JINSA Visits Air Force Special Operations Command

In March, a JINSA group traveled to Hurlburt Field, Florida, the home of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command. This visit, hosted by AFSOC, is part of JINSA’s ongoing Base Visit program. The program was established to provide JINSA members with a hands-on opportunity to personally connect with our nation’s fighters on their “home court.”

In March, a JINSA group traveled to Hurlburt Field, Florida, the home of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command. This visit, hosted by AFSOC, is part of JINSA’s ongoing Base Visit program. The program was established to provide JINSA members with a hands-on opportunity to personally connect with our nation’s fighters on their “home court.”

The two-day visit kicked off with a social dinner hosted by JINSA that was both enjoyable and informative. Attended by military and civilian members of the Command and their spouses, the evening provided the JINSA group with an opportunity to discuss the issues and challenges the members of this elite command face on a daily bases, as well as to further appreciate the sacrifices that they and their families willingly make in service of our country.

On the following day, the JINSA group was met by Colonel Michael Meyer, AFSOC Director of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, who escorted the participants throughout the base visit.

The day began with a detailed “AFSOC Command Briefing.” AFSOC was established in April 1987 as the Air Force component of the United States Special Operations Command. Both commands were born out of the tragic failure in 1979 of the military operation to rescue American hostages in Iran; a tragedy which the American Military resolved at the time would never happen again. Although primarily warriors, these Airmen are also in the forefront of the nation’s humanitarian relief efforts during crises such as the Haitian Earthquake, Japanese Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina.

After the detailed brief and a lively Q&A session, the group headed over to the flight line where they were given a tour of various 1st Special Operations Wing aircraft by their pilots. The first aircraft was the PC-12. The PC-12 is a highly versatile aircraft that is capable of landing on unimproved surfaces such as grass and dirt. This aircraft is used in commercial and private aviation to transport small special operations teams and support low-profile missions such as surveillance and reconnaissance.

Next, the group went aboard the latest gunship, the AC-130U – there are 17 of these heavily-tasked aircraft in operation. The pilot and navigator explained the weapons systems and its purpose, which is to provide close air support, air interdiction, and force protection. The AC-130U is fitted with a 40mm cannon capable of firing 100 rounds per minute, a 105 mm howitzer, and a 25mm Gatling gun, which can fire 1,800 rounds per minute.

Finally, the group was met by the pilot of a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. On board the plane, the pilot explained that the primary role of the CV-22 was to support long-range infiltration, exfiltration, and supply during special operations. The CV-22 is highly suited for supply delivery given its vertical takeoff and landing abilities, generally associated with a helicopter, as well as its speed and range, associated with a fixed-wing aircraft.

At lunch the group sat down with young Airmen from various squadrons who discussed life in the Air Force. Imparting details on their training and deployments, they impressed the group with their current commitment to the command and their evident promise as future AFSOC leaders.

The next stop was the Special Tactics Training Squadron (STTS) of the 24th Special Operations Wing (SOW), commanded by Colonel Robert Armfield. The 24th SOW is a unique organization to the Air Force. Established in 2012, it brought together officers and Airmen from separate career fields with common mental, physical, and equipment demands. The time spent at STTS included viewing Airmen undertaking pool exercises during pre-scuba training, display tables of weighty weapons and equipment used by the teams of Combat Controllers, Pararescuemen (PJs), Tactical Air Control Party members and Special Operations Weather Technicians in the field, as well as Airmen preparing for combat deployment. During the scuba-diving training, the group observed Airmen in the pool practicing buddy-breathing exercises, where two Airmen must share one snorkel in harsh conditions that simulate rough seas. The scuba instructor explained that AFSOC special operators must learn to survive in any circumstance, facing the elements of any environment.

The group also had the opportunity to watch combatives training (train-as-you-fight activities) where Airmen are taught the close-quarter combat techniques, tools they need while operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world. This training has two objectives: to prepare the operators to accomplish the mission and to teach them the unique skills needed to ensure their survival.

Next, the group headed over to the Combat Athlete Cell where Airmen were engaged in strength and conditioning exercises purposed with creating a “tactical athlete.” AFSOC, in collaboration with professional football athletes and trainers, created this program to achieve high-caliber physical strength, conditioning and rehabilitation programs, similar to the exercise and conditioning professional athletes endure. Its purpose, which speaks to the high physical toll endured by an AFSOC Airman, is intended to enable these men and women to, as one of the instructors remarked, be “able to pick up their grandchildren when they retire.”

The day concluded with a briefing by Col Armfield that focused on a theme implicit throughout the day in every session: the cost that the AFSOC fighter can pay psychologically and emotionally – known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. As the colonel remarked, “an AFSOC fighter is first and foremost a human being, not a machine.” Col Armfield pointed out that the “current generation” of special operators has in most instances known eleven years of war and is likely to have experienced 12 to 14 rotations to date. An AFSOC Special Tactics Airman will be deployed for four months, return home for four months, leave home for four months of training and then undertake the next deployment.

In response, the 24th SOW is investing in their force and family through resiliency programs, resources, and counseling. Today the 24th SOW has assigned specialists, a psychologist and a chaplain, to each of their units. They join the unit from the onset of a deployment, live with them in the field and return home with them during the same rotation as their unit. The JINSA group was privileged to spend the final session of the day with Lieutenant Colonel James Young, Chief of Psychological Applications, and Major Jason Botts, Chaplain. Both Lt Col Young and Maj Botts, discussed their specific roles in providing critical support to the Airmen as well as presenting a look at their challenges and successes.

The JINSA group left Hurlburt Field with enormous gratitude for the hospitality shown throughout the visit, but, even more importantly, a deeper understanding of how JINSA can support AFSOC to ensure it will always be able to support our country.

NOTE: The Grateful Nation Award, established in 2003, is presented annually to six young heroes recognized for having distinguished themselves through superior conduct in the War on Terrorism. Honorees are chosen by their respective service and come from the enlisted, noncommissioned officer and junior officer ranks. Honorees represent each of the five branches of the U.S. military and the U.S. Special Operations Command. Nine of the 60 recipients of JINSA’s Grateful Nation Award, have come from the United States Air Force Special Operations Command.

To view SOCOM’s latest “Tip of the Spear” special publication on Preservation of the Force and Family, click here.