PO Box 7, Mary Esther, FL 32569  •  850.581.0099  •  info@aircommando.org

Colonel Wayne D Corder Remembered

Wayne Dennis Corder, 82, of Destin, Florida, passed away on February, 14, 2023, from complications from treatment for Multiple Myeloma. He is survived by the love of his life, Rebecca “Becky” (Ingwersen) Corder and two children from a previous marriage, Wayne “Denny” Corder, Jr. of California and Daphne Corder, of Massachusetts. Wayne was born in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, on April 6, 1940 to Doris Hamer. Wayne’s early years were spent with his maternal grandparents, Bert and Jenny Hamer who were Vaudeville performers, and his Uncle Harry in Fairhaven where he developed his lifelong love for the Boston Red Sox from his family’s tradition of listening to the games over the AM radio as a boy. Wayne later moved with his mother and adoptive father, Colonel Willis Corder, to Orlando, Florida and to other follow-on Army assignments for his middle and high school years. Wayne felt a strong calling to the military and had an appointment to West Point through his father, but Wayne wanted to fly. So after attending the Missouri School of Mines, he received the esteemed “Principal Appointment” placement from Vice President Nixon for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs where he attended from 1960 to 1964. He later received a Master’s degree from Pepperdine University.

Wayne proudly served his country in the Air Force for 30 years from 1964 to 1994, retiring as a Colonel. As a pilot, he flew T-38s and B-52s for years before becoming a helicopter pilot. He few H3s, HH53s, and Hueys among others in Vietnam and Korea. He served as Squadron Commander, 20th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida from 1982 to 1984. During that assignment, he implements “Operation BAT” (Caribbean) which was a drug intervention program with the DEA during the Reagan Administration. Other accomplishments include his years as Director for Operations and Vice Commander, 1550th Special Operations Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. He also served as Commander 23rd AF, DET 3 Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Wayne also played a role in civilian rescue during the catastrophic fire at MGM Grand in Las Vegas in November 1980, serving as the on-ground commander for military and civilian helicopter rescues that saved over 1,000 lives, rescuing hotel guests from the balconies of the hotel tower during the historic fire.

Wayne’s greatest joy in life came from his lifelong love, Becky, whom he met in Alaska and married on June 8, 1974, in Phoenix, Arizona. Wayne and Becky had a special bond throughout their marriage and enjoyed their balance of active duty with military support activities such as fundraising for scholarships, doing yard work together, their love of all things Hawaiian from their years stationed there, and honoring each other in everything they did. Together they were American patriots, football junkies, and doting parents to their beloved Manx felines, Finley and PP.

Wayne and Becky’s 49 years together were “the two of us against the world” and the two of them at the lively center of their world of close friends. They were known by many for their backyard cookouts and after-dinner social time where the scotch flowed as freely as the stories and laughter. To their closest friends, Mark and Penny, John and Mary, Jan and Chris, Darrin and Jamie, Phil and Judy, and many more, Wayne and Becky were a source of joy, laughter, stories, and fun. Wayne especially enjoyed a little provocation during social times, stirring up the banter with friends.

Wayne’s favorite hobbies included long range rifle shooting, his well-curated library of first edition, author-signed World War II books, his pro football obsession of tracking scores and statistics, and his past-time of sending friends videos of the latest antics of Finley and PP. Wayne lived every day with and for Becky and filled their days with fun – fulfilling his belief that a life well-lived was “running it till the wheels fall off!”

Wayne’s family extends its gratitude to the team at the Emerald Coast Cancer Center, Fort Walton Beach, and Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, for their exceptional expertise and care. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Fisher House of the Emerald Coast, Eglin Air Force Base.

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:22

Obituary courtesy of Heritage Gardens Funeral Home in Niceville, Florida.

ACF Works with Veteran and Building Homes for Heroes

The Air Commando Foundation was honored to assist with home renovations to allow wheelchair access and handicap upgrades to a family home.

From the family: “The addition to our home is getting very close to being complete, and it’s looking really great. We are very excited about being able to get it all set up and move in! Our son just had surgery to remove the only remaining large tumor in his lung on Friday, January 20th. He recovered a lot faster than the last time. He was able to do half days at school last Tuesday and Wednesday and did a full Thursday! We are waiting for the biopsy from the tumor which should be back next week to find out what the next step looks like but either way he will remain off chemo until his scan next month where they will see if anything new has grown. We’re praying for the tumor to be dead and no new growths so he can move into routine surveillance and get back to a little more sense of normalcy!

The house really turned out great. It is such a blessing and will make life a lot easier for him. We appreciate everything the ACA has done for us to make this happen and since things are hopefully going to be a lot less chaotic soon we’d love the chance to help give back so if there is any way we could help out the ACA please let me know because I’d love to help out in any way possible.”


Air Commando Family is Recovering

Air Commando Family is Recovering
This past fall, my wife suffered a heart attack and had a pretty extensive surgery thereafter. My first sergeant contacted you all and asked for help on my behalf. My wife is recovering and thanks to your organization (To which I will forever be grateful) It was because of you all that we survived my wife’s time out of work. Thank you so much for helping my family keep food on the table for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a very rough end of the year, but you all helped us and I can never thank you all enough.

Steve, Kelly, Judah, Oliver, and Heidi

Update on Andy Reed’s Recovery

The Foundation reached out to the Air Commando community for donations and assistance to help Andy… Here is a recent update on his progress.

Things are moving along well with Andy’s recovery, his visits to Gainesville for doctor visits are now 3 months apart, he is taking his medication, he is still struggling with physical therapy. Andy is gaining weight slowly and still has a long way to go!

Former Pave Low gunner, retired MSgt Andy Reed was in dire need of a liver transplant. The good news is he was fortunate to receive a donor liver and had his surgery on 10 July. The Air Commando Foundation (ACF) is assisting with fundraising on Andy’s behalf for his aftercare that could take up to six months and $15,000 or more.

ACF already contributed $1,200 to his pre-surgery support and will provide the first $5,000 of his post-surgery recovery for things that Tricare will not cover.

Your donations to ACF for this specific cause will allow additional support. Any funds not used for this effort will remain in the general ACF account for future unmet needs of Air Commandos and their families. ACF is a 501(c)(3) benevolent organization, and all donations are tax deductible.

Thank you for your continued support of our Air Commandos and their families!

Help Andy Reed Now!

ACJ Vol 11/3

Major General Eugene Haase, USAF (Retired) Former 55th SOS Director of Operations and MH-60G Pave Hawk Evaluator Pilot

Welcome to the annual Air Commando Journal Hall of Fame issue. As in past years, we showcase the Air Commando Hall of Fame inductees for 2022, as well as all the winners of the Commander’s Leadership Awards, and the annual AFSOC level awards all of which were introduced and recognized during the Air Commando Convention this past October—all outstanding and so deserving of these accolades.

Additionally, this issue continues with Part 2 of the tribute to the 55th Special Operations Squadron and the MH-60G Pave Hawk with firsthand accounts of the standup of the formal schoolhouse at Kirtland AFB, support of Operation Uphold Democracy, the extensive weapons development and testing that took place just prior to Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the heroic rescue of Hammer 34 in Serbia during Operation Allied Force, and finally honors the memory of the men lost during a joint training exercise on 29 October 1992.

I think at this point, after back-to-back issues of the journal, it becomes crystal clear the important role the 55th SOS “Nighthawks” played across the board in every contingency operation AFSOC was involved with from 1989 until the unit closed in late 1999. Moreover, over the past two years the Air Commando Association welcomed two former members of the 55th SOS into the Air Commando Hall of Fame – Maj (ret) Dan Turney and CMSgt (ret) Roger Maginel.

This past April, we had the incredible honor of dedicating MH-60G tail number 87-26009 into the Hurlburt Field Air Park. It has been a special time to say the least. I had the very good fortune to be a member of the 55th the day we were redesignated as a special operations squadron and the day the 55th was deactivated upon our return from Italy after the unit’s two daring rescues during Operation Allied Force. From start to finish, the 55th was the total package – talented leadership, top notch training, unmatched aircrew members, support personnel and a great aircraft – all of which led to a unit that was an integral part of what Air Force Special Operations brought to the fight.

As a fitting closure to the 55th SOS’s chapter in AFSOC and Air Commando history, you’ll read comments from Dawn Goldfein as she recounts the night her husband (General Dave Goldfein, CSAF #21) was shot down, really putting into perspective what our military spouses deal with day in and day out while they soldier on wondering what happens if we do not come home from the mission. The spouses are so critical to the team and we could not do what we do, as well as we do it, without this unwavering support on the home front. A big thank you to all the spouses across the force that make us better every day.

In closing, I want to personally thank everyone who had a part in making this two-edition tribute to the 55the SOS and Pave Hawk possible starting with Paul Harmon. The editor-in-chief determines content and this was Paul’s idea from the start – from all of us to you THANKS! To all the people who wrote and contributed – thanks for the Herculean efforts in putting on your “way back” caps and sharing insights and details I am fairly certain have not been captured anywhere else on paper to date. Some of these events happened 30+ years ago. I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as we enjoyed putting them together. I think I speak for the entire MH-60G community in saying that it was an honor and privilege to be a part of the AFSOC team…anytime, anyplace.

Interactive PDF Available Here

We have improved the readability of our ACJ Online, open the PDF and scroll to page 3 (Table of Contents) and click on any headline and it will take you directly to that article in the PDF. Look for more interactive features in the next online issue of the Journal.

ACA Is Now A 501c3

By Bill Rone, SES (Retired) ACA Executive Financial Advisor

Greetings Air Commandos, I hope each of you and your families are safe and healthy as we struggle to cope with rising costs and increasing interest rates.

Funding is essential to keep any activity viable—government, non-profit, or commercial, and your Air Commando Association is no different. Since my last SITREP a very exciting change has occurred. Retired CMSgt Mike Gilbert and his Warrior Law team successfully led the ACA through a complex IRS process to reclassify the ACA from a 501(c)(19) to a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

What does this mean? By law, 501(c)(19) non-profits are very rigid and administratively challenging for membership verification and record keeping and are more closely scrutinized because many have “posts” that include revenue generating bars, food service, and entertainment areas, etc., and this is why we made the change to a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

The reclassification of the Air Commando Association to a 501(c)(3) is important because many donors who have limited their charitable donations to only 501(c)(3) non-profit charities can now consider donating to the ACA. Another benefit for the ACA reclassification to 501(c)(3) is it opens the door for individuals to make Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD) from their IRAs to the ACA, free from federal income taxes. When we were a 501(c)(19), donors could not make tax free donations using QCDs…now they can!

The ACA has operated at essentially the same support level to the Air Force Special Operations Forces mission for many years. These two new revenue opportunities have the potential to provide relief and growth potential to the ACA. We can do better and Air Commandos deserve it.

As a 42 year “tight fisted” DoD Comptroller and volunteer “finance guy” for many non-profits, I clearly recognized how lean and efficient the ACA operates—and fights far above its weight class—with only two employees operating out of our small facility west of Hurlburt Field. If you are a commercial business or your employer, or any organization you serve, allows donations to 501(c)(3) non-profits, please consider donating to the Air Commando Association.

If you have reached the wonderful age of 70.5 years, I strongly recommend investigating making QCD contributions from your non-Roth IRAs to the ACA—or any worthy 501(c)(3) non-profit or church; they are federal income tax free. The year you reach age 72, you will be required to take Required Minimum Distributions from your IRAs—or lose 50 percent of those amounts each year to federal tax penalties. QCDs may be a good fit for your family situation.

NOTE: QCDs cannot be made from Thrift Savings Plan accounts. As I approached 70.5, I rolled my TSP to an IRA. I could have made incremental transfers from TSP to my IRA, but elected to simplify and roll 100 percent to my new IRA account.

The QCD process is relatively simple. A QCD must flow directly from your IRA custodian to your designated charity. Your custodian will report that amount to the IRS. When your taxes for that year are prepared, QCDs will be excluded from taxable income. The process is simple but each of you should consult your IRA custodian and tax preparer as you move forward. My wife and I have used QCDs for all donations to 501(c)(3)s and our church for three years. I enjoy avoiding federal income taxes on our withdrawals and the ability to donate 100 percent of my 1990 TSP withholding–plus investment growth to my favorite charities. If you have QCD questions, please contact me through the ACA office at (850) 581-0099 or info@aircommando.org.

I am pleased to report the ACA and our Air Commando Foundation are well funded for current operations and we have accumulated strong reserves for unexpected loss of altitude and air speed. Please see the 2022 ACA Convention financial briefing for a much better recap. I am honored to serve Air Commandos as a volunteer.

This content first appeared in the Air Commando Journal, Vol 11 Issue 2 on page 5 in the SITREP

Air Commando Hall of Fame 2022

Air Commando Hall of Fame 2022

Introducing the class of 2022 Air Commando Hall of Fame

Reference: Air Commando Journal, Vol 11 Issue 3, January 2023, pages 8-12

By Air Commando Journal Staff

Major General Stephen A. Clark

Major General Stephen A. Clark, Retired, United States Air Force, distinguished himself by exceptionally dedicated service to the Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) from March 1987 to September 2018. General Clark made extraordinary contributions at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. In addition to flying combat missions in Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti, he served in leadership positions in Afghanistan and Iraq. His legacy includes an unparalleled development of future AFSOC leaders, combat leadership during the opening salvo of the Global War on Terror, and a strategic vision in building the SOF force structure of the future at AFSOC, Joint Special Operations Command, and United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). He served as operations officer and commander of the 4th Special Operations Squadron from 2002 through 2005. This was a particularly challenging and historical time in the AC-130U unit’s history. He commanded Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component-Iraq from July 2006 through August 2007. There he commanded all SOF aviation assets during this brutal period of fighting in Iraq. This period included insurgency against coalition forces and a full-fledged civil war. He is credited by many for bringing the Air Commando’s “voice” to the front of the table. From 2009 to 2011, Maj Gen Clark served as the second AFSOC commander of Cannon AFB. Under his leadership, the wing more than doubled in size and grew to more than 5,000 personnel and 84 aircraft. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Major General Stephen Clark reflect great credit upon himself, Air Force Special Operations Command, and Air Commandos of every generation.

