Beyond the Build

The Weekend

A Visit Unexpected…


In my travels I get to experience some cool things and this recent experience reminded me of things that many us take for granted. This recently happened to me during my last visit to the Dakota’s this fall.  After arriving, we gathered in a small bar and were approached by a young man who had overheard us when the discussions turned to football…particularly the Auburn and Alabama rivalries.

Serving as a weapons officer, Capt. Pat Helton is with the 37th Bomber Squadron that is based at Ellsworth Air Force Base. This historic squadron has served in many missions including Doolittle’s Raid during WWII. The 37th Tigers have also flown in Operation Desert Fox, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Capt. Helton had dinner with us that evening and afterwards asked if we would like to come over and see the plane that he flies based in Ellsworth. But this wasn’t any plane, this was the B1 Bomber. You can see my video of it here.

The supersonic bomber that was first developed in the mid-70s, but wasn’t actually put into duty until circa mid ‘80’s. Most recently, it has served during our mission in Afghanistan.

We met Capt. Helton on Sunday morning and after going through security clearance. We were shown the flight lines and how the B1 approaches its missions.  We learned that at any given time, there are at least two B1s flying over Afghanistan providing support to ground troops.

We also learned that they spend an average of 15 hours in the air with a 24 hour service cycle;  flying in cramped quarters like an angel out over the countryside protecting their fellow soldiers. When called into action, Capt. Helton has direct communications with the ground troops deciding which type of ordinance to use.

After we wrapped up the tour of the 37th Squadron and saw the B1 bomber on the flight lines. It made me thankful that I was able to visit with Capt. Helton, learn about his duty and in addition, very thankful for the role our military is playing keeping peace in the world.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.