Offutt Air Force Base is a U.S. Air Force installation near Omaha, and lies adjacent to Bellevue in Sarpy County, Nebraska. It is the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), the Air Force Weather Agency, and the 55th Wing (55 WG) of the Air Combat Command (ACC), the latter serving as the host unit.
Offutt AFB's legacy includes the construction of the first two bombers to drop atomic bombs and over 40 years as the headquarters for the former Strategic Air Command (SAC) and home for its associated ground and aerial command centers for the U.S. in case of nuclear war during the Cold War. The population was 8,901 at the 2000 census.
For over a century, Offutt AFB has played a key role in American military history. From its beginnings as Fort Crook in the late 19th century, Offutt has adapted to the defense needs of the United States. The historical significance of Offutt is a source of pride for military and community members alike.
Offutt AFB is named in honor of First Lieutenant Jarvis Jennes Offutt (26 October 1894 – 13 August 1918). The first native of Omaha to become a casualty in World War I, Lieutenant Offutt died of injuries sustained when his SE-5 fighter crashed during a training flight near . The airfield portion of Fort Crook was designated Offutt Field on 10 May 1924.
Offutt's great heritage began with the commissioning by the War Department in 1890 of Fort Crook. Located some 10 miles south of Omaha and two miles west of the Missouri River, the fort was constructed between 1894 and 1896. The fort's namesake was Major General George Crook, a Civil War veteran and Indian fighter.
It was first used as a dispatch point for Indian conflicts on the Great Plains. Troops from Fort Crook fought during the Spanish-American War when the 22nd Regiment under Charles A. Wikoff was dispatched to Cuba. The regiment suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of El Caney. Only 165 of the 513 regiment members survived with most succumbing to tropical diseases after the battle.
The oldest surviving portion of Fort Crook is the parade grounds and surrounding red brick buildings that were constructed between 1894-96. These structures are still in active use today as squadron headquarters, living quarters for high-ranking generals (Generals Row), and Nebraska’s oldest operational jail.
In 1918, the 61st Balloon Company of the Army Air Corps was assigned to Fort Crook at the close of World War I, which performed combat reconnaissance training. In the spring of 1921, the plowing, leveling, and seeding of 260 acres of land at Fort Crook created an airfield suitable for frequent takeoffs and landings and as a refueling stop for mail and transcontinental flights. The first permanent aircraft hangars were completed in 1921. Other known organizations assigned to the field were the 74th Balloon Company in November 1918; 60th Balloon Company in December 1918.
On 6 May 1924, the airfield was officially named "Offutt Field". The field accommodated interim reserve flying training and regular Post Office Department airmail flights during the 1920s and 1930s; a small detachment of enlisted men (detached service) from Marshall Field and Fort Riley, Kansas, constituted the only military presence on the field between 1935-1940.
Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant
In 1940 as American involvement in World War II loomed, the Army Air Corps chose Offutt Field as the site for a new bomber plant that was to be operated by the Glenn L. Martin Company. The plant's construction included a two mile (3 km)-long concrete runway, six large hangars, and a aircraft-assembly building.
The Glenn L. Martin Company began producing bombers in January 1942, with the plant reaching full-scale production June 8, 1942. Initially producing B-26 Marauder medium bombers, 1,585 B-26 Marauders were built at the Martin-Nebraska bomber plant. The Army Air Force designated the military personnel assigned to the plant as the 83d Army Air Force Technical Training Detachment, later re-designated as Sq L, Government-Owned Assembly Plant #1, WD-101, Army Air Forces Material Command. President Franklin D. Roosevelt toured the plant on April 26, 1943 with Nebraska Governor Dwight Griswold and plant owner Glenn L. Martin.
Production switched to B-29 Superfortress very heavy bombers in 1944, and 531 Superfortresses were produced before the end of World War II. Among these were the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the B-29's that dropped the first atomic weapons to be used in a military action (against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan). Both planes were built and modified at the base. Paul Tibbets personally selected the Enola Gay from the assembly line.
Production ended on 18 September 1945, when the last B-29 rolled out of the assembly building. With the manufacturing plant's closure, custody of the airfield and ground facilities were assumed by the 4131st Army Air Force Base Unit, Air Materiel Command.
In the initial months after the end of World War II, Offutt was used by the 2474th Separation Processing squadron to demobilize service members out of the armed forces after their return from overseas duty. In June 1946, the Army Air Force re-designated Fort Crook and the Martin-Nebraska facilities as Offutt Field. It became the headquarters for the Air Defense Command Second Air Force on 6 June. In 1947, the airfield opened for operational use, with the 381st Bombardment Group being assigned to the field with one squadron of B-29 Superfortresses, although the facility remained primarily a separation center.
The newly-established United States Air Force took control of the facility in September 1947, and on 13 January 1948 it was renamed Offutt Air Force Base. Later that same year, on 26 September, the 3902nd Air Base Group (later Wing) became the host unit at Offutt.