Lieutenant General Eric E. Fiel

Lieutenant General Eric E. Fiel’s significant contributions to Air Force Special Operations Forces and the United States Special Operations Command span more than four decades. He has commanded at multiple levels in the United States Air Force and the USSOCOM, culminating his service as the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. At every level of command, in peacetime and in combat, he received the highest commendations from his commanders and the trust and respect of his superiors, peers, and subordinates. Through sense of duty, strength of character, personal fortitude, and unfaltering commitment to his people and the mission, he endeavored to make positive, lasting contributions to the defense of the United States of America. He airdropped Rangers on Point Salinas during Operation Urgent Fury and led AC-130Us in Allied Force. He was at the tip of the spear after 9/11, leading joint special operations forces during multiple tours of duty. Part of his enduring legacy left behind as the AFSOC commander was the stand-up of the 24th Special Operations Wing and pushing forward as much combat capability as possible to fight and win on the battlefield. To that end, he directed the first beddown of MC-130J Commando II and CV-22 Osprey in Europe General Fiel inspired and empowered those around him to serve to their full potential and to not be afraid to take risks. He worked tirelessly for the nation, the mission, and Air Commandos and their families. He is exceedingly worthy of induction into the Air Commando Hall of Fame. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Lieutenant General Eric Fiel reflect great credit upon himself, Air Force Special Operations Command, and Air Commandos of every generation.

Chief Master Sergeant Roger D. Maginel

Chief Master Sergeant Roger D. Maginel, United States Air Force, Retired, has served our nation with honor for almost 45 years, including active-duty, contractor and civil service. He distinguished himself during 25 years with the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) in squadron, wing, and headquarters positions and epitomizes the saying that “One Man Can Make a Real Difference!” Chief Maginel was an initial cadre MH-60 flight engineer in the 55th SOS, the first H-60 unit in the USAF. He played a critical role for all Air Force MH-60 flight engineers by developing initial qualification courseware and tactics, techniques, and procedures for all enlisted aircrew. He flew on the first NVG night water operation for the 55th SOS. He was also a vital crewmember on the first long-range refueling test of the MH-60G flying two MH-60s non-stop from Eglin AFB, FL to Peterson Field, CO. This ten-hour flight required three aerial refuelings and covered over 1200 nautical miles. Chief Maginel’s expertise was so critical that he was tasked to support HQ Air Rescue and the 542nd Operations Group before returning to HQ AFSOC as Chief Flight Engineer and Enlisted Aircrew Functional Manager. During this tour at HQ, he participated in Operations Allied Force And Enduring Freedom and was current and qualified as a flight engineer on the UH-1N and Mi-8 Hind for the 6th SOS’s foreign internal defense mission. After active-duty retirement, he excelled at HQ AFSOC as a unit deployment manager and air expeditionary force planner. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Chief Master Sergeant Roger D. Maginel reflect great credit upon himself, Air Force Special Operations Command, and Air Commandos of every generation.

Senior Master Sergeant Michael Rizzuto

Senior Master Sergeant Michael Rizzuto, United States Air Force, Retired, served for over 33 years within the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). SMSgt Rizzuto’s AFSOC career spanned 15 years as an active-duty enlisted member and 18 years as a Department of Defense civilian. A two-time formal training Distinguished Graduate, three-time Life Support Technician of the Year (1993, 1996, 2002), and four-time Special Tactics Squadron NCO and SNCO of the Quarter (1992, 1999, 2001, 2002). His career is highlighted by numerous awards, first-time initiatives, by-name selections, and selfless service. These accomplishments include establishing the first Navy-certified dive locker in the USAF and the first chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear, and high yield explosives (CBRNE) capability in all of SOF. He was involved in numerous projects designing, building, and fielding equipment for special mission use, and was hand-selected support to support classified operations, including the first combat parachute jump since the Vietnam War. SMSgt Rizzuto directly supported every major force structure event, including initial stand up, of the 724th Special Tactics Group, ensuring each organizational change was operationally validated by the command. As his unit’s unofficial historian he authored every Annual Historical Report since 2008, ensuring the preservation of the unit’s story for future generations. He established a 501 (c)3 non-profit, providing merit-based scholarships and grants to current and former unit members, spouses, and children. This was also used to fund and build a permanent memorial to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Senior Master Sergeant Michael Rizzuto reflect great credit upon himself, Air Force Special Operations Command, and Air Commandos of every generation.

Lieutenant Colonel William O. “Sam” Schism

Lieutenant Colonel William O. “Sam” Schism distinguished himself as a 16-year-old flying as a US Navy seaplane radio operator in the World War Two Pacific theater. He further distinguished himself during a 25-year United States Air Force career by exceptional, competent and, professional service as a worldwide airlift, reconnaissance, photo-mapping, and special operations officer and pilot. A gifted leader and manager, he quietly and competently led crews, squadrons, and special projects with great success. During his 9,600-hour USAF flying career, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Meritorious Service Medals and eleven Air Medals. He commanded AC-130A Spectre gunships during the Vietnam War and distinguished himself in combat flying operations. He then filled key management and leadership positions in the Air Commando community and was chosen as the active-duty lead for the conversion of the 919th SOG, into the gunship weapon system. Assembling a hand-picked team of active duty professionals, he provided excellent and positive leadership to active duty and Reservists alike and did an outstanding job successfully concluding a difficult conversion with decades of lasting impact. After his USAF retirement, the US Government decided not to honor its promise of lifetime medical care for 20-year military veterans. Lt Col Schism sued the Federal Government and along with Brig Gen Bud Day and Maj Robert Reinlie battled for five years until the promise of lifetime medical care for 20-year veterans was set up by Congress itself. As “one of the most important cases the court decided,” Schism v United States led to Tricare for Life, for all services, all ranks, and all Air Commandos. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Lieutenant Colonel William O. “Sam” Schism reflect great credit upon himself, Air Force Special Operations Command, and Air Commandos of every generation.

ACJ Spotlight

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Our goal at the ACJ is to tell the Air Commando and USAF Special Operations story, from our beginning to today. We need your help to do that. We seek quality articles, well written, factually based, and reflecting your experiences living the special operations mission in all of its complexities.

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Maritime / Boat Mechanic Position Open with Hoplite Group

We are pleased to share our Corporate Partner, The Hoplite Group is looking for a Maritime / Boat Mechanic with security clearance. Please read carefully and send resume/CV to https://www.thehoplitegroup.com/contact-us

Job description

Required: Active Secret Clearance

The Hoplite Group is seeking a Maritime Maintenance SME to provide maritime maintenance, small engine repair, support boat driver operations for dives, AIE’s and deliberate water jumps, troubleshooting, testing, accountability, and management of the following list of equipment (including any future Maritime equipment added or replaced for training requirements): 35-foot aluminum hull boats with triple 300hp engines, Inflatable Wing boats (filling, folding, patching), 40hp Raider Engines, Amphibious Rescue Craft (ARC), Various size boat trailers
This position’s support provided is pivotal to the successful completion of the Advanced Skills Training (AST) mission, ultimately producing combat-ready Special Tactics operators.


  • Provide routine/preventative maintenance and minor repair of watercraft and associated equipment to include large and medium sized boats, rigid-hull 12 inflatable Wing boats, jet ski/wave runners, Raider outboard engines, boat/maritime trailers, hard flotation and safety equipment, and other related maritime items.
  • Coordinate with unit’s authorized representative for major repairs or overhauls of watercraft, engines, and equipment. Schedules and conducts required inspections, servicing, and reporting IAW organizational and manufacturer guidelines.
  • Conduct, track, and project inventories of all unit watercraft, and associated equipment. Utilized required security and safety practices and procedures to include wearing protective safety equipment and clothing when appropriate.
  • Comply with higher headquarters mandated Navy 3M reporting, inspections, and accountability programs.
  • Provide boat driver support for unit training when qualified military boat drivers are not otherwise available.
  • Utilize required security and safety practices and procedures. Wears protective safety equipment and clothing when appropriate and required.

Education Requirements & Certifications

  • High School Diploma, plus experience commensurate with performance of required duties.
  • Minimum of 5 years’ experience as a boat & engines repair mechanic.
  • Be physically able to operate unit’s Amphibious fleet

Job Type: Full-time

Schedule: Monday to Friday

Ability to commute/relocate: Hurlburt Field, FL 32544: Reliably commute or planning to relocate before starting work (Required)

Experience: Repairing boats/engines: 5 years (Required)

Security clearance:  Secret (Preferred)

Work Location: One location

In Memory of MSgt Ray Bourque

MSgt Ray Bourque Takes His Final Flight

The ACA is deeply saddened to inform our members of the passing of MSgt Ray Bourque. Ray was an ardent supporter of all things Air Commando. His unwavering dedication to the ACA along with his continuous support for veterans groups and humanitarian community efforts was unsurpassed.

A “Cajun Ray Celebration of Life Fish Fry” will be held at the American Legion Post 296, 311 Main Street, Destin, FL. 32541 on February 4, 2023, from 2-5 pm.

In his honor and memory, donations towards an “Outdoor Digital Sign” may be made to the American Legion.
🇺🇸 For God and Country 🇺🇸

We would like to share a sentiment from Ray’s daughter:

When I go to Heaven, I want to depart this world “exactly” as my Dad did.
Pa (Ray Bourque) passed on January 2, 2023. 
Born on Christmas Day in 1929, he was really special and his life reflected that.
He was able to attend his Birthday Party at the American Legion on Dec. 21st with a “full house” of close friends and family!
He was able to have “caring support” from Emerald Coast Hospice.
He was able to pass “pain free” and in his home surrounded by his loving family.
He lived a long and exciting life leaving behind a multitude of friends from all over the world!

Back in 2011, through the generosity of Mr David Krebs, who was a close personal friend of Rays and wanted to highlight Ray’s support of veterans, a scholarship was established in Ray’s name. It is open to senior high school students of the AFJROTC or CAPS who have demonstrated support for veterans groups and humanitarian community efforts.

Volunteering his time not only to a host of ACA efforts, along with veteran and humanitarian programs throughout the community, Ray epitomized the Air Commando ethos of the “Quiet Professional.” 

  • David Krebs Jr, Richard Secord, and Ray Bourque at Two Trees Restaurant in Ft Walton Beach, FL

  • Felix “Sam” Sambogna, Ray Bourque, and Hap Lutz

  • Ray Bourque taking a well deserved break at an ACA event

  • Ray working at the ACA Fish Fry in 2005

  • Mrs Jo Ann Bourque with her husband Ray.

  • Roger Klair with Ray Bourque at ACA Fish Fry

  • ACA-Banquet_2012

  • Ray at ACA Fish Fry

  • ACA-Two-Trees-Social_2013

  • Ray with Mr “T” at Two Trees Restaurant in Ft Walton Beach

  • Maj Gen Dick Secord and Ray during the ACA Banquet in 2013

  • Ray with volunteers at ACA Fish Fry 2004

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ACA Holiday Hours

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Air Commandos!! We would like to wish all of our members, our family and friends, our generous community partners and event sponsors, and all the active duty service men and women who watch over all of us this holiday season a safe, healthy, and happy holiday!
The Air Commando Association headquarters will be closed from 23 Dec until 2 Jan, we will reopen on 3 Jan 2023.

Joe Kittinger, aka Col Joe, Takes Final Flight

It is with heavy hearts, we say a final farewell to ACA Life Member #51 Colonel Joe Kittinger. Col Joe as he was known, was an original Air Commando, set several world records in aviation, served in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war, was inducted into the Air Commando Hall of Fame in 1969, and was a close friend of the founders of the Air Commando Association including Brig Gen Harry “Heinie” Aderholt.

Joe Kittinger received numerous awards and recognitions, such as: the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Life Time Achievement in Aviation Award. The Life Time in Aviation Accomplishments Award from the National Bi-Plane Association, the Victor A. Prather Award from the American Astronautical Society, and the Living Legends of Aviation award.

We would like to share a message from the National Aviation Hall of Fame on Col Joe’s flying accomplishments.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame reflects on the life of Joe Kittinger

“For his daring courageousness in going where none had gone before to pave the way for the NASA astronaut program, Joseph W. Kittinger is enshrined with highest honors into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.”  – at his presentation for induction in 1997

It is with much sadness and admiration that the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) reflects on the passing of 1997 Enshrinee Joe Kittinger.

Joe Kittinger, aka Col. Joe, will be missed by many, including fellow Enshrinees, members, and the entire National Aviation Hall of Fame.

“With unmatched dedication, Colonel Joe Kittinger, USAF, leaves a legacy of public service,” said NAHF President and CEO Amy Spowart. “As a USAF Test Pilot, Col. Joe skillfully excelled, and as an extraordinary balloonist with Project Man High and then Project Excelsior, he achieved what many saw as impossible. That he continued these successes with three tours of Vietnam is beyond comprehension and combines for what makes him an American worthy of induction into the NAHF.”

Having been ignited by the aviation bug at age two through an introduction with a Ford Trimotor at his local Orlando airport, Kittinger truly began his aviation career in 1950 in the Aviation Cadet Program. Proving himself a talented pilot, Kittinger was eventually assigned to Holloman Air Force Base, where he flew experimental jet fighters and participated in aerospace medical research. This combination would impact Joe Kittigner’s unique aviation experience and legacy.

“The synthesis of Col. Kittinger’s abilities as a pilot and medical researcher, as learned in part from his work with fellow NAHF Enshrinee John Paul Stapp, made him the ideal choice for Project Man High,” said NAHF Trustee Colonel/Dr. Kathy Hughes, USAF (Ret). “The program served to study cosmic radiation, ascertain the ideal components of astronaut selection, physiological monitoring, and high altitude hardware. Col. Kittinger truly helped pave the way for Project Mercury.”

Following the success of Man High One, Kittinger moved to Project Excelsior to test the human ability to survive extremely high altitude bailouts. In 1959, Kittinger jumped from Excelsior I from an altitude of 76,000 feet. Despite a mishap that caused him to lose consciousness, Col. Kittinger achieved his mission and continued to test the limits.

Perhaps his greatest feat came in 1960 in Excelsior III. From an altitude of 102,800 feet, Joe Kittinger set the World Record for the highest balloon ascent. During the ascent, the glove on his pressure suit did not function properly, and he had to decide whether to risk lifelong injury or abort the mission. Kittinger continued and stepped out of the gondola setting another World Record for the longest parachute freefall, four minutes and thirty -six seconds before his parachute opened at 12,000 feet.

