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From Operation Linebacker to Continuous Bomber Presence: Airman recalls his tenure in AF

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
It's not often an Airman gets the chance to bring his career full circle and end it with a deployment to the very base where it all started for him.

Master Sgt. Charles Kuhn, 506th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron crew chief, began his tenure with the Air Force at Andersen 38 years ago, where he witnessed and took part of Operation Linebacker I and II.

Linebacker was the Seventh Air Force and Navy Task Force 77 aerial interdiction campaign against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from May 9 to October 23, 1972. It was the first continuous bombing effort performed against North Vietnam since President Lyndon B. Johnson halted bombing in November 1968.

Linebacker II followed in December and saw the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the U.S. Air Force since the end of World War II. Its emphasis changed to attacks by B-52 Stratofortress bombers instead of tactical fighter aircraft.

Andersen played a key role in the campaign with more than 200 B-52 Stratofortress bombers dispatched here. Kuhn recalls his role in the effort as a 19 year old crew chief fresh out of technical school.

"Well, I got here in May 1972 just as they were beginning to bring all the bombers in," Sergeant Kuhn said. "As the months went on, the whole ramp filled up."

"Every parking spot you see out there had a bomber on it," he said, pointing to a map of the runway to illustrate. "Seeing all those planes lined up as a 19 year old kid from a small town in Ohio was just unreal,"

By the time Operation Linebacker II began, Sergeant Kuhn soon realized the seriousness of the campaign.

"In the middle of December it was decided by the higher-ups to begin bombing," he said. "On that day, we had more than 50 B-52's launch at once. Seeing that many planes take off, well there was nothing like it."

Seeing the aircraft take off is one thing, watching them return with battle scars or not returning at all put into perspective the nature of war for the then 19 year old.

"It was a 12 hour mission there and back and you would see some come back with bullet holes so you knew they were being shot at," he said. "Some of them wouldn't come back at all, which hit home how serious things were out there."

Despite a high ops tempo, the possible conclusion of the war was the motivation that kept the young crew chief and his fellow Airmen from losing sight of what they were fighting for.

"We were all pumped up even though we were working 12 hour shifts with no days off for three weeks," he said. "Christmas was coming up and everyone was hoping this would be the end of it; that we would bomb them into submission so a peace treaty could be signed."

Eventually a treaty was signed and after Sergeant Kuhn's 15-month tour here and he was stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In 1975 he joined the Air National Guard in Pennsylvania with the 171st Air Refueling Wing where he has spent the rest of his military career. He also works as a civilian crew chief and plans on retiring from the military after his deployment here ends.

"The military has been good to me," Sergeant Kuhn said. "I've been in all but three years of my adult life. I'm glad I had the chance to bring everything full circle to where it all began."