Strategic Air Command
At one minute past midnight, on 9 November 1948, Offutt gained international prominence when it became the host base for Headquarters Strategic Air Command, which was moved from Andrews AFB, Maryland. Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington chose to locate the Air Force's crucial long-range atomic strike force at Offutt primarily because the base was centrally located on the North American continent, placing it well beyond the existing range of long-range, nuclear-armed bombers to (then) stay safely out of range of hostile missiles or bomber aircraft.
Offutt's population and facilities grew dramatically to keep pace with the increased operational demands during the Cold War. Several new dormitories and more than 2,000 family housing units — built in the late 1950s and 1960s under incremental Wherry and Capehart projects — quickly replaced the old quarters of Fort Crook. Headquarters SAC moved from the Martin-Nebraska complex to Building 500 in 1957, and new base facilities in the 1960s and 1970s included a hospital, main exchange, commissary, and library.
Operational use of Offutt Air Force Base included the basing of alert tankers in the late 1950s and 1960s, support for intercontinental ballistic missile sites in Nebraska and Iowa in the 1960s, and worldwide reconnaissance from the mid-1960s to the present.
To provide air defense of the base, the United States Army established the Offutt AFB Defense Area and Nike-Hercules Surface-to-air missile sites were constructed during 1959. Sites were located near Cedar Creek, Nebraska (OF-60) , and Council Bluffs, Iowa (OF-10) . They were operational between November 1960 and March 1966.
During the Cold War, a general and various support personnel from the base were airborne 24-hours a day on an EC-135 from February 3, 1961 to July 24, 1990 in Operation Looking Glass, creating an airborne command post in case of war. Operation Looking Glass carried out its mission without any mishaps or incidents during its 29 years of existence.
The 3902d Air Base Wing was inactivated on 1 March 1986, and the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing assumed host-unit responsibilities for Offutt. Increased defense spending during the 1980s brought additional operational improvements to Offutt, including the Bennie Davis Aircraft Maintenance Hangar, and a new command center for Headquarters SAC.
U.S. Strategic Command
Offutt again faced monumental changes in 1992 when the easing of world tensions allowed the United States to reorganize its Air Force. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was inactivated on June 1, succeeded by the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), a Unified Combatant Command of the Department of Defense. The 55th Strategic Wing then became the 55th Wing, under the newly created Air Combat Command.
In 2005, Offutt began several major renovations. The on-base Wherry housing area was demolished for replacement with new housing. A new fire house, AAFES mini-mall, and U.S. Post Office were completed in 2006. Additionally, the Air Force Weather Agency broke ground on a new facility which was completed in 2008.
President Bush Offutt Conference on September 11
Bush, who was in Florida at the Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota at the time of the attacks, first flew from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana and then to Offutt en route back to Washington, DC. Bush arrived at 2:50 PM (Eastern), conducted a video conference in an underground command bunker and left for Washington, DC at 4:30 PM.
Air Force One left Barksdale AFB for Offutt AFB around 1:30 p.m. The Air Force One entourage was pared down to a few essential staffers such as Ari Fleischer, Andrew Card, Karl Rove, Dan Bartlett, and Gordon Johndroe, plus about five reporters. During the flight, Bush remained in “continuous contact” with the White House Situation Room and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Air Force One landed at Offutt shortly before 3:00 p.m. At 3:06, Bush passed through security to the US Strategic Command Underground Command Center and was taken into an underground bunker designed to withstand a nuclear blast.
There, he held a teleconference call with Vice President Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, and others. The meeting lasted about an hour. Rice recalled that during the meeting, Tenet told Bush, "Sir, I believe it’s al-Qaeda. We’re doing the assessment but it looks like, it feels like, it smells like al-Qaeda." The White House staff was preparing for Bush to address the nation from the Offutt bunker, but Bush decided instead to return to Washington.
Air Force One left Offutt around 4:30 p.m.
Major commands to which assigned
Major units assigned
Intercontinental ballistic missile facilities
Beginning in 1958, the Army Corps of Engineers began planning for the sites, and construction began in 1959. The construction project project was completed on 28 July 1960. In April and May 1961, the three complexes became the last Atlas D missiles to go on alert.
The missiles were manned by the 549th Strategic Missile Squadron which was activated on 1 October 1960. The squadron began to phase down with the inactivation of the Atlas-D on 1 October 1964, and was inactivated December 14, 1964. Confusingly, the squadron was originally the 566th but on July 1, 1961 SAC swapped designators with the 549th at F.E. Warren AFB. The 549th SMS was under the 385th Strategic Aerospace Wing.
Today, site "A" is owned by Nebraska University, and being leased to a company for ranching and storage. It is also used by the Nebraska National Guard as a training site for many years, mostly for military police K-9 training. Site "B" is remarkably intact and in use for agricultural storage. Site "C" has been demolished, with only the access roads remaining.
In May 2011, base civilian employee George Sarris successfully settled with the government over claims that he was subjected to retaliation for talking to the media in 2008 about poor maintenance of RC-135 aircraft at the base. After Sarris' allegations appeared in the Kansas City Star, base officials revoked his security clearance and reassigned him to menial duties. Later investigations by the government substantiated many of Sarris' claims. As part of the settlement, the USAF agreed to pay Sarris his full salary until he retires in 2014 and paid $21,000 of his attorney's fees.