Senator John ThuneToday it is hard to imagine a world without the Air Force protecting us in the skies above, yet it was only 60 years ago, on September 18th, 1947, that the Air Force became an independent service.
The theme of the Air Force's 60th anniversary celebration is Heritage to Horizons: Commemorating 60 Years of Air and Space Power. We honor the Air Force's rich heritage and pay tribute to the dedication, sacrifice, and contributions of those who pioneered the skies, those who shape the air, space, and cyberspace victories of today, and those who will continue to do so in the future.
The history of the Air Force is full of heroes who have made enormous contributions to defending American freedom. One such hero was General Jimmy Doolittle.
On April 18, 1942, he led 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers in a joint operation from the deck of the naval carrier USS Hornet to strike the Japanese mainland in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was the first aerial raid in the Pacific during World War II and set the standard of courage in combat for all Airmen.
The "Doolittle Raid" was America's first strike on the Japanese mainland after Pearl Harbor and two of the four squadrons that took part in that historic raid, the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons, are now stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Ellsworth first opened in 1942 as the Rapid City Army Air Base and was the training base for the B-17 "Flying Fortress." Today, Ellsworth is home to the 28th Bomb Wing and about half of our nation's B-1 bombers, which account for a significant portion of our nation's strategic long-range military capability.
Ellsworth has played a critical role in the defense of our nation for more than six decades, from World War II to the Global War on Terror. After being spared from closure under the BRAC process, Ellsworth was recently selected for an important new mission that will benefit the entire Air Force for years to come.
The Financial Services Center will centralize most military and travel pay operations from 93 active duty and reserve bases around the world into a consolidated facility at Ellsworth. The center will enhance financial management support to our men and women in uniform, it will also save the Air Force more than $200 million in the first ten years after opening and it will boost the economy of the Black Hills area and help to secure the future of Ellsworth.
As America continues to fight the war on terror, it is more important than ever that our Airmen deployed, stationed abroad, and at their home bases receive the best financial support we can provide. The Air Force Financial Services Center will ensure that we continue to "finance the fight" by enhancing financial management support to the warfighter and it will bring hundreds of jobs to South Dakota over the next few years.
The Air Force plays a significant role in keeping Americans safe in the 21st Century. The tradition which has been built over the last 60 years will guide the Air Force well into the future.