by Melissa LaScaleia
By 1980, when President Jimmy Carter was in office, the 354th at Myrtle Beach became part of the president’s Rapid Deployment Force, also called the Rapid Deployment Task Force. By 1983, the Task Force became a separate entity called the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which focused exclusively on the Middle East in response to the tensions that were mounting there and preparation for ensuing conflict.
In the early 80s, Kuwait experienced a major economic crisis followed by several terrorist attacks. After this period of turmoil, an economic rivalry ensued between Iraq and Kuwait, the former accusing the latter of syphoning oil reserves. Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait in 1990, and the United States led a coalition to remove Iraqi forces from the country in what became known as the Gulf War.
Just as it was during the Cold War and Vietnam War, the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was a front-line base during the Gulf War. Under the parameters of CENTCOM, the 354th was now assigned to the United States Central Command Air Forces. Consequently, in 1985, the 354th’s A-10 aircraft and personnel were deployed to Cairo West Air Base to engage in BRIGHT STAR exercises. There were two more such deployments— in 1987 and 1989, both from Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
The 354th Tactical Fighter Wing was one of the first Air Force units deployed to the Persian Gulf to offer aid in Operation Desert Shield, the name used to reference the operations taken leading up to the conflict. Aircraft from the 354th were also involved in Operation Desert Storm, the name given to the operations exacted between 35 countries to free Kuwait.
During Desert Storm, aircraft flew early warning and Scud missile missions, as well as conducted search-and-rescue missions. The 354th were also involved in a ground support mission, cutting off enemy supply lines, and inflicting heavy damage to Iraqi artillery. In March 1991, at the successful conclusion of the war, the 354th returned home to Myrtle Beach. On October 1, 1991, the Tactical Air Command was deactivated and the 354th was redesignated the 354th Fighter Wing. The wing was reassigned to the new Air Combat Command. The mission of the Air Combat Command is to act as the primary force of airpower defense to America’s war-fighting factions. It is one of ten major commands of the United States Air Force.
Despite the prominent role that the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base had played throughout the tumultuous theatre that was international relations during the 20th century, supporting and defending the United States with valor and prowess, there had been talk of closing the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base since the conclusion of the Vietnam War in the early 70s. The topic was continuously debated in congress, but Senators Strom Thurmond and Ernest Hollings staunchly advocated that the base remain open. Their arguments won the day and the base did. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the Cold War, the government had lessened its budget for defense spending and eyes consistently turned to the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base to question its necessity. By the early 90s, it was estimated that there were five more Air Force bases open across the United States than was necessary to provide the amount of support needed for our nation’s defense.