An early March 2019 “bomb cyclone,” followed by quickly-melting snowfall, caused many rivers throughout the Midwest to quickly swell. By March 15, floodwaters from the bulging Missouri River began creeping onto Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, home of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the Pentagon's nuclear strategic deterrence and global strike capabilities.
At 11 a.m. on March 15, Offutt stood-up the first commander’s action team meeting in response to impending flooding. The base immediately went into 24-hour operations and the team agreed to meet again in three hours, giving key players an opportunity to come up with a plan of attack. Preparing for the worst, base personnel strategically positioned more than 200,000 sandbags and 460 flood barriers to check the rising floodwaters. However, by March 16, officials knew there was no holding back the rising water and sandbagging efforts were abandoned. By March 17, one-third of the base was under water.
Sixty to 80 structures sustained water damage, with some under 7 feet of water. The flooding displaced approximately 3,200 personnel from their normal work centers, and hindered access to 55th Wing information technology systems. The 55th Wing is the largest wing in Air Combat Command and the second largest in the Air Force. With access to the Air Force information technology (IT) systems severely limited by the flooding, IT personnel sought alternatives for reestablishing connectivity to their cloud computing environment – remote servers that can be accessed via a network connection. They reached out to the local DISA Strategic Command field office for assistance March 22.
By 25 March 2019 Offutt Air Force Base personnel had regained access to buildings and facilities to begin assessing damage and recovering items which were underwater less than a week ago due to record flooding along the Missouri River. More than 20 buildings had been cleared for initial disaster recovery efforts, with more being opened by the hour. The runway, which was now clear of water and debris, was undergoing a thorough evaluation to ensure flight operations can resume safely. While the cleanup continues and the finances flow, more than 3,000 Offutt personnel have been removed from their workcenters resulting in a break in communication.
Offutt's host unit is the 55th Wing, the largest wing within the Air Force's Air Combat Command. Additionally, the base is home to many significant associate units, including US Strategic Command Headquarters, the Air Force Weather Agency, the Omaha operating location of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and many others.
Located in the heart of the nation, Offutt's 4,000 acres reside in the rolling hills of southeastern Nebraska, next to the city of Bellevue and just south of Omaha. Offutt's heritage began with the construction of Fort Crook between 1894 and 1896, some 10 miles south of Omaha and two miles west of the Missouri River. The new fort's namesake was Maj. Gen. George Crook, a renowned Indian fighter and Civil War hero commanded the forces that Apache War Chief Geronimo surrendered to in 1896. Many of the original structures built on the post before 1900, including the guard house and various enlisted and officers' quarters, are still in use today.
The 61st Balloon Company became the first air unit to command the post September 10, 1918. In the spring of 1921, the plowing, leveling and seeding of 260 acres of land at Fort Crook created a field suitable for frequent takeoffs and landings, and a refueling point for military and government aircraft on cross-country flights. The flying field was designated Offutt Field, May 10, 1924, in honor of 1st. Lt. Jarvis J. Offutt. Lieutenant Offutt was killed while flying with the Royal Air Force in France and was Omaha's first World War I air casualty.
In June 1946, the Army Air Force redesignated Fort Crook and the Martin-Nebraska facilities as Offutt Field. Just 18 months later on Jan. 13, 1948, Offutt Field transferred to the new Department of the Air Force and became Offutt Air Force Base.
The old frontier fort underwent startling changes in the Cold War years that followed World War II. Operations at Offutt included the basing of alert bombers and tankers in the late 1950's and 1960's, support for intercontinental ballistic missile sites in Nebraska and Iowa in the 1960's and worldwide reconnaissance from the mid-1960's to the present.
Located on the Iowa side of the Missouri River at a place called Missouri Valley, three Atlas D launchers of the 566th (redesignated 549th) Strategic Missile Squadron contributed to America's deterrent forces from 1960 to 1964.
Throughout 1958, the Corps of Engineers Omaha District repeatedly received new construction schedules, design changes, and basing modes from the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division. Finally, the district received bidding documents in January 1959. The documents contained 359 sheets of drawings and 680 sheets of specifications. The project was advertised on February 6, 1959, and bids were opened in the following month. Malan Construction Company of New York City won the contract with a bid of almost $12.9 million to build three missile complexes in the vicinity of Omaha. Notice to proceed was issued on April 6.
