July 15, 2010 (by Aaron Clark) - A local fighter squadron with an extremely rich and far-reaching history will inactivate this week due to the Combat Air Forces restructuring plan (CAF Redux).
USAF F-16C block 40 #89-2149 from the 34th FS is departing from Nellis AFB to fight some agressors in the Desert MOA on April 30th, 2009. [Photo by Kris]
In a move to fund a smaller and more capable force, as well as redistribute people for higher priority missions, the CAF Redux restructuring plan will accelerate the retirement of 250 aircraft, which includes 112 F-15 Eagles, 134 F-16 Fighting Falcons and three A-10 Thunderbolts IIs. On July 16, the 34th Fighter Squadron "Rams," assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing, will inactivate in keeping with this global plan.
Throughout military history, numerical information has always played a large role in the culture and the measurement of success pertaining to a variety of events. This being the case, the 34th FS
has quite the collection of numbers to boast of its successful and long life in serving this country. Activating for the first time on Oct. 15, 1944, at Seymour Johnson Field, N.C., the 34th began a life that would span the next 65 years. This beginning would ultimately include 3 activations, 3 redesignations, 6 aircraft, 10 stations, 11 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, 1 Meritorious Unit Award, 1 Presidential Unit Citation, 22 Campaign Streamers, 56 commanders, and its participation in 3 wars.
The 34th began as the 34th Fighter Squadron, Single Engine, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt in combat operations over the Western Pacific from May 1945 to August 1946. In this short amount of time, the unit served from five different stations and was able to obtain five combat streamers that included Air Offensive Japan, Eastern Mandates, Western Pacific, Ryukyus and the China Offensive.
After World War II, the 34th inactivated on Oct. 15, 1946, but it was not gone for long. On Nov. 11, 1954, the 34th activated and was then known as the 34th Fighter-Day Squadron, assigned to the 413th Fighter-Day Wing at George Air Force Base, Calif. In California, the 34th flew the F-86 Sabre Jet and transitioned into the F-100 Super Sabre before its inactivation on March 15, 1959. During this period on July 1, 1958, the 34th was redesignated as the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS). This was a relatively quiet period for the squadron, but Vietnam was right around the corner and the 34th would prove its worth in that war many times over.
Downing a MiG north of Hanoi
In May 1966, the 34th TFS activated under Pacific Air Forces and was attached to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Korat RTAFB, Thailand
. At the beginning of its participation in Vietnam, the 34th utilized the F-105 Thunderchief and did so in great fashion. Right off the bat, Maj. Kenneth T. Blank, 34th TFS, became the first pilot to shoot down a MiG-17 north of Hanoi. This was the second aerial victory by an F-105 in the Vietnam War up to this point. The 34th aerial contributions to the war took off after that MiG kill as the Rams began their strategic bombing campaign to weaken the enemy. On March 10, 1967, they struck the crucial Thai Ngyen Iron and Steel Complex for the first time with a four-flight strike force. By March 28, 1967, the 34th TFS had already logged in 10,000 combat hours after a variety of strikes on multiple targets in the Dong Hoi area, North Vietnam.
The 34th TFS combat involvement from March 10, 1967, through May 1, 1967, made such an impact on the war, that the unit received the distinguished Presidential Unit Citation for its actions in Southeast Asia during this time. This award was only the beginning of the many honors the squadron would receive for its efforts in the war because it would continue to contribute much more.
With the F-105, the 34th TFS was able to inflict monumental damage on the enemy in Vietnam, but on May 11, 1969, this unit began using the F-4E Phantom II with the same, if not more effectiveness as the Thunderchief. The first major operation the Rams participated in with their new aircraft was Operation Prize Bull on Sept. 21, 1971. Prize Bull was a massive attack on POL Storage Facilities South-west of Bat Lake, North Vietnam. This was the first time U.S. Forces bombed North Vietnam using all-weather capability. Seventh Air Force stated that the 388th TFW bombing efforts were far more accurate than other units that participated.
