Ellsworth AFB changes during times of success, challenges

BOX ELDER, S.D. — Ellsworth Air Force Base has a new leader after Col. John Edwards passed the title to Col. David Doss Thursday morning.

The change of command comes during times of success, changes, and challenges, all while looking towards Ellsworth’s longevity.

In the years since Edwards took command, Ellsworth has earned 186 awards, including the Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle award best bomb wing in the Air Force.

Technology developments led to the maturing of “cold spray” technology that aids in B-1 maintenance, earning the wing the International Laureate Award in aircraft sustainment.

Both of Ellsworth’s bomb squadrons, the 34th and 37th, deployed during Edwards’ tenure. The bombers launched Joint Air to Surface Missiles as part of operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel, for the first time in combat with a 100 percent hit rate.

Advanced missiles swayed the B-1s mission from close air support for ground forces towards a “standoff strike role” which aims at longer range targets to reduce risk to aircrews.

“Our aircrews don’t have to fly close to these targets, which are heavily defended often times,” said Edwards. “It’s given us a new capability and I think it’s going to continue to do so. I think it’s going to shift to a new mission set and it’s going to be an exciting time in the next 20 years for the B-1.”

The new mission also called for B-1 aid in providing a continuous bomber presence in the western Pacific during tense relations with North Korea.

“They flew a lot of missions and I can say militarily, they also contributed to the first North Korean, and United States summit by being out there, by being ready and being lethal,” said Edwards.

Ellsworth’s bomb wing is still overcoming challenges with the B-1. Two safety stand-downs within a year led to a thorough look at aircraft maintenance but Edwards says the stand downs were beneficial.

“So those stand downs and those challenges really became opportunities for us to really ensure the B-1 remains a viable combat aircraft well into the 2030s, at which point we are expecting the B-1 to be replaced by the B-21, the new bomber,” said Edwards.

The basing decisions for the B-21 bomber were made during Edwards’ time as Commander, decisions that will impact the Black Hills for decades to come.

Ellsworth Air Force Base throughout the years has done an incredible job in ensuring the structures, facilities, the infrastructure we have out here. Whether its a 13,500 ft runway or if its the dorms we have for our airmen are livable and can continue to be used in the next several decades,” said Edwards.

Edwards is moving on to Washington D.C. to begin working in the Pentagon with the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff. He passes command to a familiar face to both him and the Black Hills. 26 years ago, Edwards went through Reserve Officers’ Training Corps with Doss in Texas. From 1998 to 2002, Doss was stationed at Ellsworth, with the 37th BS.

“We were able to employ during that time for Desert Fox,” said Doss. “I did not get a chance to fly a combat mission but I got to take a jet over and be part of the history, the first combat debut of the B-1.”

Doss comes from Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas where he served as the vice commander of the 7th Bomb Wing.

Doss comes to Ellsworth a few months after the Air Force decided to send the first B-21 to western South Dakota. The planning is already underway to meet infrastructure and housing needs but Doss says the current platform shouldn’t be overshadowed by the incoming one.

“We need to prepare for the B-21 to come,” said Doss. “In the interim, we need to make sure that we’re ready tonight. Our adversaries aren’t going to wait for the most capable platform or the newest platform to be here and we have to concentrate on readiness and be ready to go with what we have tonight.”

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