“Col. Kittinger reached a speed over 600 miles per hour during that jump,” said Hughes. “He fell through temperatures as low as -94 F. While his hand swelled to twice its normal size during the fall, Col. Kittinger suffered no permanent damage. He demonstrated enormous courage in the pursuit of advancing aeromedical research.”

The results of Joe Kittinger’s courageousness include the new knowledge that it is possible to put a human into space and that fliers can freefall into the atmosphere from higher than first-believed altitudes. It also gave Project Gemini, NASA’s second human spaceflight program, ejection seats and tested the prototypes of the suits worn by X-15 pilots.

For this, President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Kittinger the prestigious Harmon Trophy.

Unsurprisingly, Joe Kittinger was not done. Col. Kittinger went on to serve three tours in Vietnam. As the Commander of the 555th “Triple Nickel” Tactical Fighter Squadron, Kittinger flew F-4s. In 1972, he was shot down over North Vietnam and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in Hanoi. Following his release in 1973, Kittinger was named Vice Wing Commander of an F-4 fighter wing in England. He retired from the USAF in 1978.

And still, Col. Joe was not done. While serving as the VP of Flight Operations for Rosie O’Grady’s Flying Circus in his home city of Orlando, Kittinger set another record for the longest distance flown in a helium balloon; 2000 miles from Las Vegas, NV to Franklinville, NY. In 1984, Kittinger became the first to fly solo across the Atlantic in a helium balloon, 3,543 miles in a 3,000 cubic meter balloon.

“When people ask what makes a person worthy of induction into the NAHF, I often share moments like Col. Joe’s freefall. How can one person put mission before self so eagerly in the name of progress?” said Spowart. “When we talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, the entire aerospace universe should know that they are on Joe Kittinger’s iconic shoulders. The impact he made on the world of aviation is unfathomable. He is a legend in every way, and he will never be forgotten while the NAHF exists.”

Joe Kittinger was 94.

Remembering John Connors

Remembering John S. Connors

The ACA is sadden to announce we lost one of our longest serving members. Our dear friend and stalwart comrade, John Connors, ACA Life Member #70, has taken his final flight. John was instrumental in the early days of the association, he helped with fund raising for the current headquarters building, served in several positions on the board, kept historical records for the ACA for decades, volunteered for countless activities supporting his fellow Air Commandos. He always had a kind word to say, worked side-by-side with fellow members to get the job done, and was the epitome of the “Quite Professional”.

Photo Tribute to John Connors

John Stephen Connors
November 29, 1932 ~ November 23, 2022 (age 89)

Lt. Col. John Stephen Connors, 89, passed away November 23, 2022, at his residence in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. John was born November 29, 1932, in Newburyport, Massachusetts to his parents, John Stephen Connors and Anna Agnes Connors.

A pilot in the United States Air Force, he also held a bachelor’s degree, and enjoyed collecting stamps and coins, as well as gardening and reading.

Catherine Hogg Connors was John’s bride, whom preceded him in death. John is survived by his stepsons, Robert Murphy with wife, Susan, and James Murphy with wife, Lori; stepdaughter, Jane Wofford; grandsons, Ed Wofford, Matthew Wofford with wife, Hollie, and Preston Murphy; as well as, great granddaughters, Ava and Adley Wofford.

John was a member of the Air Commando Association, Air Force Association, and Reserve Officers’ Association; he was also a member of the American Legion for twenty-five years, the Veterans of Foreign Wars for fourteen years, Daedalians for nine years, Retired Affairs Office for three years, and Military Order of the World Wars for one year. He held officer positions in several of the aforenamed and had TOP SECRET SECURITY Clearance until 1982.

Very active in civic organizations, John was a member of Knights of Columbus for thirty years, United Way of Okaloosa County for three years, Fort Walton Beach Bicentennial Committee (1976), Eglin Armament Museum Board Council of Government (1980-1982), Chamber of Commerce (1980-1982), and March of Dimes (1980-1982), as a representative of the Hurlburt Base Commander.

John held a commercial pilot license, including Helicopter; FCC Radio Telephone; and FAA 2nd Class Medical.

A visitation was held on Friday, December 2, 2022, at 11:00 A.M. in the Davis-Watkins Funeral Home Chapel on Racetrack Road, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and the funeral service was at 12:00 noon with Chaplain Charles Albertell officiating. John was laid to rest at Beal Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach, Florida immediately afterwards.

Visit www.daviswatkins.com/obituary/John-Connors#obituary to watch a video of the visitation service.

Obituary courtesy of Davis Watkins Funeral Homes & Crematory.

ACA Blog & Photos

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ACJ Vol 11/2

Chad P. Franks, Major General, USAF (Ret) Former Commander, 15th Air Force, Shaw AFB, SC

On a beautiful morning in October 1999, I found myself standing in formation in a shared maintenance hangar between our MH-60G Pave Hawks and MH-53M Pave Lows on the flightline at Hurlburt Field. I was a captain at the time and we were gathered on this day for the deactivation ceremony for the 55th Special Operations Squadron (SOS). The 55th SOS was AFSOC’s only MH-60G flying squadron and we had recently returned from a combat deployment supporting Operation Allied Force. The command was transitioning to the CV-22 Osprey and the deactivation of the 55th SOS was the first step toward bringing this new capability to the command. I remember having very mixed emotions as I watched the furling of the 55th SOS guidon with all its campaign streamers. There were many former 55th SOS squadron members in attendance, as well as AFSOC leadership and our counterparts in the wing we had served with over the years. I had many emotions that morning…sadness, disappointment, uncertainty…but the dominant emotion was mission accomplishment.

I found myself filled with gratitude as I looked back on the accomplishments of the squadron. This incredible team searched for a congressman in the mountains of Ethiopia and helped remove Manuel Noriega from power in Panama. They helped expel Saddam Hussein and his forces from Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and supported Operation Northern Watch in Turkey to keep Saddam’s forces contained. Our last combat deployment was Operation Allied Force where the “Night Hawks” were part of the operation that brought an end to Slobodan Milosevich’s genocide in Kosovo, rescuing the first (and only) downed F-117 stealth fighter pilot and an F-16 pilot, who went on to be the future Chief Staff of the Air Force, then Lt Col Dave “Fingers” Goldfein. All these legacy missions, and others, are contained in this issue of the Air Commando Journal for your enjoyment.

The 55th SOS showed the tremendous strategic impact a relatively small squadron could have on the landscape of our country’s conflicts. I am convinced that they had such an outsized impact due to the discipline and sense of purpose that permeated the squadron.

I first arrived at the 55th SOS in fall of 1995 and there was a sense of pride and dedication to the mission that was palpable throughout the squadron. It was a culture established by the Air Commandos that had come before me and embodied the SOF Truths that humans are more important than hardware and quality is better than quantity. It was a culture that had been established through hard and exhausting training with our fellow Air Commandos and joint special operations warriors. The intense training paid off time and time again as the squadron was called upon to bring their capabilities to bear and resulted in a legacy of excellence in the special operations community.

When we look back on the legacy of the 55th SOS, it is one personified by quiet professionalism, tactical excellence, disciplined operations, and a commitment to the mission. AFSOC recently dedicated a MH-60G into the airpark at Hurlburt Field to acknowledge the incredible work done by the men and women who operated, maintained, and supported the Pave Hawk mission. It is appropriate we acknowledge the role the MH-60G Pave Hawk community has played in the history of AFSOC and its outsized impact on the special operations mission. The 55th SOS’s legacy stands as a reminder that an Air Commando properly trained and equipped cannot only be successful but also make strategic impacts for our nation…
Anytime, Any Place.

Read the complete issue in PDF format here.

Furnish Family Gets Much Needed Support

Air Commando Foundation,

In October of 2021 we were notified that our sister-in-law tragically passed away and our nieces and nephew were put into foster care. Immediately upon hearing the news my wife Jessica left on a Red Cross flight from the United Kingdom to Florida to help get the children out of foster care. While Jessica was working to get us established in Florida, I was in England with our three children attempting to get humanitarian orders processed. Thanks to the amazing support of the 352 Special Operations Support Squadron our package submitted and approved within a few days. We were set to move the rest of the family to Hurlburt Field and establish a home in hopes of getting custody the children.

Moving for military families is nothing out of the ordinary but we found ourselves in financial difficulties. The expedited move and extra expenses associated with taking in three additional children took its toll. Our First Sergeant from the 352 SOSS reached out on our behalf to the ACA and explained the difficult situation we were in. The financial support ACF provided enabled us to settle into a home with all of the necessities needed to support three additional children. We have now been a family of eight for 8 months and all of the children are slowly settling in. Having 6 children under 10 years of age definitely adds to the fun and we never know what the next day will bring. Emotions sometimes run high but at the end of the day we wouldn’t have it any other way. The transition has brought to light different challenges, and we expect an uphill climb as the children move into their preteen years but we are ready. We cannot express enough gratitude to the Air Commando Foundation and the amazing family community of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Sincerely, Cody & Jessica Furnish & family

Friendly Fire in Northern Iraq

Friendly Fire in Northern Iraq

Recovery of Eagle Flight — 14 April 1994

Reference: Air Commando Journal, Vol 11 Issue 2, November 2022, pages 43-48

By Todd Bolger, Lt Col, USAF (Retired)

OPC Military Coordination Center (MCC) located at Zakho, Iraq (Photo by Scott Swanson)

Sitting combat alert day after day for weeks and months on end can be summed up simply, 90 percent of the time is sheer boredom, but the other 10 percent can be over-the-top hectic. So it often was in Incirlik, Turkey, where the 55th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) provided an organic combat rescue alert posture as part of both Operation Provide Comfort II (OPC) and its multi-national combined task force (CTF) enforcing the United Nations (UN) no-fly zone in northern Iraq in the mid-1990s. By 13 April 1994, most of the 55th SOS crews had deployed to Incirlik multiple times to support this mission. It was just another typical alert day for the two MH-60G combat crews and support personnel until the alert radios sounded and the 55th, along with assigned special tactics (STS) forces, jumped into action. Two Iraqi helicopters were spotted in the no-fly zone, and both were shot down by two US F-15 Eagles. The 55th had to be ready for whatever came next and the events that followed put into motion what would be one of the longest helicopter recovery missions on record.

Again, that day began normally with the CTF conducting no-fly zone operations within the northern Iraq area of operations. The 55th SOS’s deployed mission commander, also serving as the OPC commander and commander of Air Force Special Operations Forces (COMAFSOF), received an urgent call from the CTF search and rescue liaison officer (SARLO). A flight of CTF F-15s had just shot down two Hind helicopters in northern Iraq. This was alarming! Not only was it unlikely that Hind helicopters were suddenly operating in northern Iraq for the first time in two years, but, more importantly, two US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 6th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment–call sign, “Eagle Flight”–were conducting an important CTF mission in the same area that day. COMAFSOF had just spent a few days in Zakho, Iraq, flying on Eagle Flight helicopters with the OPC Military Coordination Center (MCC) commander on daily missions visiting the various Kurdish villages. He knew that on this particular day the outgoing MCC commander was taking the incoming MCC commander to meet the local Kurdish leaders throughout northern Iraq.

Earlier that morning with a crew of 10, Eagle Flight departed their base in Diyarbakir, Turkey and made their first stop at the MCC in Zakho, where they picked up 16 members of the UN Provide Comfort coalition leadership team. This included four Kurdish civilians; one Chaldean-Catholic civilian; three Turkish, two British, and one French military officer; plus five US civilian and military officials, leaving one major behind to man the MCC. This day-long mission was meant to be an auspicious occasion for the entire MCC senior staff to meet and greet local Kurdish leaders at several locations, to include Irbil, Iraq, which is located approximately 120 miles inside Iraq. Knowing this, the COMAFSOF asked the SARLO to quickly check with the CTF operations section on the location and time of the reported shoot-down, against the flight plan and schedule for Eagle Flight. The SARLO quickly called back, stating that it appeared the Eagle Flight helicopters were supposed to be flying in the area near Irbil at about the same time the shoot-down was reported. Further, CTF Ops had not received any position updates from Eagle Flight since before the reported Hind shoot-down. The COMAFSOF grimly commented to the SARLO that, “Those were not Hinds…”

COMAFSOF immediately notified both 55th operations duty officer and the Commander, Joint Special Operations Task Force (COMJSOTF) of the potential friendly-fire shoot-down, while attempting to nail down CTF’s actual awareness of the situation. Immediate concern was that IF it was a friendly shoot-down, time was of the essence to rescue survivors, especially given the two-hour minimum preparation and launch time, and four additional hours transit time to the recovery location. It soon was apparent the CTF staff was not yet aware or engaged, a factor which cost the recovery effort a few extra hours of precious time. Fortunately, the 55th SOS, with JSOTF in tow, wasted no time “leaning forward in the saddle” to prepare for the mission, should it come to pass, well in advance of direction from CTF HQ.

Over the next hour and a half, as Eagle Flight failed to check in, and no further radar contact was made, the realization that the two downed helicopters were most likely the US Army helicopters of Eagle Flight began to sink in. The alert team readied the added gear for a potential recovery mission, to include additional personnel and communications equipment. Simultaneously, the 55th SOS generated its third and last helicopter, which required a maintenance check flight, providing what proved to be a mission critical asset. It was evident the CTF was not positioned to deal with a mass casualty event that would depend heavily on 100 percent of JSOTF’s air assets. If any one of the helicopters had been non-mission capable, the rescue/recovery operation would have been extended into a two-day operation. The ability to generate all necessary assets that day speaks highly of the squadron’s deployed maintenance readiness and personnel.

Apart from CTF delays, other challenges included very heavy-weight helicopter mission loads with STS and Army Special Forces (SF) personnel on board to provide crash site security and manpower for whatever the mission would encounter on the ground. Taking off at maximum gross weight and flying such a long distance would require inflight refueling enroute to the crash site(s). Yet the host nation imposed two other mission-impacting restrictions. First, a Turkish military officer was required to be on each helicopter simply to observe, which scratched a troop actually needed for the mission and second, Turkey prohibited the helicopters from air refueling within Turkish airspace. This forced the very heavy, fully loaded MH-60Gs, flying in hot conditions, to be critically low on fuel when crossing the border into Iraq. Then, when CTF finally gave the launch order, the Turkish base initially denied take off clearance, further delaying the mission.