Unfortunately, because Malan subcontracted the work to 46 contractors for this complex project, the company created a coordination nightmare. Consulting firms were brought in to assist Malan, and eventually the contractors found themselves setting up lo-hour shifts, 7 days a week. Despite the effort, the project was completed on July 28, 1960, 4 months late. Thereafter the Corps of Engineers required primary contractors to complete at least 15 percent of the work themselves.
Other factors besides poor contractor management contributed to the project's failure to meet the intended deadline. There were 72 modifications and difficulties with the weather. Deterioration of access roads to the sites, especially those in Iowa, caused numerous delays in getting equipment and workers to the site. Labor strife was credited for setting progress back at least a month as some 20 work stoppages cost the project 1,645 man-days of work. A nationwide steel strike in 1959 also affected deliveries of important components. As with other Atlas sites, installation and testing of the propellant loading system proved a great challenge. There were no construction-related fatalities during this project.
The local media gave the project mostly favorable coverage, highlighting visits by VIPs. However, not everyone was pleased with the ongoing construction. On June 24, 1959, peace activists converged at site "A" and picketed at the entrance for about 4 weeks. Some were arrested on occasion for scaling the fence or blocking traffic. In November 1960, a pair of investigators from the House Appropriations Committee visited the Omaha District to look into the project's problems. One investigator questioned if political influence had been a factor in the award of the contract and asked about accusations of fraud in Malan's operations. The pair passed on Air Force accusations that the Corps of Engineers was "losing its shirt" when negotiating contract modifications. No doubt problems at Offutt contributed to the Army's decision to centralize its construction effort at a location close to the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division in Los Angeles.
In April and May 1961, the three complexes became the last Atlas D missiles to go on alert. On July 1, 1961, SAC redesignated the 566th SMS as the 549th SMS. These Atlas Ds would be the last to be removed from alert status. The last Atlas D left Offutt on October 22, 1964.
Offutt's population and facilities grew dramatically to keep pace with increased operational demands. Several new dormitories and over 2,000 family housing units-built in the late 1950's and 1960's under incremental Wherry and Capehart projects-quickly replaced the early quarters of Fort Crook. The former Army outpost, once hardpressed to support a few hundred soldiers, now accommodates a combined military and civilian work force of more than 11,000, while supporting nearly 24,000 family members and retirees.
New base facilities in the 1960's and 1970's included a hospital, main exchange, commissary and library. Increased defense spending in the 1980's brought additional operational improvements including the wing's special operations building and the Bennie L. Davis Aircraft Maintenance Complex.
The 3902nd Air Base Wing was inactivated March 1, 1986, and the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing assumed host unit responsibilities.
At one minute past midnight, Nov. 9, 1948, Offutt gained international prominence when it became the host base for Headquarters, Strategic Air Command. Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington chose to headquarter the Air Force's crucial long range atomic strike force at Offutt primarily because the base was centrally located on the North American continent-placing it well beyond the existing range of potentially hostile bombers or missiles.
Headquarters SAC moved from the Martin-Nebraska complex to Building 500 in 1957. The establishment of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff in 1960, the Looking Glass airborne command post in 1961, the activation of the Air Force Global Weather Central in 1969, and the arrival of the National Emergency Airborne Command Post mission in 1977 further enhanced Offutt's role as a center of military importance. Increased defense spending in the 1980's brought additional operational improvements including a new underground command center for Headquarters SAC.
Offutt faced monumental changes in 1992 when the easing of world tensions allowed the United States to reorganize its Air Force. The Strategic Air Command was disestablished here June 1, 1992, and the new, unified command, U.S. Strategic Command was activated. With this historical change, the operational control of Offutt became the responsibility of Air Combat Command, another of the Air Force's new commands. One of nine unified warfighting commands, USSTRATCOM is responsible for the planning, targeting, and wartime employment of the United States' nuclear forces.
Reconnaissance and Command-and-Control
Offutt Air Force Base is home to the United States Air Force's premiere reconnaissance and command-and-control operations. Among the base's numerous and diverse units and missions, all branches of the U.S. armed forces are represented in a workforce that exceeds 10,000 military and civilian personnel. The base's fleet of RC-135, OC-135, and WC-135 aircraft are in constant demand around the world to provide global situational awareness to military leaders and government officials. Additionally, its E-4B aircraft provide transport and command and control for the President, the Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State.
