JINSA Visits Air Force Special Operations Command

On May 14, a group of JINSA members visited Hurlburt Field, home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), to gain a greater understanding of AFSOC’s contributions to current American military operations. The visit was planned as part of JINSA’s Base Visit Program.

On May 14, a group of JINSA members visited Hurlburt Field, home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), to gain a greater understanding of AFSOC’s contributions to current American military operations. The visit was planned as part of JINSA’s Base Visit Program.

Major General Bob Patterson, USAF (ret.), a member of JINSA’s Board of Advisors, personally led the group, sharing his experiences at Hurlburt Field. In 1985, AFSOC, along with the Army Special Operations Command and the Naval Special Warfare Command were stood up as components of the Congressionally-mandated U.S. Special Operations Command. From 1985 to 1989, General Patterson served as AFSOC’s first commander.

The JINSA visit began with a command brief and Q&A with AFSOC Deputy Commander Maj. Gen. Kurt Cichowski, USAF. The brief covered AFSOC’s history and current posture. Of note, AFSOC has approximately 16,000 total personnel including civilian employees. The command’s forces are organized under two active duty wings, one Air National Guard wing, two overseas groups, and several direct reporting units. Of the two active duty wings, the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) is based at Hurlburt Field.

The 1st SOW mission focus is unconventional warfare: counter-terrorism, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery, psychological operations, aviation assistance to developing nations, “deep battlefield” re-supply, interdiction and close air support. The wing is composed of four groups: the 1st Special Operations Group, the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Group, the 1st Special Operations Mission Support Group and the 1st Special Operations Medical Group. Each group is, in turn, composed of up to ten squadrons.

After the command brief, the JINSA group moved to the flight line where they were briefed on the capabilities of the AC-130U Spooky gunship by 4 th Special Operations Squadron commander Lt. Col. Brenda Cartier, USAF. The 4th Special Operations Squadron (4th SOS) is the largest of the nine flying squadrons within the 1st Special Operations Wing. Crewmembers of one of her gunships then led the JINSA group on a tour of the aircraft explaining the various weapons and sensor stations as well as the flight deck.

The AC-130U is the latest gunship to be employed by the Air Force. The Spooky nickname is a tribute to the AC-47, the original, first-generation gunship. The U Model gunship is considered to be one of the most complex aircraft weapon systems in the world, containing more than 609,000 lines of software in its mission computers and avionics systems. Though it uses the Lockheed C-130 airframe, in production since 1954, the AC-130U incorporates cutting edge sensor technology, along with an entirely new fire-control system, to substantially increase its combat effectiveness.

Carrying a crew of 13, the AC-130U is armed with a 25mm Gatling-gun cannon (capable of firing 1800 rounds per minute), a single-barrel, rapid-fire 40mm Bofors cannon and a 105mm Howitzer. The fire control system offers a dual-target attack capability, whereby two targets up to one kilometer apart can be engaged simultaneously by two different sensors, using two different guns.

There are only 17 AC-130U and 8 older, less capable AC-130H gunships in service. These devastating weapons have been in high demand for the past seven years and the wear and tear has severely taxed both the airplanes and their crews.

From the AC-130U, the JINSA group moved down the flight line to meet up with Maj. James Holder of the 8th Special Operations Squadron. Maj. Holder briefed the group on the CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and showed off one of the CV-22s flown by his squadron.

The primary mission of the 8th SOS is insertion, extraction, and re-supply of unconventional warfare forces and equipment into hostile or enemy-controlled territory using airland or airdrop procedures. This mission is well served by the Osprey, the first fully deployed tilt-rotor aircraft. Able to take off and land like a helicopter but possessing the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft, the CV-22 can perform missions that normally would require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

Lunchtime saw the JINSA group sharing a meal at a Hurlburt dining facility with young airmen, most on their first tour of duty. It was a welcome opportunity to hear about Air Force life from the perspective of the youngest members of the military community.

The delegation next visited the Special Tactics Training Squadron. The STTS provides the advanced training for the Air Force’s elite combat controllers, pararescuemen and combat weathermen, joint terminal air controllers, combat aviation advisers who will advise ground teams as well as airmen tasked to launch and recover AFSOC drones. The STTS is a recent development being formed in October 2008 out of the Advanced Skills Training Flight that fell under the 720th Special Operations Squadron.

The training facilities seen by the JINSA group were brand new and ultra modern. Most impressive was the state-of-the-art fitness center staffed by two physiologists. The goal is to strengthen Air Force special operators to be capable of doing more while reducing injury rates. In the past, he noted, military physical training consisted of little more than running, pushups, sit ups and pull ups. Today, the STTS fitness center and trainers strive to provide services at the level afforded elite athletes with emphasis on core strengthening and flexibility. The ultimate goal, Maj. Chris Larkin, USAF, said, was to allow these elite warriors to retire without painful, chronic injuries that come from the abuse heaped on their bodies in the form of 100-pound packs, heavy body armor and helmets and other gear and weapons typically carried for days on end in mountainous terrain as well as dozens upon dozens of parachute jumps with full gear and constant high level training cycles.

The day’s program concluded with a visit to the weapons range used by the Dynamics of International Terrorism (DIT) course. DIT is the most popular of the courses offered by the USAF’s Special Operations School’s Department of Asymmetric Warfare. The Special Operations School provides specialized education to meet the unique requirements of AFSOC airmen, Special Operating Forces aviators, and joint/interagency partners. The school builds on the functional training conducted by other agencies like Air Education and Training Command and the USSOCOM training component schools: U.S. Navy Special Operations Command’s Special Warfare Center and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.

Students come from all branches of the military as well as the civilian sector. The joint staff and faculty are comprised of 40 Air Force officer and enlisted personnel, 10 Air Force Reserve Individual Mobilization Augmentees, and Army and Navy special operators, civilians, and contractor personnel.

The DIT course focuses on counter/antiterrorism with a basic awareness and appreciation of the motivation, organization, techniques, operational capabilities, and threat posed by terrorist groups on an international and regional basis. Strong emphasis is placed on the individual protective measures the students can use to minimize the threat of dirty bombs, kidnappings and car bombs as well as demonstrations for students to illustrate the capabilities of weapons primarily used by terrorist groups including small arms and car bombs.

The JINSA group was afforded a special honor and visit highlight when it was invited to attend the Airman Leadership School Graduation Dinner taking place that evening. A five-week-long program, the school is designed to develop airmen into effective front-line supervisors. It is the first professional military education that enlisted Air Force members encounter. Upon graduation, they are eligible for promotion to staff sergeant.

JINSA participants were seated at separate tables with these 42 young service members, their families, coworkers and commanding officers. In sum, there were more than 400 in attendance for the gala function, held at the Emerald Coast Conference Center in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. There was much unit camaraderie (and some light hearted rivalry) in evidence as each squadron cheered for their graduates and for the winners of various academic and leadership awards presented that evening. A moving keynote address was delivered by retired Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James C. Binnicker.

Since the establishment of JINSA’s Grateful Nation Award in 2003, five of the 36 honorees, chosen by their service, were AFSOC combat controllers. They are Staff Sergeant Zachary J. Rhyner (2008), Staff Sergeant Ryan Wallace (2007), Tech Sergeant Aaron F. May (2006), Tech Sergeant Robert F. Jeeves (2004), and Master Sergeant Michael Lamonica. (2003).