By 1500, a full four hours after initial alert call, three combat loaded MH-60Gs finally departed Incirlik for the four-hour flight to the shoot-down site. The COMJSOTF and COMAFSOF were also aboard the MH-60Gs, serving as the joint rescue/recovery mission commander (RMC) and his air mission commander (AMC), respectively. When the crash sites were found, they and the special tactics teams off-loaded to provide on-site command and control (C2) for the operation. Along with the helicopter team, two MC-130P Combat Shadows launched to provide communications links and continuous on-call helicopter aerial refueling. Once the MH-60 formation was airborne, the long flight to the border proved to be uneventful. However, the AMC thought it was odd that the flight received virtually no radio (SATCOM) communications enroute and no situation or threat updates. Nothing!

The mission crews did not even know for certain if it was a shoot-down, and if so, if there were any survivors; but they still pressed on with the urgency of a rescue mission. Further, while the aircrews were aware of an Iraqi artillery and infantry garrison within 20 miles of the objective area, they had no information regarding enemy activity or what threats the recovery forces should expect upon arrival. Crossing the border into Iraq with bare minimum fuel onboard, all aircraft successfully inflight refueled, which required delicate flight maneuvers because the MH-60s were still very heavy.

Two of three 55th SOS MH-60G Pave Hawks at the Eagle Flight shootdown site, taken the day the accident investigation team was brought to the site. Vicinity of Site One (Photo taken by Scott Swanson)

The Pave Hawks arrived at the first shoot-down site just after sunset. But it wasn’t until actually flying over the first site that the aircrews saw the American flag in the cabin door window of the wreckage, confirming the downed aircraft were not Hinds, confirming their fear of fratricide. Flight lead provided airborne security while chalks two and three began recovery team insertion. The first site located was designated Site One. It was fairly level and accessible for a landing to insert their STS team. The RMC and AMC offloaded at Site One and spent the rest of the mission on the ground, providing both C2 of the recovery forces and the critical radio link with CTF. The second crash site was designated Site Two and it provided the biggest challenge to the task force, given the very rough terrain and limited number of body bags they had with them. The crash site was on a steep hill, not suitable for a helicopter landing, forcing the STS team to insert 500 meters down-slope. During the insertion the aerial gunner, while assisting the special tactics team offloading equipment, jumped out of the aircraft and broke his foot on the uneven terrain. The PJ immediately taped up the gunner’s foot with duct tape and proceeded to climb the steep terrain to the site while the gunner jumped back on the aircraft and continued his aircrew duties for the next 10-plus hours.

A few Special Forces soldiers from the Zakho MCC, who were already in the vicinity of Site One, met the arriving helicopters and escorted the RMC and AMC on a quick reconnaissance of the crash site. They reported a total of 12 dead at Site One and 14 dead at Site Two and no survivors. The SF team had collected all the dog tags and some personal effects from the deceased and gave them to the RMC. When the details were provided to the CTF, the CTF directed the RMC to recover the remains and sensitive equipment back to Diyarbakir, Turkey, under the cover of darkness. This was to prevent daylight site exploitation by Iraqi forces. It was now clearly a recovery, and not a rescue mission, but still an urgent one because it was located in hostile and uncertain territory. Thus began a very long, difficult, and dark night in many ways.

There were also about 200 armed Kurdish Peshmerga operating in the area, but not associated with the crash recovery. While there was no indication of any Iraqi military response to the recovery operation, the Iraqi threat was still a concern. Another concern was that the only communications between the AMC and the helicopters were VHF survivor radios transmitting in the clear, and it was very likely Iraqi forces were aware of the recovery force activity.

Full darkness came quickly as the mission crews got to work locating and preparing the remains for transport. This proved to be a slow and tedious task, due to the darkness, steep terrain at Site Two, as well as a broad dispersion pattern at both crash sites. In order to facilitate the process, flight lead put a plan together, directing one helicopter to recover remains from the steep hillside of Site Two and then shuttle the remains over to Site One, which was used as a collection area (see diagram to the right). The two other MH-60s then began transferring the collected remains from Site One to the security of the MCC at Zakho for temporary holding, prior to the final flight to Diyarbakir, Turkey.

As mentioned previously, Site Two proved to be the greater challenge for the recovery effort. The ground team found an area that permitted stokes litter hoisting near the wreckage which was along a steep cliff and surrounded by several 10-15 foot tall trees. This required the Pave Hawk to hover out of ground effect which called for very high-power settings. The stamina, skill, and determination of the Pave Hawk and special tactics team at Site Two allowed the recovery of all 14 sets of remains, using 8 separate stokes litter hoist events in the process. The whole process took a long time because of the challenges presented by steep and wooded terrain. To expedite the loading process at Site One, several aircrew members left the aircraft to help load remains. While preparing for the mission and prior to leaving Turkey, the CTF could locate only 16 body bags at Incirlik Airbase (AB), so the team had to use many of the body bags to transport more than one set of remains. This, of course was not ideal, but the aircrews and ground team, did what was necessary to get the job done, quickly, respectfully, and safely, despite all the clear and present dangers.

While the shootdown recovery was a somber and serious event, those of us who have served know that sometimes humor in the darkest of situations can be an incredible medicine. During one of the 40-minute shuttle runs from the crash site to the MCC at Zakho, a call came across the intra-flight radio:
Chalk one, “Did you see that?”
A pensive response came from chalk two, “Maybe.”
Chalk one replied, “I didn’t know if I was going a bit loopy and seeing things.”
Chalk two replied, “You probably are, but we saw it too!”

The exchange was prompted by the sight of huge 50-70 foot shadows projected on a cliff from a group of Peshmerga fighters sitting around a fire. One fighter stood up and shouldered a weapon and walked off, out of the firelight. This scene played out as huge shadows easily visible under NVGs, and provided a surreal sight that brought some much-needed levity to the crews that night.

Crewmembers from the 55th SOS at Site One of the Eagle Flight shootdown, the day the accident investigation team was brought to the site. Back to camera is unidentified Turkish military. Left to right is Aerial Gunner Robert Keiper, Copilot Mike Geragosian, and Aerial Gunner Rodney Quinn. Person in far background is unidentified (Photo taken by Scott Swanson)

The Pave Hawks conducted multiple inflight refuelings in northern Iraq throughout the night as they balanced aircraft weight and fuel endurance requirements, all the while avoiding sporadic ground fire. The MC-130s established an air-refueling orbit all night, north of the objective area, to stay clear of any possible Iraqi threats and making it easier for the Pave Hawks to pop up from low-level flight for fuel as needed. During the refuelings, one crew experienced a refueling probe partial extension malfunction. Normally the refueling probe extends a total of eight feet putting the probe tip four feet beyond the rotor disk when refueling. For this crew, the probe would only extend approximately three to four feet, leaving the probe tip under the rotor disk and making it highly possible for a blade strike on the refueling hose or basket; a very hazardous situation. The crew evaluated the risk and discussed the situation with the MC-130 aircraft commander before conducting a partially extended refueling. Over the night, the crew completed four successful aerial refuelings with the partially extended probe. This allowed them to stay on scene and enabled the recovery of all remains prior to daylight. The MH-60 crew demonstrated incredible skill because even one blade strike on the hose or basket would not just have damaged the helicopter, but could also have prevented the tanker from providing fuel to the other two helicopters that were feverishly working the crash sites and who were dependent on multiple refuelings. By the end of the night, after 13-14 hours of strenuous flying, another crew was critically low on fuel and repeatedly failed to make contact with the MC-130’s refueling hose. Despite the fatigue and the stress culminating in that moment, the crew stepped back, and with the encouragement and direction from the flight engineer came together as a team to finally make contact and receive the fuel necessary to reach Diyarbakir. The alternative was making a precautionary landing with its precious cargo in hostile territory and necessitating assistance from the other helicopters.

Once all 26 sets of remains were successfully recovered and shuttled to Zakho, the MH-60s returned to Site One to recover all JSOTF ground forces for final transport back to Zakho. After all forces were safely back in friendly territory, the three Pave Hawks loaded all 26 sets of remains waiting at Zakho, and then flew the final shuttle of the night to Diyarbakir, arriving after sunrise.

When the three helicopters landed at Diyarbakir and taxied to the airport parking ramp, they were met by the Eagle Flight command team. The aircrews kept the cargo doors closed to lessen the visible blow of the stack of body bags inside the cabin. One of the aerial gunners jumped off the aircraft to meet the command team. As he walked toward the group, meeting them a few feet outside of the rotor disk, he could see a lieutenant colonel leading the group, obviously crying, but doing his best to remain stoic. The gunner, still covered in blood and charred flesh from lifting the remains, could read the commander’s body language as he desperately looked for confirmation. No words were needed. The gunner just slowly shook his head “No” and the officer fell into the gunner, sobbing. They both dropped to the ramp as the others surrounded them. The moment lasted a few minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime. The moment has stayed with the gunner and the onlooking crewmembers to this day.

Finally at Diyarbakir, the three crews entered crew rest, sleeping on cots hastily assembled on a gymnasium basketball court floor. In the end, 55th SOS MH-60 alert crews logged 15+ hours of flight time and over 19 hours of on-duty time after initial alert notification. The crew flying the third aircraft logged over 22 hours of duty time, including their maintenance test flights earlier in the day, all of which exceeded the Air Force’s crew duty day limits because the mission required it.

Crewmembers from the 55th SOS at Site One of the Eagle Flight shootdown, on the day the accident investigation team was brought to the site. Left is aircraft commander John Stein and right is flight engineer Kurt Gustafson (Photo taken by Scott Swanson)

The 55th SOS crews flew two additional missions to the crash site over the following days. After proper crew rest, they flew the 3rd Air Force commander and incident investigation team back to the crash sites. The next day, they transported the CTF commander and various distinguished visitors from Diyarbakir to Zakho for a memorial service and return. The Pave Hawks then flew the ground recovery team (STS, C2, and SF) from Zakho to Diyarbakir, where they boarded an MC-130 for flight back to Incirlik AB. The third day, the 55th crews resumed SAR alert for CTF air activities from Diyarbakir, finally returning to Incirlik that evening.

Despite the tragic loss of two US helicopters with 26 lives, the actions of the 55th SOS and the entire JSOTF team were remarkable. The team was able to recover all remains under cover of darkness, denying Iraq the ability to exploit the shootdown, and ultimately moving all forces back into either the UN Security Zone or Turkey, all with no loss of life or injury to recovery personnel. Most importantly, the team’s actions provided families of the deceased the ability to bury their loved ones. The selfless, forward-leaning, mission-focused, agile, and tenacious character of each member of the 55th SOS team is truly what made this arduous recovery mission under such tragic and potentially hostile conditions so successful. The efforts of all involved contributed immeasurably to the 55th SOS being selected as the AFSOC Squadron of the Year for 1994.

About the Author: Lt Col Todd Bolger retired after serving 21 years in the Air Force. His assignments included 8 years in AFSOC, While assigned to the 55th SOS, Colonel Bolger deployed in support of Operations Provide Comfort, Northern Watch, and Uphold Democracy (Haiti). Later, as the 66th Rescue Squadron Commander, he led the initial US combat rescue deployments for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. UponAfter his retirement, he joined SAIC and later, Leidos, as a Joint Special Operations University instructor and program manager, followed by multiple international business development and management programs in Europe and the Mideast.
Contributors to this article: Col (Ret) John Zahrt, Maj (Ret) Scott Swanson, SSGT William Rodney Quinn Jr, MSgt (Ret) Kurt Gustafson

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Bonwit Family’s Generosity

Lt Col Barry Lee Bonwit, passed away on April 20, 2022 and his beloved wife and family sent a very substantial donation to the ACA in his name. Colonel Bonwit, whose member number was #103, loved the Air Commando Association and served with honor and distinction as a “Quiet Professional” anytime-anywhere. The ACA is truly grateful to the Bonwit Family.


Lt. Col. Barry Lee Bonwit, age 95, passed away peacefully at his home on Perdido Bay on April 20, 2022 of natural causes. He is predeceased by a son, Mark Christian and leaves behind his beloved wife of 52 years Roberta Ann; a son, Christopher Lee (wife Chanjira); daughter, Lisa Lee; two grandchildren, Katie and William, and a favorite niece, Renee Zahourek (Jon). Colonel Bonwit was born May 13, 1926 in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up on Miami Beach, Florida and at the age of 16 he enlisted in the Air Force October 1943. He served as a B-17 tail gunner during the latter part of World War II. In July 1946, he was honorably discharged, only to return and gain admission to the Aviation Cadet Program. On October 12, 1950, he graduated and was assigned to the Air Rescue Service where he spent the next seven years navigating amphibious aircraft in Saudi Arabia and Hawaii. Concluding this tour of duty, in 1957, Colonel Bonwit attended Stanford University under the Air Force Institute of Technology, earning a degree in International Relations. B-52 Bombardment training in 1959 blossomed into a navigator assignment at Eglin Air Force Base until 1961, and a radar navigator position at Homestead AFB, FL flying B-52H aircraft until 1966. He attended A-26 navigator training school and was assigned to the 609 Air Commando Wing in Thailand. Colonel Bonwit was later stationed at Maxwell AFB in 1971 researching the VietNam war. In October 19711, he was assigned radar navigator on the B-52 in the 46th Bomb Squadron and 3 years later he became the Air Weapons officer until his retirement in August 1975. In the course of his career, Colonel Bonwit has flown a total of 212 combat missions 75 of which were staged over North Vietnam. 4 operations were flown over Hanoi as part of Linebacker II. He accrued over 7,700 flying hours in aircraft including the B-36, A-26, SA16, B-52, B-29, B-17. Colonel Bonwit also gained counter insurgency experience in SE Asia. Among numerous awards Colonel Bonwit wore the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, the Meritorius Service Medal, Combat Readiness Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and the Vietnam Service Medal with one battlestar. Upon retiring to Perdido Bay near Pensacola, Colonel Bonwit and his wife Roberta, traveled all over the globe. He also received a Masters in International Relations from Troy University. His favorite organizations were the Air Commando Association, the Air Rescue Association, Stanford Alumni Association, Air Force Navigators Association and Friends of Perdido Bay. A service and burial will be held at a later date. Remembrances may be sent to the Air Commando Association, P.O. Box 7, Mary Esther, FL 32569-0007.

