Fleming Award Comes North

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michael Richmond
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

For anyone who knows of Minot Air Force Base, you probably heard the phrase that has grown to be synonymous with the base and its people: “Only the Best Come North.” The 54th Helicopter Squadron added emphasis to that phrase when they were recently awarded the prestigious Fleming Award for the year 2020.

Named after retired U.S. Air Force Colonel James P. Fleming, the Fleming Award was created to highlight the best helicopter squadron of the year in U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command. The award honors retired Colonel Fleming’s courageous act of heroism when he saved several Green Berets from enemy fire while risking his own life in the process on November 26, 1968, near Pleiku, Vietnam.

One notable achievement of the 54 HS in 2020 was their role in coordinating training operations with Canadian forces, a first for both sides.

“We did the first international aerial gunnery TDY [Temporary Duty Travel] for a Global Strike Command,” said Maj. David Operchal, Assistant Chief of Standards and Evaluations for the 54 HS. “In March of last year, before COVID hit, we took two aircraft an hour-and-a-half north of us to Canadian Forces Base Shilo and we integrated with Canadian Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in our helicopters and we conducted aerial gunnery training in Canada. That was a big deal because we had to work with US NORTHCOM, with the attaches office of the State Department, in addition to the Canadian Forces and then also working with 5th Bomb Wing. Security Forces customs came and met us when we did that so there's a lot of integration work with them.”

The 54 HS also showcased their ability to adapt and overcome new hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing steadfast mission support for the 5th Bomb Wing and 91st Missile Wing, creating split shifts that mitigated the potential transmission of COVID-19 while also keeping the unit up and running.

“The nuclear mission and nuclear security is always occurring so, even with a global pandemic, we still needed to maintain ICBMs [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles] on alert,” said Operchal. “That required all the maintenance and security things that we normally did so we instituted split operations. We'd have two separate crews, we call them Beaver One and Beaver Two crews. We had to split opps to ensure that we always met the 91st Missile Wing taskings in order for both convoy movements and security movements, in addition to keeping all of our aircrew as trained as they could be without being able to go TDY and also keeping up our proficiency as best we could.”

Additionally, the 54 HS performance in Global Thunder [an annual command and control exercise designed to train U.S. STRATCOM forces and assess joint operation readiness] went above expectations, proving to be a ready force to be reckoned with. Coming up with an aircraft dispersal plan, the 54 HS were able to mitigate some of the exercise injects that came with Global Thunder.

Through continuous dedication and readiness, the 54 HS demonstrated what it means to be part of Team Minot, raising the bar for future Airmen to overcome and adding context to “Only the Best Come North”.