Honor Their Service: Thune visits Ellsworth to see vision become reality

Combat Raider takes off with expanded air space

Our country was built on people fighting for freedom and the freedom of generations to come. Every hour, every minute of every day, our service men and women are across the globe, putting their lives in danger for us.

NewsCenter1 would like to recognize those people and the people who advocate for them here at home. This is the first of our weekly series “Honor Their Service.”

ELLSWORTH, AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – Ellsworth Air Force Base is older than the Air Force itself, dating back before World War II. Since its creation, the mission has expanded from the aircraft it houses to the exercises it hosts.

Since expansion is something U.S. Sen. John Thune fought for, he was in town Thursday to see his vision become a working reality.

The Powder River Training Complex is now the largest air training space in the Continental United States after expanding to include other aircraft in large force exercises.

“The purpose of Combat Raider is to make our aircrews trained for any kind of contingency they may face,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Slinkard, 28th Operations Support Squadron at Ellsworth AFB. “It gives us the opportunity to integrate these platforms that we don’t really get to do on a daily basis.”

The expansion now allows use of airspace up to 51,000 feet, allowing for the three bombers in the Air Force’s inventory to train together.

“Training with various platforms is always important, and clearly, stealth is a key enabler for air power in general,” said Slinkard. “How we integrate with other stealth platforms is critical to our success.”

Expanding the training potential means securing the longevity of Ellsworth AFB itself.

When Ellsworth faced the possibility of closure in 2006, the race was on to save it and plan for a secure future.

“We’ve fought since that time to add value to the base, so if this situation ever came up again in the future, it would BRAC-proof if you will, future decisions,” said Thune. “I think expansion of the Powder River Training Complex is the most important thing we could have done.”

Since the Air Force announced in May that the B-21 would have a future at Ellsworth, Whiteman, and Dyess Air Force bases, the question is now not “if” but “when?”

“They’re going to start conducting the environmental impact statement analysis this next spring,” said Thune. “That’ll help shape some of the decision making about some of the bases.”

That means converting old infrastructure and getting ready for new infrastructure to handle the new airframe and all the personnel and families that come with it – eventually, strengthening the economy in western South Dakota and instilling the military roots deeper into the community.

“I think too often, as generations pass, you lose some of that appreciation. But I think it’s really important for all generations of Americans, when they see one of our uniform personnel, to thank them,” said Thune.

Categories: Honor Their Service