Published in Pensacola News Journal – Posted online on September 02, 2022

Maj Gen Bob Patterson Flies West

We would like to share a beautiful tribute to Maj Gen Patterson by our friends in the Airlift Tanker Association. It highlights his huge contribution to the stand up of AFSOC as well as his long and dedicated career in the Air Force. Gen Patterson was inducted into the Air Commando Hall of Fame in 2012. Blessings to his family and RIP Air Commando.


In Memory of Our Members Nov 2022

In a final salute to our members who have recently passed away in 2022, the Air Commando Association and all who answered the call of our nation: we salute you!

Kenneth C Anderson
Barry L Bonwit
James Edwards
Owen Haddock
Ben Kraljev Jr.
Robert Patterson
Edward Reed
Howard Sanders

Welcome Newest ACA Members

The ACA is proud to welcome the following Air Commandos to our association. We hope new members and seasoned members alike, will continue to volunteer and donate to our mission of “Supporting Air Commandos and their families: Past & Present!”

Wes Alderman

William Barnwell

Drew Belcher

Russell Bergeron Jr.

Joe Borrell

Jason Browne

Nigel Carl

Patrick Dugan

Ana-Maria Ehrler

Anthony Ferrara

Jeffrey Fields

Colin Fleck

Ralph Furtner

Michael Hackman

Jake Haines

Richard Hollinger Jr.

Ryan James

James Kinsley

Joseph Lopez

Keith Maresca

Patrick McAllister

Jeremiah McCoy

Derek McLane

Steven Meyers

Jeremiah Monk

Gregory Moody

Sean Oats

Donald Plater

Eric Prince

Tommy Roberson

Ruben Ruiz Perez

Joseph Rushlau

Jeffrey Shaw

Taylor Williams

Fellow ACA Member Inducted in Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame

The ACA recently learned of life member Colonel (Retired) Walter K. Schmidt’s induction into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame. We congratulate Colonel Schmidt and are please to present the citation content below for our readers:

Walter k Schmidt, Col, USAF, (Ret) has been selected for induction into Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame for valor on 5 November in Columbus, GA. The HOF objective is to publicly emphasize the honor brought to the state and nation by the sacrifice of Georgia military veterans and their families. It’s dual purpose is to honor our Georgia vets and educating young people as to who are our real heroes.

Col Schmidt’s career has been nothing but outstanding. He joined the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing at Clark AB flying 10 and then 15 day shuttles out of Tan Son Nhut AB Vietnam from January 1966 to June 1968 flying 481 days in Vietnam. On one of his Air Medals it was noted, he distinguished himself in Phu Yen Province flying day and night combat assault in hostile environment in deploying the 1st Cav, enabling them to trap and demoralize a major hostile force. It was also noted on one of his Distinguished Flying Crosses that he participated in aerial flight near A Loui, A Shau Valley in an extremely hazardous Tactical Emergency airdrop mission under adverse conditions to deliver ammunition to the beleaguered forcées in the valley. The outstanding skill and professionalism displayed by (then) Captain Schmidt in getting the load on target under adverse conditions exemplify the highest standards of tactical airlift. On his second tour at Nha Trang AB 1970-1971 in 15th/90th SpecialOperations Squadrons with Military Assistance Command – Studies and Observation Group (MACSOG); a highly classified multi-service United States special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations, strategic reconnaissance, and physiological warfare operations against North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam. MACSOG was made up of Army Special Forces (green berets), Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Operators, Marine Force Recon and CIA operatives. On this tour Col Schmidt’s total time in country (Vietnam) now is 831 days to include 1801.6 hours combat time, 429 combat missions and 2214 combat sorties. Col Schmidt stayed within the Special Operations community for next 20 years; including a tour as Commander United States Air Forces Europe elite 7th Special Operations Squadron. As 21st AF, Director Special Operations and Special Activities, he was responsible for close hold planning and coordination of MAC airlift forces in night airdrop invasion of Panama. And as CAT director he directed all MAC assets; 12 C-130s deploying Rangers, 80 C-141s deploying 82nd Airborne Brigade and 11 C -5s hauling reinforcement supplies in the invasion of Panama in Operation Just Cause in December 1989, which has been described as most efficient and effective use of airlift in history. Colonel Schmidt is an extremely highly decorated officer to include Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 cluster, Meritorious Service with 2 clusters, Air Medal with 16 clusters. Air Force Accommodation Medal, Army Accommodation Medal ((Air Liaison Officer to US Army Special Forces (Green Berets) Europe)), Air Force Presidential Award, Navy/Marine Presidential Award (26th Marines with a landing at Khe Sahn), Army Presidential Award (MACSOG), plus numerous other medals. Colonel Schmidt is also a parachutist, which he is very proud of, with 38 jumps, to include 6 as a Captain, 23 as a Major, 1 as a Lieutenant Colonel and 8 as a Colonel. Colonel Schmidt’s entire period of service of 28 years in the United States Air Force was nothing but professional in every aspect. These distinct accomplishments and professional competence, aerial skill, airmanship and devotion to duty displayed by Colonel Schmidt reflect great credit upon himself and United States Air Force. Colonel Schmidt has been married for 52 years to Monique (née Flocon) Schmidt. They have five children; Eric, Chantal, Annick, Brigitte, and Darya. Colonel and Mrs Schmidt have been extremely active in their local community affairs for all of their tours. He was inducted in to the Air Commando ( Special Operations) Hall of Fame in 2010. And this induction into Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of his career. Colonel Schmidt taught AF Junior ROTC at Cherokee High School for 12 years upon his retirement from the AF in 1990. He and his wife reside in the Soleil sub-division of Canton, GA.

Antelope Island 30th Anniversary and Rededication

On Saturday, Oct. 29. 2022, a memorial service was held to honor the lives of 12 men – 30 years to the day after they died. Oct. 29, 1992, an MH-60G Pave Hawk chopper crashed into the Great Salt Lake, claiming the lives of 12 of the 13 men on board during what the Air Force called a routine training mission.

ACA members along with family, friends, and service members from our military community gathered on a cold October day to remember their fallen loved ones and to re-dedicate the memorial in their honor. The ACA is proud to have been a part of this remembrance and honored to have participated in the restoration of the memorial.

For the complete story visit: https://www.abc4.com/news/florida-man-mission-restore-memorial-12-fallen-soldiers-antelope-island/

To see all the photos from the Rededication visit: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ups5qdqwrd7jkqk/AAB4O87kzaJJxS-kM6RY0ghpa?dl=0

Hoplite Group Looking for Admin Support

The Hoplite Group, a growing veteran-owned small business, is seeking a Program/Admin Specialist to support our Defense U.S. Government customers and DoD programs, responsible for administrative and operational support. This is a fantastic opportunity for an individual with a get things done mindset, energetic and ready to seize an opportunity for growth potential. While this is a mid-level position, the successful candidate for this position should have a skill set which would allow them to progress to more senior management roles as they gain more experience.

Ideally located in the Tampa to work remotely, or in the Panhandle/Destin area to work from Hoplite Group’s headquarters

Click on this link to apply. www.thehoplitegroup.com/adminpmspecialist

DoD Gov Contracts Program Admin Support
Destin or Tampa – Florida (Remote support)

START : Immediate Start

LOCATION : Destin or Tampa – Florida (Possibility of Remote Support)



– Maintain ongoing day to day interaction as needed with corporate management, subcontractors, prime customers, and employees or consultants on contracts regarding administrative issues, operational matters, billing questions, contractors’ hours, project reports, invoicing etc.

– Administers oversight of FTEs positions and engages with strategic partners and prime/sub-contractor management.

– Prepares monthly invoices, including payroll reports, and organizing invoice supporting documentation for the Finance Department.

– Manages requests and updates for contractual requirements and insurance, including DBA.

– Submits contract data items such as periodic progress/performance reports, or other contractually required documentation.

– Facilitates operations and support of staffing, logistics, and mobilization of personnel – CONUS and OCONUS.

– Travel accommodations and reimbursement

– Acts as SPOT administrator.



– Bachelor’s Degree, ideally in business administration or management.

– At least three years of experience in government contracting admin/program management work.

– Ideally, experience/understanding of SOF environment

– Familiarity with the Fly America Act and international travel management

– Holds an active Secret Clearance with Department of Defense. Desired but not required.

– Proficient with Microsoft Office, and Google suite.

– Able to produce clear and concise communications.

– Extremely well organized and a get things done attitude.

Photos of the 2022 ACA Convention

We are very excited to share all the photos which were taken by ACA life member Scott Schaeffler of Scott Photo Works. Scott was a helicopter pilot by trade (flew the Pavelow in the 20th SOS 1994-97 and ended his military career flying Hueys with the 6th SOS). His company is based in Northwest Florida and offers an array of professional photography services from real estate to events. The ACA is incredibly fortunate to have such a generous and talented member be our official photographer! Thank you Scott!

2022 ACA Convention Photos

Bostwick Family Faces Huge Challenges

Air Commando Association & Foundation,

This past year has been the most difficult for our family. My husband, the selfless father and provider of our family, was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes. Shortly after his surgery he began an intense regiment of chemotherapy. Our family’s summer consisted of babysitters, long drives to receive treatment and many runs to the local grocery store in order to have food that he could eat.

A month after my husband ‘s cancer went into remission we were given the worst news of our lives, our son Gabriel was also diagnosed with cancer. To say we were shocked is an understatement and I cannot begin to describe the grief, sorrow and fear we faced. We chose to have Gabriel treated at the University of Alabama despite the fact that we would have to travel, live out of hotels and hospitals and be separated as a family for many months at time. We ate way too much fast food, and spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays in hotels so we could be together as a family. While Gabriel was fighting for his life and lost a leg we tried desperately to provide a sense of normalcy for our two other children, the last thing on our mind was finances. That is when the Air Commando Association stepped in to help. We sat down with them, shared our story and current financial struggles and they listened with kind hearts. We were humbled when the foundation cleared our credit card debt as well as paid for repairs to our vehicles including our 2011 minivan which was essential with our son in a wheelchair. The ACA also connected us with Eglin Federal Credit Union and Building Homes For Heroes to help renovate our home with a handicap bedroom and bathroom for Gabriel. Today Gabriel is in school and in 6th grade! He is also learning to walk with a new prosthetic leg! Gabriel is still undergoing chemotherapy for the cancer that has moved into his lungs but his spirits are high. My husband continues to be the primary parent who travels with our son to and from UAB. All of this while keeping up with his job and caring for the rest of us. The last two years have brought so many unexpected challenges and we are so thankful for the Air Commando Association and Foundation for helping us navigate through them.


Jaci & Andrew Bostwick & Family

Remembering Our Fallen

Please join us as the Special Operations Community commemorates the 12 lives lost in the helicopter crash on 29 October 1992 near Antelope Island and rededicate the memorial in their honor. 29 Oct 2022 from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM at Antelope Island Rd, Syracuse, UT 84075 Visit https://combatcontrol.team/event-4978067 for more information.


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75th Anniversary of the USAF

Join our community celebration! The Northwest Florida community is honoring the 75th Anniversary of the Air Force and featuring stories of the operations based out of Hurlburt Field, Eglin AFB, and Duke Field.

September 13, 2022 from 1:30pm – 3:30pm CDT
Mattie Kelly Arts Center at NWFSC
$20 per person Tickets can be purchased at Mattie Kelly Arts Center
Scheduled Speakers:
Doolittle Raid Training — Cindy Chal/Lt Col Dick Cole’s (of the Doolittle Raiders) Daughter
Korea/Vietnam — Capt (Ret) Dale Dye
POW — Col (Ret) Howard Hill
Operation King Pin (Son Tay Raid) — Col (Ret) Larry Ropka
Vietnam Refugees — Col (Ret) Billy Keeler
Operation Eagle Claw — CMSGT (Ret) Bill Walter
Grenada — Lt Col (Ret) Kirby Locklear
Panama — CMSgt (Ret) Bill Walter
Desert Storm — Lt Col (Ret) Corby L. Martin (USAFSOS)
Somalia ‘Black Hawk Down’ — CMSgt (Ret) Bill Walter
Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan — Col Allison Black
Development of the GBU-43/B “MOAB” bomb — Lt Col (Ret) Mark Hunter
Bin Laden Raid (Neptune Spear) — Lt Gen (Ret) Marshall ‘Brad’ Webb

Kenneth C. Anderson

With great sadness for our loss, but even more gratitude for his life, we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, and grandfather, Kenneth (Ken) C. Anderson. Born July 18, 1935, to Roy and Bel (Kwapil) Anderson in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Ken passed from death into life eternal with his Lord Jesus on April 6, 2022, following a long battle with diabetes, strokes, and dementia. On December 10, 1983, Ken married Jean Veldey VanKeuren. Memories of growing up in Door County include helping his dad in the boat and bait business, plus working to buy his clothes and save for college. After graduation from St. Olaf College, Ken served his country for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. Highlights include training in an Air Commando unit, earning a graduate degree in business and earning medals. Ken’s service took him to Viet Nam, Thailand, Panama, Guam, England and stateside duty that included the Pentagon. Post retirement, he worked at Oshkosh Truck Corporation in defense program management. Further applying his education and experience, Ken next enjoyed teaching at Fox Valley Technical College. After full retirement, his all-time favorite job was volunteering in kindergarten. A devoted Christian, he served at Oshkosh Community Church. Favorite pastimes included reading, fishing, flying as a private pilot, going to Door County, and visiting family. He’ll be fondly remembered for his faith, intellect, sense of humor, love of family and his many pets.

Ken is survived by and his memory will be cherished by his wife, Jean and sons, Eric (Kelley) Anderson, Jon (Dolly Piette) VanKeuren and Chris (Jenny) VanKeuren, plus six grandchildren: Jake, Ashley, Faith, Crystal, Maddy and Andy. He is further survived by his brother,Wayne (Nancy); sisters-in-law: Carol Veldey (Carlton Peterson), Kate Connors, and Evie (Tim) Kane, nieces and nephews plus former daughters-in-law Kris Behm and Sarah Van Keuren. Preceding him in death are his parents and son, Mark Anderson.

