 units, and in one instance designed and implemented the DESERT WARRIOR live-drop, high-altitude bombing training program to ready the B-52 crews for war. To sustain combat operations, the Eighth provided training for replacement crews. During the war, Eighth Air Force B-52s flew 1,741 B-52 missions to drop over 45 million pounds of munitions with nearly a 99 percent success rate.

At Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, Eighth Air Force established a Logistics Readiness Center to allocate and redistribute command resources for the war. This massive logistics effort helped SAC beddown 12,000 troops and over 11 million pounds of supplies and equipment. Eighth Air Force personnel built six bare bases from the ground up into viable military bases, and they operated tankers out of 10 deployed locations during the first 60 days of DESERT SHIELD. The Eighth also established in-theater capabilities for periodic inspections and component repair by turning Moron Air Base, Spain, into the maintenance and supply depot for tankers and bombers. As a result, the quality of aircraft maintenance generally exceeded the normal peacetime standards throughout the conflict.

Since DESERT STORM, the Mighty Eighth Air Force reorganized into a general purpose numbered air force with a war fighting mission to support the U.S. Atlantic Command and U.S. Strategic Command. The Eighth performs that role in various large-scale exercises each year. In early 1996, Eighth Air Force also conducted a highly successful DESERT STRIKE operation against Iraq.



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