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Blast from the past: Last M117 bomb dropped near Guam coast

By Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot, 36th Wing Public Affairs / Published July 07, 2015

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS) -- Airmen from the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron -- with the help of 36th Munitions Squadron Airmen -- dropped the final M117 air-dropped general purpose bomb in the Pacific Air Force's inventory June 26 on an uninhabited island off the coast of Guam.

The M117 bomb dates back to the mid-1950s, when it was first used during the Vietnam War.

'I think it's fitting that the last M117 bomb was dropped from a B-52 (Stratofortress) deployed to Andersen (Air Force Base),' said Jeffrey Meyer, a 36th Wing historian. 'Loading and dropping the last M117 from a deployed B-52 here is like remembering and honoring the hard work of Strategic Air Command's Airmen from long ago one last time.'

The M117 is a 750-pound bomb that can be employed in two different configurations: one which uses a special fin assembly providing either high-drag or low-drag release options; and the other configurations looks similar to the M117R, but uses a magnetic influence fuse, which enables the bomb to function as a mine.

Both the B-52 and M117 were developed and added to the Air Force's inventory in the 1950s and used together extensively during Operation Arc Light from 1965-1973 as part of the Vietnam War. The missions supporting Operation Arc Light launched from Andersen AFB; U-Tapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield, Thailand; and Kadena Air Base, Japan. In addition, B-52 aircrew dropped M117s during Operation Linebacker II from Dec. 18-29, 1972, and Operation Desert Storm from Jan. 16-Feb. 28, 1991.

Although Andersen AFB has had thousands of pounds of M117 bombs in its stockpile since the bomb was used operationally, many munitions Airmen don't get the chance to see those bombs during their career.

'It's an amazing feeling to be a part of the 20th EBS and work alongside such dedicated Airmen who comes to work every day ready to complete the mission," said Lt. Col. Wade Karren, the 20th EBS director of operations. "It's only fitting that these Airmen get to witness this rare occasion of dropping the last M117 bomb in PACAF.'

Dropping the final M117 in PACAF is a small part of U.S. Pacific Command's continuous bomber presence, which was established at Andersen in 2004. The presence demonstrates the United States' commitment to the security and stability of the Indo-Asia Pacific region. Bomb squadrons, such as the 20th EBS, deploy here on a rotational basis, providing a flexible response capability.

'(A continuous bomber presence) is important because it assures and deters our allies in the Pacific and it helps out with the Navy's operations to project power in the region,' said Capt. Patrick Walsh, the 20th EBS Department of Weapons and Tactics assistant flight commander.

Dropping live weapons gives pilots the chance to get real-world experience at applying their job skills.

'The abundance of M117 bombs allowed crews to train with live weapons for more than a decade, increasing crew confidence and combat readiness,' Walsh said.

Now that the last M117 bomb in PACAF has been dropped, B-52 aircrews and munitions Airmen can focus all of their time on training with newer bombs rather than switching from modern and Vietnam-era bombs.

In addition to dropping the final bomb, the 20th EBS also celebrated their 98th birthday on this day.

On June 26, 1917, the 20th EBS was formed as the 20th Aero Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas. Since the squadron's inception, it has transferred to numerous bases and has supported various missions. In 1993, the bomb squadron moved to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, where is resides today. The squadron started out assisting in World War I and has been involved in about every war and conflict since then.

'I think it's awesome to be able to drop live weapons on the range out here, especially on our birthday,' said 1st Lt. Bryant Curdy, a 20th EBS weapons system officer. 'So many B-52 crews have come through Guam and dropped M117s starting in Vietnam, and actually being able to be part of the crew who gets to drop the last weapon out here is not only great training but it's a part of a cool legacy that we get to share.'

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