Funeral services for Ken will be held on Saturday, April 9, 2022 at 4 :00 pm in Community Church, 2351 Ryf Road with the Rev. Alan Cleveland officiating. A time of visitation will be held at the church on Saturday from 3:00 pm until the time of service. Full military honors will be accorded by the United Veterans Honor Guard immediately following the service. Burial will be in Riverside Cemetery. In lieu of floral expressions, a memorial fund for charity will be established.

Courtesy of Fiss & Bills-Poklasny Funeral Home

Lt. Col. Donald Moody, USAF (Ret)

Lt. Col. Donald Moody, USAF (Ret) 86, earned his heavenly wings, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Memorials: EAPLS (Raven FACs) Scholarship Fund, 507 Rolling Green Dr., Lakeway, TX 78734 or Bear Valley Community Church, 7900 Precinct Line Rd., Colleyville, TX 76034.

Don was born in Burkburnet, Texas on July 13, 1935, to Douglas and Wilma Day Moody. He was a 1953 graduate of Wichita Falls High School and, following graduation, enlisted in the USAF and was accepted into the Aviation Cadet program. After graduation, he flew the F-84 at Luke AFB in Arizona. He then went to Bentwaters RAF in England, and then to Toul Rosiere AFB, France. He then flew the F-100D aircraft at Hahn AB, Germany. Upon his return to the states, Don was posted to Webb AFB, Texas, where he flew the T-38A as an instructor pilot.

Following his tour as a UPT Instructor Pilot, Don reported to Hurlburt Field, Florida, where he began a long and storied career in the USAF Special Operations forces as an Air Commando. He instructed foreign pilots, training them to fly the AT-28D as close air support attack pilots. In 1966, Don was sent to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, as part of Operation Waterpump, where he trained Laotian and Hmong pilots to become fighter pilots in the Royal Laotian Air Force (RLAF). He then went to Luang Prabang, Laos, (L-54) as the Air Operations Center (AOC) Commander, working for the American Embassy.

In January of 1967, L-54 was overrun by North Vietnamese troops, which resulted in heavy losses of T-28s at the base. Don then had to rebuild the RLAF T-28 capability for the second time in six months.

While in Southeast Asia Don served as a Butterfly FAC, a Raven FAC, and an AOC Commander. He spent 849 days there and flew 446 combat missions.

During his military service, he was awarded the Bronze Star (with OLC), the Distinguished Flying Cross (with OLC), Air Force Legion of Merit, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal (with OLC), Joint Service Commendation Medal by 7th Air Force unit USSAG and other medals.

Prior to retirement, he earned his BS from William Carey University, MS. and his MBA from Northwestern State University in Louisiana. In 1976 he retired from the Air Force at England AFB, Louisiana, flying A-37’s.

After retirement from the Air Force, Don continued his career, first as a banker, and then working for Southern Air Transport, and finally at Simuflite as a Government Compliance Specialist.

Upon retirement from Simuflite , he became a volunteer youth Baseball and Football Coach. This he loved. He finally volunteered as a VIPS (Volunteer in Police Service for the North Richland Hills Police Dept. He loved to do this as well.

In 2003, he was inducted into the Air Commando’s Hall of Fame for his outstanding service and contributions to this nation as an Air Force special operator and Air Commando.

Don was instrumental is forming the “Edgar Allen Poe Literary Society” in 1973, a nonprofit Texas corporation that provides scholarships to deserving Laotian and Hmong students. He has been a valued member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for many years. His presence and guidance there will be greatly missed.

He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Lorraine Garren Moody. Children: Lisa Moody, Kelly Valadez, Jennifer Moody Ogden (Jim), Michael Moody (Staci), Laura Crewe, Lisa Greenfield, Lynette Kithas (Mike) Carl Greenfield and grandchildren whom he loved very much.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Douglas and Wilma Day Moody, Sister, Sharon Moody Brock, and son David Moody.

Don wrote about his experiences during the Laos/ Cambodia conflict. They are published on the Raven website under The Adventures of Bob and Don. The web address is ravens.org.

ACJ Vol 11/1

Thomas J. Trask, Lt General USAF (Ret)
Former Vice Commander USSOCCOM

The hallmark of great special operations has always been the creativity and ingenuity of the operators themselves. It is a story of men and women who thrived on challenge and on the unknown, came together as teams, and accomplished unbelievable feats. They were their best when the challenges were the greatest and the stakes the highest. After growing up in the 20th SOS in the 1980s and 90s, I learned from my mentors to study the history, learn what others had done, but always know that the next mission would be different. As I grew more experienced, I imparted as much of that history as I could on to others, and one of my go-to lines was that “special operations are missions that nobody is trained to do.” Certainly, there were tasks and specific skills we honed and did repetitively, but that was for training. It was like having a plan that is simply the point from which to deviate. The hard missions always had something we hadn’t planned for or trained for.

This issue of the Air Commando Journal provides a focus on a time in special operations that has not been studied to the extent of many others. The Korean War came at a time of great transition in military art. It was a combination of WWII technology with the advent of new types of weapons and purpose. It was the first war with large scale use of jet aircraft, helicopters, and completely redefined use of air control parties, all under the threat of a nuclear strike from either side. It was also the first major attempt of a global governing body, the United Nations, to oversee a “limited” war. The requirement for new ways to fight was enormous.

Michael Haas’s book, Apollo’s Warrior’s, provides possibly the best source of Air Commando operations in Korea ever written and this excerpt on the impact of psychological warfare highlights the need to control information, as timely today as it ever was. The review of Colonel Haas’s latest book, In the Devil’s Shadow, puts it on my must-read list. Mike also enlightens us with the story of Donald Nichols, a Master Sergeant who rose to Lt Colonel, operated on the edge of out of control, but created many of the SIGINT and HUMINT techniques in Korea that would become critical to Cold War success. The operations of the 581st Aerial Resupply & Communications Wing, as described by Rick Newton, provide an interesting study on one of the most prolific groups of Air Commandos in the conflict. This issue also includes Paul Harmon’s article on Maj Gen Richard Secord and follows the life and military career on one of the men who most shaped current day AFSOC. There is also Gene Correll’s recollections of moving an MH-53J Pave Low squadron, recently evacuated from the Philippines, onto a fighter base in Korea in the early 90s, and finally a more recent accounting of AFSOC’s Deployed Aircraft Ground Response (DAGRE) teams by Matt Durham.

I must congratulate the ACJ team as they move into the second decade of producing this journal. The ACJ has become an extremely useful tool in providing professional development and education to another generation of Air Commandos. These useful histories and records of what went right and wrong in the past will long serve the next generation and the generation after that. Keep up the great work team!

Read the complete issue in PDF format here.

Operation Atlas Response

Operation Atlas Response

The US military’s contribution to relief efforts following torrential rains and flooding in southern Mozambique and South Africa.

Reference: Air Commando Journal, Vol 11 Issue 1, July 2022, pages 35-42

By Mike Russell, Colonel, USAF (Retired)

Author’s Note: This article was composed from data and events recorded in the United States Special Operations Command study titled Special Operations Forces in Operation ATLAS RESPONSE, Flood Relief in Mozambique, March 2000.

A local man waits for the signal from SSgt Greg Sanford, an Aerial Gunner assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron at Keflavik, Iceland, to help unload tents for the people in the town of Machanga, south of Beira, Mozambique. (Photo by TSgt Cary Humphries)

US ambassador to Mozambique, Brian Curran, left, and USAF Maj Gen Joe Wehrle, commander of Joint Task Force Operation Atlas Response, discuss the delivery of humanitarian relief supplies with Colonel Joachim Wundrak, the head of the German contingent. (Photo by TSgt Cary Humphries)

During late February and early March 2000, two tropical cyclones, Connie and Eline, dumped heavy rain on southeast Africa, causing extensive flooding that left approximately one million people homeless. In Mozambique, one of the hardest hit countries, hundreds of thousands of residents fled their homes and sought refuge on high ground. Dramatic news footage showed desperate flood victims huddling on roofs and clinging to the tops of trees. Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Malawi, and the Netherlands responded with a multinational humanitarian relief effort. Working in concert with those nations, the United States sent Joint Task Force-ATLAS RESPONSE (JTF-AR) to provide assistance to the devastated region. At the end of the mission, the United States had delivered more than 1.5 million pounds of humanitarian relief supplies and cargo and had moved more than 1,100 aid workers, medical personnel, assessment team members, US military, and other passengers as part of the international relief effort.

JTF-AR included conventional military as well as special operations forces (SOF). Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) provided the SOF who were organized into the Joint Special Operations Task Force-ATLAS RESPONSE (JSOTF-AR). JSOTF-AR included a headquarters, a special operations communication element (SOCE), a joint special operations air component (JSOAC), and civil affairs (CA) personnel who worked in the two civil-military operations centers (CMOC). The JSOTF integrated into the JTF structure, enabling SOF to make a number of contributions that were critical to the success of the US humanitarian efforts in Mozambique, to include: SOCEUR CA personnel who were well versed in assessment missions and had experience working with the various non-governmental organizations (NGO), private volunteer organizations (PVO), and international organizations (IO) who had already been providing relief before JTF-AR arrived. The JSOTF also provided air-refuelable helicopters and MC-130P Combat Shadow tankers that permitted the JSOTF to reach outlying areas beyond the range of non-refuelable helicopters, a reliable long-haul theater deployable communications system (TDC) that ultimately formed the backbone of the JTF’s communications capability, and SOF intelligence resources to augment JTF capabilities. By integrating special operations aircraft into the surveys of flooded and damaged areas, intelligence personnel were able to take high quality digital photographs of flooded and damaged areas from the low flying special operations aircraft which significantly increased both the quantity and quality of intelligence products for the JTF.

On 7 February, US Ambassador to Mozambique, Brian Curran, declared a disaster and, on 15 February, Secretary of Defense William Cohen visited the area and promised to send aid, albeit unspecified at that time.

Anticipating a formal tasking, USEUCOM directed United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) to deploy a humanitarian assistance survey team (HAST) to the disaster region, conduct an assessment of the emergency, establish a US military presence, and make recommendations to the Commander in Chief European Command (CINCEUR) regarding further actions. Maj Gen Joseph Wehrle, 3rd Air Force (AF) Commander, put Lt Col Steven Dreyer in charge of the HAST which deployed to Mozambique on 17 February. Surprisingly, the SOCEUR CA director, Maj Greg Mehall, had to lobby for positions on the HAST. Mehall was sufficiently persuasive and he and another SOCEUR CA soldier deployed with the HAST, arriving in Maputo, Mozambique, the next day.

When the HAST toured the hardest hit areas to the north, they found washed out roads, but saw no flooding or any significant damage to the infrastructure. The HAST concluded that floodwaters had started to subside, and with the help of the international relief organizations already on site the country seemed to be returning back to normal. Dreyer recommended no further action was needed.
That changed on 22 February when Cyclone Eline made landfall. Rainfall from Eline swelled rivers to as much as 26 feet above normal and left an additional 23,000 people homeless. At the same time, unrelenting rain in Zimbabwe and South Africa forced water releases from several stressed Mozambican dams, which exacerbated the flooding and prompted the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to recommend the United States take action.

Commander of the 67th SOS, RAF Mildenhall, Lt Col Ross Victor, reviews the day’s mission with his MC-130P Shadow crew before departing from AFB Hoedspruit, South Africa, where they are deployed in support of Operation ATLAS RESPONSE. (Photo by TSgt Cary Humphries)

On 28 February, President Clinton pledged $1,000,000 through USAID to support “aircraft for critical search and rescue (SAR) operations and the delivery of relief supplies.” However, on 1 March, he committed additional resources, including a joint task force and specifically mentioned special operations forces, including MH-53 helicopters, as well as Green Berets and Navy SEALS.
On 3 March 2000, the Joint Staff issued an execute order that included a SOF command element, up to six MH-53s, three MC-130Ps, three MC-130Hs, and two rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB). USEUCOM established JTF-AR and appointed Maj Gen Joseph Wehrle as the JTF-AR Commander. I was the SOCEUR Deputy Commander at the time and was selected to command the JSOTF. Lt Col Raymond Kruelskie, SOCEUR Deputy J3, would serve as my deputy.

Believing the MH-53s to be the wrong assets for the mission due to their strong rotor downwash and the extremely long logistic pipeline to South Africa, I recommended either Air Force Rescue HH-60s or Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) MH-60s be deployed from the United States instead. However, because the President had specifically mentioned MH-53s in his press briefing, there was extreme reluctance among the leadership to exclude them. Fortuitously, three HH-60 Rescue helicopters, crews, and maintenance personnel were in the process of redeploying from Operation NORTHERN WATCH in Turkey. Acting quickly, USEUCOM was able to stop the HH-60 redeployment and redirect the Rescue assets to support JTF-AR. Subsequently, Maj Gen Wehrle decided to use both the MH-53s and HH-60s.

Ultimately, the JSOTF-AR would consist of a command element and SOCE from SOCEUR, three MH-53 Pave Lows, two MC-130P Combat Shadows, and pararescue specialists (PJ) and combat controllers (CCT) from the 352nd Special Operations Group (SOG) at RAF Mildenhall, UK, as well as three HH-60G Pave Hawks from the 41st Rescue Squadron (RQS) at Moody AFB, Georgia that would fall under the tactical control (TACON) of the JSOTF-AR.

Because of airfield conditions in the affected area, the late US response, and the large size of the deployment, Hoedspruit, South Africa, across the southwestern border of Mozambique, was chosen as the JTF-AR intermediate staging base (ISB). On 4 March, after considerable diplomatic wrangling, approval to use Hoedspruit was obtained from South Africa and the deployment began. The HAST, led by Lt Col Dreyer split into three groups: Dreyer took his team to Hoedspruit, Major Mehall stayed with his team at Maputo, and Major John Burns took his team to Biera, Mozambique, where the JSOTF-AR would bed down. There, the individual teams coordinated for lodging, workspace, warehouse space, transportation, and fuel. Once the JTF arrived, the HASTs folded into the JTF and JSOTF as CMOCs where they provided liaison between JTF-AR, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), and the government of Mozambique.