From September to October 1972, aerial combat really heated up for the Rams in South-east Asia as "the skies over North Vietnam were filled with hot flying lead." During this period, the pilots of the 34th were able to carry out an amazing seven Mi-G kills; all were done in the F-4Es. For the remainder of the Vietnam War, the Rams continued to contribute selflessly by participating in Operation Frequent Wind, and their strike missions in support of a recovery operation for the U.S.S. Mayaguez, a merchant freighter captured by Cambodian Khmer Rouge guerrillas in May 1975.
The contributions that the Rams made in Vietnam were exemplary by any means, and this was evident in the honors they acquired during this period in history. Not only did the 34th walk away with a Presidential Unit Citation, but it also received 15 campaign streamers, 8 of its 11 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, and the Republic Of Vietnam Gallantry with Palm. After the Vietnam War, the Rams were quickly relocated on Dec. 8, 1975, to the Air Force base they now call home, Hill.
Arriving at Hill AFB
Shortly after its arrival on Hill, it was announced that the 34th TFS would have the privilege of being the first fighter squadron to receive the upcoming F-16 Fighting Falcon to take the place of its F-4s. On Sept. 27, 1979, the Rams received the first combat F-16 from General Dynamics. From that point on, the 34th, through selflessness and skill, helped create the legacy, which this aircraft has achieved.
The 80s were a relatively quiet time for the 34th during this part of the Cold War era, but the Rams still conducted valuable initial qualification training for F-16 pilots from around the world, including those from Belgium
. With Iraq
's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, things picked right back up again for the Rams.
In December 1991, the Rams became the first 388th FW squadron to deploy in support of Operation Southern Watch. The purpose of this operation was to enforce the no-fly zone in Iraq after the Gulf War. Over the next few years, the 34th would deploy five times for this operation. During the Rams 1996 Southern Watch deployment, all 34th personnel were in the Khobar Towers Compound, except the swing shift, when a terrorist's bomb went off. Some 34th personnel were wounded, but all members amazingly survived. During the Rams last Southern Watch deployment, they flew combat missions during Operation Desert Fox in a move to strike Iraqi targets which contributed to its ability to produce and deliver weapons of mass destruction. The 34th's actions in Southwest Asia earned them two campaign streamers, Defense of Saudi Arabia and Liberation/Defense of Kuwait, but there was still plenty for the Rams to do in the coming years.
In June 2000, the 34th became the first active duty squadron to deploy to Curacao N.A., in support of Coronet Nighthawk. For this operation, participating units flew drug interdiction missions in Latin America in an effort to intercept, shadow and identify suspected narco-traffickers' aircraft. Into the next year and after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers, the 34th FS would begin a more active and aggressive role in military deployments and exercises around the globe.
Since Sept. 11, the Rams have played a crucial role in Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The 34th's participation in ONE has provided homeland defense flights across our nation over the past eight years. The most significant being their contribution to the defense of the 2002 Winter Olympics. The Rams also have two OIF deployments and one OEF deployment tucked under their belts in support of the most pressing issue facing our military today, the Global War on Terrorism. Even with this busy combat schedule since the attacks, the Rams have plugged in more than 20 exercises around the globe to better prepare for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This article is a brief glimpse concerning the extraordinary contributions that the 34th has done for the country and the world as a whole when it comes to defending liberty for all members of the human race. The Rams have played a pivotal role in the Air Force's history.
Commander gives his views
Lt. Col. David Lyons will be the last commander of the Rams after their inactivation this week. It is only fitting to end this story of their history with some of his remarks. When asked what is has meant to him being a Ram and the 34th FS Commander upon their inactivation, he stated:
"The Rams have a tremendous history of service to our nation and will continue this proud tradition ... Serving as the 34th Fighter Squadron commander has been the highlight of my career, and regardless of anything else I do, leading these men and women to war will remain my most significant accomplishment.
"I am immensely proud of what the Rams have accomplished, both at home and abroad. The entire team worked together to ensure mission success, and the 'can do' attitude is what I will remember most about my Airmen. The Rams represent the best America has to offer, and we will continue to defend our nation long into the future."