Ellsworth soon became known as “The Showplace of SAC” by maintaining two legs of America’s strategic triad—strategic bombers and ICBMs, for more than 20 years with relatively little change. The 1980’s brought many new challenges. In 1986 the base began to phase out the aging B-52 fleet and became the new home for the advanced B-1 Lancer in January 1987.
Changes were also a constant theme in the 1990’s. In 1991, the 44th Missile Wing permanently pulled the first missile from its silo, with the wing formally inactivated on July 4, 1994. In June 1992 with the Cold War over, in the first major reorganization since the creation of USAF, the Air Force deactivated SAC and assigned Ellsworth’s organizations to the newly activated Air Combat Command and renamed the base’s lead entity the 28th Bomb Wing.
The base has continued to be a vital Air Force asset and crown jewel among the nation’s bomber force, frequently being tasked to lead the fight in many conflicts. In December 1998, the 28th BW deployed three B-1’s and 421 personnel in Operation Desert Fox. These were the first B-1’s to drop bombs on an enemy target in combat. Then in April 1999, five B-1’s and 279 personnel from the 28th BW joined NATO forces in Operation Allied Force and began striking military targets in Kosovo.
The 28th BW was tasked as the lead wing in America’s war on terrorism, serving as the lead element of the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing in Operation Enduring Freedom. Ellsworth B-1 crews, launching out of a forward operating location in the Indian Ocean, were the workhorses among Air Force attack packages that have flown more than 48 percent of combat missions over Afghanistan.
Most recently, Ellsworth personnel have served in Iraq.
Visitors can get a real feel for the history and role played by the hundreds of thousands of military members and civilians that have served this nation at Ellsworth by visiting the South Dakota Air and Space Museum situated near the base’s Main Gate. The large indoor and outdoor display and interpretive museum areas feature numerous retired aircraft including several fighter and trainer jets, a B-29, a B-52, a KC-135, and static missile displays. The museum is also the home of the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame and highlights other milestones in flight. Your visit to this free museum will be a powerful reminder of and tribute to the people and equipment that have defended our country over the decades.
The men and women of this important national and global defense base embrace the core values of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all we do”—and, as generations before them have, stand ready to provide “Global Power for America!”