Maj Gen Wehrle and his core staff arrived at Hoedspruit on 6 March. The next day he took a small staff to Maputo to establish a JTF HQ there, but left the bulk of the JTF-AR at Hoedspruit. Colonel Russell also arrived on 6 March and immediately began the process of preparing to move the JSOTF forward to Biera as soon as the airport assessment was completed and airlift could be arranged. Two C-5s carrying the HH-60s, aircrews, maintenance, and support personnel and equipment arrived at Hoedspruit on 7 and 8 March. The last C-5, carrying the MH-53s, arrived on 11 March. By the time the aircraft arrived in theater, the mission focus had changed from rescue to humanitarian relief.

Due mainly to logistical considerations, it was decided that the MH-53s and MC-130Ps would base out of Hoedspruit where they would support the southern region of Mozambique while the HH-60s would move forward to Biera with the JSOTF to support the northern region.
The move to Biera, originally planned for early on 8 March was delayed by C-130 maintenance problems and crew duty day restrictions. Thus, the JSOTF did not arrive at Biera until the evening of 8 March. With the airport and relief operations at Biera in the process of shutting down for the day, Colonel Russell set up communications with the JTF, secured the JSOTF equipment, and then met with his JSOTF staff to prioritize tasks for the next day before bedding down for the night. The HAST that had moved to Biera earlier had done a great job of securing quarters, transportation, and work space which enabled the JSOTF to hit the ground running very early the next day, to set up the JSOTF, prepare for the HH-60s arrival, coordinate with the wide variety of foreign military and humanitarian support organizations, and figure out how to meld into the existing air asset allocation process. With multiple military and civilian organizations from different countries all contributing, General Wehrle did not want it to appear that the Americans were taking over the flying operations. Therefore, he asked us to “tread lightly” in our dealings with the other organizations.

With so much to be done and a hard arrival time for the HH-60s amidst a media frenzy, the next day proved to be hectic. The CMOC and the Contingency Response Air Mobility Squadron that arrived earlier in the operation, had already established contacts with nearly all the relevant players at Biera. This allowed me to quickly begin coordination with relief participants while the JSOTF staff and SOCE set up their equipment and organized the workspace to be ready to conduct operations. With just five minutes to spare until the announced HH-60 arrival time, the JSOTF-AR was fully operational. The HH-60s were on initial approach and I, SGM Phil Clayton, and Maj Giles Kyser from the JSOTF J3 were physically pushing civilian aircraft out of the designated HH-60 parking area to make room for the arriving helicopters.

An unidentified HH-60G planner, Lt Col Corby Martin, Col John Zahrt at Biera Airport. (USAF photo)

Keeping in mind that President Clinton had specifically mentioned Green Berets during his press briefing, I designated LTC Burt Brasher, the SOCEUR Legal Advisor and also a Special Forces officer, to be my Public Affairs Officer. When the HH-60s arrived, LTC Brasher was standing in front of the CNN and international news cameras wearing his green beret and tactfully keeping that part of the President’s promise.

The decision to keep the MH-53s and MC-130s at Hoedspruit, drove the requirement to split the JSOTF-AR into two elements: the JSOTF HQ at Beira and a special operation liaison element (SOLE) with the JTF staff at Hoedspruit. Colonel Kruelskie headed up the SOLE while Col John Zahrt, the 352nd Special Operations Group (SOG) commander, became the JSOAC commander, exercising operational control of all SOF air assets and TACON of the HH-60s. Kruelkskie and Zahrt worked closely together. They attended all meetings with the JTF-AR staff as well as the twice daily teleconferences with General Wehrle.

Two Navy planners from Naval Special Warfare Unit Two also deployed as part of the JSOTF to determine if Naval Special Warfare assets were required for rescue operations in the flooded riverine areas. They determined that there was no requirement and were released to return to Germany, however, this initial deployment of a couple SEALs kept the rest of the President’s promise to deploy Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

While the JSOTF staff was setting up at the Beira, I met with key personnel from the various relief organizations and foreign militaries to figure out the best way for the JSOTF to be helpful and work with their system. Peter Carrington, a British civilian from the World Food Program, wanted to turn the operation over to the United States as soon as possible, but in keeping with General Wehrle’s guidance, I demurred. Instead, I emphasized that the US intended to augment and support the relief system already in place.
Carrington put the JSOTF in touch with a Malawian officer, Maj Masamba, who had been a key player from the beginning of the emergency response operation. He had coordinated early relief efforts after the disaster and because of his personal rescue efforts, was regarded as something of a hero. Masamba organized regular meetings where NGOs, PVOs, and IOs with operational needs could connect with aircraft owners and operators to get relief supplies to needy areas. Lt Col Corby Martin, the JSOAC representative within the JSOTF, worked closely with Masamba to build an effective, cooperative operation. With Maj Masamba’s assistance, Colonel Martin procured a load of corn for delivery to a flood damaged area as soon as the HH-60s arrived. Within hours of touchdown, the helicopters were in the air again, delivering relief supplies to northern regions of Mozambique. JSOTF-AR was open for business!

MH-53J build up. (USAF photo)

On 10 and 11 March, the MH-53s finally arrived at the ISB and, once built up, immediately started flying missions in support of the southern Mozambique relief effort. The Combat Shadows refueled the helicopters in-flight, which made extended flights to outlying areas possible and also relieved the pressure on fuel supplies in Mozambique. Between aerial refueling and delivery operations, the Pave Lows, Pave Hawks, and Combat Shadows also served as real time reconnaissance platforms by taking digital photos of the region. Images provided by the MC-130Ps were designated LOR image for “Lieutenant on a Rope,” referring to the intelligence specialists that took the photos from an open aircraft doorway while secured with a gunner’s harness. The JSOTF’s digital imagery proved to be clearer than that of the Keen Sage OC-130 photo reconnaissance aircraft and also provided a below-the-clouds capability. As ATLAS RESPONSE unfolded, 50 percent or more of the JTF’s aerial survey photos came from JSOAC personnel taking pictures from helicopters and MC-130Ps.

By 11 March, Operation ATLAS RESPONSE was in full swing. With communications support provided by the TDC, the headquarters staff managed the JSOTF-AR from the second floor of the Beira air terminal. The three HH-60s operated out of Beira, the three MH-53s from Hoedspruit used Maputo as a staging area, and the MC-130Ps provided fuel from Hoedspruit for all the USAF helicopters. Conventional C-130s staged relief supplies among the three airfields while the Keen Sage OC-130s collected survey and assessment images. General Wehrle controlled the missions from his headquarters at Maputo where the main CMOC was also located. The Maputo and Beira CMOCs operated independently, and other than exchanging daily SITREPs, contact between the two was minimal.

MH-53 landing at Hoedspruit Air Base (USAF photo)

When the JSOTF arrived at Beira we found more than 50 NGOs, PVOs, and IOs competing for cargo space on aircraft from five nations. Even though the NGOs had an infrastructure in place, the relief efforts were not well synchronized. We had trouble with relief teams not showing up on time, incomplete cargo loads, and inefficient ground loading operations. My direction to the staff and CMOC was to the point, “Get these people organized and get the helicopters full.” I needed the CA soldiers to improve the efficiency of the relief effort by “supporting and augmenting’’ the civilian agencies, but not by taking over.” To that end, the CA team worked to transform the CMOC into a civilian-run disaster response cell. They established daily meetings where the UNDAC-led civilian groups would prioritize NGO, PVO, and IO requirements and coordinate missions with the air cell. With the civilians making the decisions, the JSOTF did not have to decide which relief agencies would get airlift and, therefore, could concentrate on making operations more efficient. Aircrews also shared information they gathered on missions, such as which areas appeared to have urgent needs and which appeared to have surplus relief supplies.

To increase the efficiency of air operations, the JSOTF had to resolve a cultural difference regarding schedules. Whereas the JSOTF-AR viewed scheduled times as hard, the IOs, PVOs and NGOs regarded scheduled times as approximate. To minimize the impact, Maj Burns assigned SSG Johnson, a CA NCO and former 3rd Special Forces Group soldier, the task of trouble shooter and expediter. After acquiring a truck and a radio, SSG Johnson moved from “crisis to crisis” and, through the strength of his personality, was able to build rapport with the airfield workers and get their cooperation to keep the relief efforts as close to “on-time” as possible.

SSgt Greg Sanford, 56 RQS unloads tents from an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. (USAF photo)

With all the additional humanitarian relief sorties adding dramatically to the operational tempo at Biera, the local air traffic controllers were in danger of becoming overwhelmed. So, the JSOAC sent a three-man team from the 321st Special Tactics Squadron to assist. TSgt Epperson, the PJ on the team, was fluent in Portuguese, so the team was able to effectively communicate with the local controllers and quickly developed a good working relationship. The team provided assistance and advice without appearing to take over operations or offending the local controllers. With the large number of aircraft now using Beira, one of the main challenges was controlling the ground movement of aircraft. There was no clear parking or ground movement plan, so the situation on the ground was becoming dangerous. The combat controllers recognized the problems, devised an aircraft parking and ground movement plan and, with tact and diplomacy, were able to convince airport management, as well as host nation and foreign ground personnel and aircrews, to accept the plan.

Initially, all three HH-60s flew 12 hours a day, every day, but Maj Kyger, the HH-60 mission commander, cut back to two helicopters per day to allow for crew rest and aircraft maintenance. In the end, the Air Rescue crews and maintenance kept at least 2 helicopters in the air every day for 19 days straight.

The nature of the HH-60 missions varied. Typical missions included rice, food, tents, tools, and farming equipment deliveries. Many of the missions involved moving civilian relief workers and medical personnel throughout the relief area. One of the longest missions flown involved carrying the Mozambican Minister of the Environment to the Cahora Vasa Dam in the extreme northwest to try to persuade the dam operators to delay releasing more water into the valley despite the dam’s stressed condition.

JSOTF also performed a few SAR missions. On 11 March, five boats from Britain’s Royal National Lifeboat Association failed to arrive at their destination on time. The HH-60s searched for the boats until darkness, then resumed the search in the morning. They found the five boats that morning and radioed their position to the British contingent who sent their own Sea King helicopters to complete the rescue. In another incident, a German medical assistant had an accident that left shards of glass in his eye. The only hope of saving his eye was to get him to a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, as soon as possible. Within minutes, the JSOTF was able to recall a conventional C-130 aircraft that had just departed Biera to transport the patient to Pretoria where they were able to save the man’s eyesight. Other missions included evacuating a local national with gangrene and assisting in the medical evacuation of a British Royal Navy seaman who fell out of a helicopter and broke his leg. An HH-60 also carried two German physicians to a remote village to attend to a child with an advanced stage of cerebral malaria. Unfortunately, the young girl succumbed to the disease before the helicopter arrived.

Relief supplies at Palmeria, a staging area for international aid workers. (USAF photo)

Our emphasis on providing support, rather than usurping control, paid big dividends throughout the mission. Our “we-really-are-here-to-help” way of doing business facilitated early acceptance of the American forces by the NGOs, PVOs, IOs, and other military forces. Within days, ATLAS RESPONSE personnel had smoothly integrated with all other relief organizations. On numerous occasions, representatives from other military and civilian relief organizations expressed their appreciation for the cooperative attitude and team focus maintained by JSOTF-AR personnel.

The system for mission coordination for southern Mozambique differed from the one used at Beira. The Maputo CMOC secured office space conveniently located next to the United Nations’ Joint Logistics Operations Center (JLOC) and effectively integrated with government, NGOs, and PVOs. Using information generated at JLOC meetings, the CMOC built a database of towns and villages that had been visited and their needs, enabling the NGOs, PVOs, and IOs to efficiently identify mission requirements. CMOC staff members also helped to match up supplies with the most appropriate aircraft. The overall management of the effort in southern Mozambique was not as structured as the one implemented in the north and relied on a corkboard and notecard system to coordinate NGO, PVO, and IO needs with air assets. Though simple, it proved to be effective.

Maj Scott Howell from the 352nd Operations Support Squadron (OSS) served as the JSOAC liaison officer to the JTF-AR headquarters at Maputo and took the lead for collecting all JTF-AR requirements for the southern region. He identified missions at the CMOC, passed the missions back to the JTF-AR staff in Hoedspruit for dissemination to the JTF or JSOTF for approval, and managed the missions in Maputo. Maj Howell made it possible for me to maintain oversight of all JSOTF missions. Scott did a great job, and did virtually all the planning and coordination for mission support at each site. He was invaluable and key to successful ops in the southern region.

21st SOS crew from Mildenhall, UK, assists the people of Xai-
Xai, Mozambique, with the offloading of donated items. (Photo by Ron Jensen, Stars & Stripes)

Col Zahrt received mission assignments from the Hoedspruit JTF-AR staff via the JSOTF. The JSOAC managed refueling operations for the JSOTF helicopters, coordinated survey missions, and maintained OPCON of the MH-53s, MC-130Ps, and STS. Lt Col Paul Harmon, commander of the 21st Special Operations Squadron, reviewed and approved all of the MH-53 mission assignments to ensure the Pave Lows were effectively used during the operation.

As in the north, missions in the south varied. The Pave Lows stayed busy moving relief supplies and personnel throughout the southern region. On 12 March, an MH-53 flew from Hoedspruit to the Maputo airfield where the crew met with General Wehrle, US Ambassador Curran, and the Vice Chief of Staff from the Mozambican armed forces. The helicopter then flew to Palmeria, a staging area for international aid workers, where it uploaded over two tons of relief supplies. It then flew over miles and miles of flooded countryside to the remote village of Xai-Xai where it was greeted by hundreds of cheering villagers, mostly children. The MH-53s also helped deliver a water purification system to one of the southern villages and approximately two tons of medicine, rice, and clothing to another remote village. Due to their size and heavy rotorwash, the MH-53’s were sometimes unable to deliver relief supplies to some of the smaller landing zones. The JSOAC’s MC-130Ps, in addition to providing in-flight refueling to the MH-53s and HH-60s, performed survey and assessment missions, and on occasion, moved relief supplies among the different airfields.

