Ellsworth families welcome home deployed squadron

34th Bomb Squadron comes back after nearly 6 months overseas

It was a late night for some military families. After being halfway around the world, members of the 34th Bomb Squadron finally returned home to their loved ones.


About 350 men and women of the “World Famous Thunderbirds” spent between five and six months at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, flying over 250 combat sorties.

“We deployed to U.S. Central Command Area,” said Commander of the 34th BS, Lt. Col. Timothy Griffith. “Our mission was twofold  – to support Operation Inherent Resolve, which was the eradication of ISIS in the Iraq and Syria region. Then Operation Freedom Sentinel, which was the eradication of the Taliban and support of the Afghan government to take on the roles of their own government so they can defend themselves.”

Some days were 12 to 18 hours long, planning and executing the mission.

“On average, we flew about 12 hours missions which made for 16-18 hour duty days,” said Griffith. “Our maintainers work a 12 hour shift for the entire deployment.”

“The B-1 is very maintenance heavy but it is definitely very rewarding to see her take off every day, especially when she’s in a combat sortie,” said Capt. Lacy Koelling.

“There was no room for training in theater,” said Griffith. “It was just execution day in and day out.”

The training takes place in the year leading up to deployment.

The squadron arrived in Qatar in April, just in time to feel the summer heat.

“At the hottest part of summer, it was 120 degrees,” said  Koelling. “It’s great to be back in the Black Hills Community, back in the weather and with all of our friends and family that are here.”

“Getting off the airplane here is one of the most memorable experiences that you’ll ever have,” said Griffith. “Being gone from your family for six months, walking off the airplane and seeing your family out there to greet you. Making signs for you and just seeing the joy in your family’s eyes. It’s just one of those feelings that you’re never going to forget.”

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News