NEACP moved from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C., to Offutt in 1975 and came under the jurisdiction of SAC as another command post at the installation. Construction for the Offutt NEACP, unlike that for PACCS, did entail new infrastructure. And while the alert crew quarters were functional, but otherwise undistinguished, the hangar for the modified Boeing 747 (E-4B) represented a major new design. Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City designed the NEACP hangar for SAC in April 1977. The hangar is sited near the end of Offutt's 10,000-foot runway, and as such reflects SAC planning similar to that undertaken for its moleholes and alert aprons of the late 1950s. Spanning 216 feet, and of 359-foot length, the hangar is supported by shops along its length. Its trussed gable roof system; recessing panel doors; and east / west façade fuselage apertures continue the evolution for the two-aircraft maintenance hangar present sent the first designs for the Roberts & Schaefer B-36 hangar, but its deeply cut-in (approximately 60 degrees) angled north and south facades are entirely new for Air Force infrastructure and make viewing the east and west facades particularly dramatic. Facing for the roof trusses on the east and west facades are also cut with unusual emphasis on non-rectilinear angles, adding to the overall sculptural dynamics.
Air Force Weather Agency
In late 1940, the Army Air Corps chose Fort Crook as the site for a new bomber plant. The plant's construction included two mile-long concrete runways, six large hangars and a huge 1.2 million square foot aircraft assembly building. Production operations began under the Glenn L. Martin Company in January 1942, with the plant reaching full-scale production June 8, 1942. A total of 531 B-29 Superfortresses and 1,585 B-26 Marauders were built at the Martin-Nebraska bomber plant before the end of World War II. These aircraft include the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the two B-29's that dropped the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Production ended on September 18, 1945, when the last B-29 rolled out of the assembly building.
Air Force Weather Agency is a field operating agency of the Headquarters U.S. Air Force Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air and Space Operations, Weather Directorate (AF/XOW). Each day, AFWA builds the world's most comprehensive weather database to provide forecast products to Air Force and Army warfighters, the National Command Authorities, base and post weather stations, the National Reconnaissance Office, and others. It was formed October 15, 1997, and is located at Offutt Air Force Base. Air Force Weather Agency was formed as part of a reengineering effort to streamline and improve the structure of the former Air Weather Service. This was a result of the realignment of Air Weather Service headquarters staff from Scott AFB, Ill. and the former Air Force Global Weather Center [Central], DOD's primary centralized weather production facility at Offutt. AFWA is organized into a headquarters element with two subordinate centers. Nearly 574 of the agency's 729 members are located at Offutt AFB, Neb. AFWA is not an automated production center. It is a computer-based operation heavily reliant on the interaction between people and computers to produce accurate and complete services in support of operational requirements. AFWA products and services support the war fighter, the base or post weather station, national programs, command and control agencies and systems, and other validated operational and planning functions. As new requirements emerge, AFWA applies information from the central database to the task.
Strategic Air Command Museum
In 1959, the commander of SAC, General Thomas S. Power, authorized a museum for SAC bombers at Offutt. Although not undertaken until the early 1970s, the museum was a Leo A. Daly design, as was the second generation SAC Museum completed in 1998 at an off-base site between Omaha and Lincoln (and jointly designed with Butler Manufacturing).
The Strategic Air Command Museum moved to a new world-class facility in 1998 and houses an outstanding collection of restored aircraft, including the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and the U-2. The museum is located just off of Interstate 80 at the exit 426 interchange, midway between the Nebraska cities of Omaha and Lincoln. The $29.5 million museum houses the 31 aircraft and 6 missiles on display. The two aircraft display hangars protect the aircraft collection and exhibits from harsh outdoor elements.
Secretary of Defense Recommendation: In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to close Pittsburgh International Airport (IAP) Air Reserve Station (ARS) and relocate all remaining Pittsburgh ECS and headquarters manpower to Offutt AFB, NE.
Secretary of Defense Justification: N/A
Community Concerns: There were no formal expressions from the Offutt AFB community.
Commission Findings: The realignment of IAP findings did not include anything specific pertaining to Offutt AFB.
Commission Recommendations: Realign Pittsburgh International Airport (IAP) Air Reserve Station (ARS), Pennsylvania. Establish a contiguous enclave at the Pittsburgh ARS, Pennsylvania sufficient to support continued operations of the reserve station units, including flight operations, and compatible with combined use of the civilian airport by the Air Reserve, Air National Guard and civilian users. Within that enclave, establish a Regional Joint Readiness Center (RJRC) at the Pittsburgh International Air Station with the mission of providing civil-military operations, homeland security and community-based medical support to the Department of Defense and the Department of homeland security National Incident Management Plan and the National Response Plan. The enclave and RJRC will be staffed at the current manning level of the ARS. The PAA and personnel allocations of Air National Guard units at Pittsburgh are unaffected by this recommendation.
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