Near the end of the operation JSOTF-AR did suffer one casualty. On 24 March, an Airman from the 352nd Maintenance Squadron joined several of his co-workers for a trip to Lisbon falls near Graskop, South Africa, during their off-duty time. Against the advice of his friends, the Airman insisted on swimming in a prohibited area at the top of the falls where he got caught in a strong current, was swept over one of the smaller falls, and subsequently carried over the larger, 300-foot waterfall. Two JSOTF-AR MH-53s and one MC-130 responded immediately and joined South African Rescue personnel in conducting an air and ground search until darkness. The Airman’s body was discovered the next morning at the base of the falls.

On 24 March, after much discussion, the government of Mozambique announced that it was time to transition relief efforts to its local governments. On 25 March, the HH-60s delivered 14 tons of food in their last day of operations and the C-130s moved 42.6 tons of agricultural seed to Maputo. On 26 March, the JSOTF flew three missions, delivering 5.52 tons of food, and also began packing for redeployment, concluding humanitarian relief efforts under JTF-AR.

Moholool Front gate

During Operation ATLAS RESPONSE, more than 700 US personnel were deployed. Aircrew, maintenance, and support personnel flew approximately 600 sorties, delivered 970 tons of cargo, and moved 1,200 passengers from various relief organizations, foreign governments, and militaries. The Airmen and support personnel from JSOTF-AR flew 319 of those sorties, delivered 203 tons of the cargo, and moved 387 passengers. The HH-60s proved to be the workhorses of the operations, delivering over 177 of the 203 tons of food and cargo transported by JSOTF-AR assets.

Because they had been diverted to Mozambique while on their way home from a 120-day deployment, the HH-60 team was given priority for the return home. The Air Rescue personnel departed from Beira for Hoedspruit on 27 Mar and boarded C-5s for home on 2 April. JTF and JSOTF personnel, except for a handful of CMOC staff members, who remained behind to transition relief operations, departed Mozambique by 28 March and all remaining air assets and CMOC personnel left southern Africa by 7 April.

Operation ATLAS RESPONSE was the first major deployment of US military forces to Africa since Operation RESTORE HOPE (Somalia, 1993). JSOTF-AR demonstrated the flexibility and adaptability of SOF, especially special air operations personnel and units. Over a period of more than a month, SOCEUR and the 352nd SOG planned and deployed over 5,500 miles, from northern Europe to southern Africa, set up dispersed operations 400 miles apart, integrated with conventional and multinational air forces to ensure responsive support of more than 50 international aid organizations, and successfully redeployed all resources to home stations. It was a job well done and one we were rightly proud of.

About the Author: Colonel Mike Russell is a retired Air Commando and USAF pilot. He flew as a Primary Jet Instructor Pilot (T-37), Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Pilot (HH-53B/C Jolly Green Giant), and Special Operations Helicopter Pilot (MH-53H/J Pave Low III). Col Russell also served as the Commander, 21st SOS, Deputy Commander, 16th Special Operations Group, Commander of the 66th Air Operations Squadron, and Deputy Commander of Special Operations Command Europe, and JSOTF-AR Commander.

Additional Photos Not included in the printed article

  • Maj. Ronald Whittle, a pilot assigned to the 17th Airlift Squadron at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, guides the first C-17A Globemaster III to a landing at Huidspruit AFB, South Africa. Photo by Tech. Sergeant Cary Humphries

  • Biera Ramp C-47 and Helos

  • Shadow on Biera Ramp

  • DustDevils at Heodsripte

  • The Combat Shadow is deployed for the operation from the 67th Special Operations Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, England. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cary Humphries

  • Pave supply offload

  • South Africa Helo

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A Daughter’s Devotion to Her Father

Air Commando Association & Foundation,

In December of 2018 my father Bob fell in his home and severely injured his cervical spine. After extensive surgery he was admitted to a rehab facility in Atlanta for physical therapy and healing. Over the course of 11 months my dad was transferred to three different facilities for post surgical complications, infections, and additional surgical procedures in an effort to get him up and walking again. I spent as much time with him as I could at each facility, living in hotels as my belly grew bigger in pregnancy. My wonderful husband remained home to take care of our two year old son and work on our small farm. The following November I was beyond excited when the doctors said I could bring my father home to Mossy Head for Christmas.

The traveling and hotel expenses had drained our small savings account but I was determined to make things work. I sent a message out on Facebook to my father’s Air Force and contractor co-workers asking for help with his house. With dad in a wheel chair several modifications were needed before I could bring him home; ramps, wider doors, reinforced floors and a bigger bathroom. Most of his bud dies were on board to help with the labor but I could not come close to paying for the materials. When a member of the Air Commando Association and long-time friend of my father sent me a note saying she may be able to get me so me financial help I was overjoyed!

The Air Commando Association and Foundation sent me a check for $7,800.00 to cover the cost for all of the materials! My dads maintenance friends from Hurlburt Field and L3 SOFSA did all of the work and I finally brought my father home! My father passed away 7 months later and we miss him dearly but he spent his last months at home with us and his two grandbabies. I can’t thank the ACA enough for making it possible for me and my dad to sit on his porch in Mossy Head listening to the frogs sing and kids play for just a little while longer.


Jacquie & Bob Cross (Aug 1957 – Sept 2020)

Donate to Help Andy Reed Recover

Former Pave Low gunner, retired MSgt Andy Reed was in dire need of a liver transplant. The good news is he was fortunate to receive a donor liver and had his surgery on 10 July. The Air Commando Foundation (ACF) is assisting with fundraising on Andy’s behalf for his aftercare that could take up to six months and $15,000 or more.

ACF already contributed $1,200 to his pre-surgery support and will provide the first $5,000 of his post-surgery recovery for things that Tricare will not cover.

Your donations to ACF for this specific cause will allow additional support. Any funds not used for this effort will remain in the general ACF account for future unmet needs of Air Commandos and their families. ACF is a 501(c)(3) benevolent organization, and all donations are tax deductible.

Thank you for your continued support of our Air Commandos and their families!

Help Andy Reed Now!

Air Commandos Remembered on Memorial Day

Lt Gen (Retired) & Mrs Brad Webb represented all Air Commandos during the 2022 Memorial Day Ceremony held at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX this past Monday. General & Mrs Webb are shown at the First Air Commando Plaque at the Memorial Wall. visit www.pacificwarmuseum.org to learn more about the National Museum of the Pacific War.

Remembering Felix ‘Sam’ Sambogna

Remembering Felix ‘Sam’ Sambogna

Lt. Col. Felix L.”Sam” Sambogna, USAF retired, passed away on September 24, 2021. He was born in Manchester, CT in 1931 and graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in 1953.

  • ► Felix Sambogna’s Obituary

    Lt. Col. Felix L.”Sam” Sambogna, USAF retired, passed away on September 24, 2021. He was born in Manchester, CT in 1931 and graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in 1953.

    He is survived by four children: Michael Sambogna and Ron Watterson of Dallas, Texas; Nancy and Michael Shoults of Destin, FL; Patricia and Michael Hardiman of Destin, FL; Felix Jr. and Karen Sambogna of Alpharetta GA; and eight grandchildren: Whitley (wife Rosey), Erin (husband Andy), Samantha (husband Ben), David, Hannah, Jordan, Grace, and Ryan, and four great grandchildren Addison, Alden, Rylan, and Sterling.

    He served 29 years in the USAF as a command pilot, squadron commander, deputy base commander, and staff officer. Overseas assignments included Japan, Thailand, Korea, and Vietnam. After retiring from the USAF, he was employed by Oklahoma State University (OSU) and worked for 17 years at the OSU Field Office on Eglin AFB. After retirement from OSU, he performed as a volunteer for the Guardian ad Litem program for 16 years as an advocate for abused and/or neglected children. Felix was a member of the Air Commando Association (past president), Military Officers Association of America, Air Force Association, the Order of the Daedalians, and Saint Mary’s Catholic Church.

    Granddad Sam loved his family, his country, and the Air Force. His children and grandchildren were the joys of his life. He also loved tennis, racquetball, the NY Yankees and Notre Dame Football.

    He was a force of strength, unconditional love and humility that will be forever missed by his family. Peace be with you dad.

    A funeral mass will be at 10:30 AM on Friday, October 15, 2021 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fort Walton Beach. Arrangements are being handled by McLaughlin Mortuary. He will be cremated and inurned at Beal Memorial Cemetery following the mass.

    Donations may be made to the Air Commando Association, Hospice or American Cancer Society.

    Published in Northwest Florida Daily News
  • ► Tributes

    “Sam was a constant from the first time I walked into the HQ ACA building. A buddy with John Grove, he had his heart in Appalachian relief efforts, Bless the Children global charities, the John Grove School support, a zillion shipments of goods and medical supplies that went all over our hemisphere as well as supporting Christmas Wish while it endured and supporting fresh water projects in Thailand that started years ago by SOF forces during the SEA conflict. Sam provided steady leadership/management of the McCoskrie Threshold Foundation until its termination this year. He was an inspiration to all of us and a challenge for each of us to run as well as we can, as far and fast as we can for just as long as we can. I will miss that bright light.”
    –Steve Connelly

    “Sam was one of the good guys — a big heart, a true listener, and giving friend to so many.”
    –Norm Brozenick

    “What a blessing and an honor to know and work with him. Always a kind word! Hope next time we are all together we can hoist an adult beverage to him.”
    –Chris Foltz

    “I’m truly saddened to hear this. I always looked forward to chatting with Sam at St. Mary’s Church and we always looked for each other after Mass. I really enjoyed our little chats. We will miss him and he and the family are in my prayers.”
    –Max Friedauer

    “I am also heartbroken to hear this sad news. Sam was so selfless.. involved in so many charities that he never spoke about… just doing things for the greater good and not for the recognition.
    He was truly the “Quiet Professional” working in the background, making things happen for the Annual Memorial Ceremony at the Hurlburt Field Airpark. He will be sorely missed! My prayers for his family.”
    –Heather L. Bueter

    “Thank you for informing me of Sam’s passing. I cherish the memories of the many times I spent with him. He was always a joy to be with and will be long remembered; not only for what he accomplished, but more importantly for the man he was. RIP Sam, fly high.”
    –John Sweet

    “Truly, a good man. Always had the ACA at heart”
    –Harry Bishop

    “So sorry to hear this. Sam was everywhere doing everything at the few Reunions that I have attended. ANY TIME, ANY PLACE”
    –Ed Broughton

    “Sorry to hear that news. I few with at Ben Hoa in 1969 & 1970. He was truly a historical fighter pilot.”
    –R. Wayne Moorhead, Lt. Colonel, USAF

    “So sad. Another stalwart will be very much missed.”
    –Larry Ropka

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LtGen Slife Reflecting On Conflict in Afghanistan

If you’ve been part of AFSOC in the last 20 years, Afghanistan is almost certainly part of you. I spent the middle third of my career in and out of there between 2002 and 2011, with all the attendant highs and lows. From the very beginning to the very present, I have been responsible for sending countless Airmen into harm’s way there, not all of whom returned to their families. In November 2003, I sent home the remains of my teammates and friends in the aftermath of the first fatalities I experienced as a commander. In May of 2011, we killed Osama bin Laden. Highs and lows…lows and highs…I’ve felt it all.

Like many, I struggle to make sense of it all. There will be history books written about everything from our tactics to our strategy and a host of unanswered questions swirling around in all our minds…all of it will be dissected under the cold, unforgiving light of retrospective assessment. I think I’m still way, way too close to be able to opine on any of this with any degree of certainty. However, there are a few things of which I’m certain.

First, the Airmen of AFSOC have done what they were asked to do magnificently. Valor. Sacrifice. Duty. All of it. I wake up every morning with a profound sense of gratitude to be associated with this command and the Airmen who comprise it. Even today, AFSOC forces continue to answer the call and loyally do the things they’re asked to do in these chaotic, turbulent times. From Medal of Honor recipient MSgt John Chapman to the still-serving squadron commander currently on his 19th deployment, AFSOC Airmen have done their duty magnificently.

Second, there will be many hard days…months…years…ahead for many of us as we reflect–often with with deep ambivalence–on how we feel about our experiences in Afghanistan. We’ll process this all while continuing to deal with the physical wounds, the neurocognitive wounds, the psychological wounds, and the moral wounds we’ve suffered along the way.

If, like me, you find yourself trying to put your own experiences into some context which will allow you to move forward positively and productively, I urge you to talk about it. For our still-serving Airmen and families, you can start with chaplains, psychologists, and physicians. For our teammates who have separated or retired since 9/11, there are resources available for you as well. While there is no “one size fits all” answer, there is a size which fits. If you can’t find resources through the Preservation of the Force and Families program, the Veteran Affairs Administration, the local Chapel, the Mental Health clinic at your servicing Medical Group, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, or Military OneSource, ask your chain of command or message me directly and let us help you find the right avenue. We’ve been through too much together as an AFSOC team to try to process these very complex things on our own.

I expect I’m not alone in being reminded of the famous opening lines of “A Tale of Two Cities.”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

I don’t know what it all means. But for now, the knowledge that doing one’s duty is its own reward will have to be enough.

Please note: The AFSOC Commander’s message originally appeared on FaceBook.

Air Commandos Support ECHG

Thank you to all who supported and participated in the 2021 Emerald Coast Honor Games! Good spirited competition among amazing athletes, strong community support, and of course our Air Commandos – Any Time Any Place!

Thank you ACA Emerald Coast Chapter Ruck 22 team: Andrew Malinowski, Justin Bresser, Aliyah Pogue, Lauren Flores, and Cecil Moran

My ‘Project 404’ legacy on wheels

I spent 30 magnificent months with Project 404 (Det 1 606 ACS/Det 1 56 ACW/Det 1 56 SOW. Did the daily shuttle from Udorn to Vientiane and the assigned to L-54. In my 6 years in SEA there was no finer organization … PERIOD! I commemorated that association with personalized license plates over the ensuing years, starting with ‘404’, ‘LAOS’, ‘AT28D’, and adding ‘RLAF’ today.

Steve Herberth
ACA Lifetime Member #768

Valor Untold Available Now

US military personnel and volunteers offload the remains of Jonestown victims from a 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter. The bodies will be placed in coffins for transport to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

For the first time ever, ACA Press brings you the untold story of Air Commandos responding to the Jonestown Massacre.

Valor Untold: Air Commandos During the Jonestown Massacre Recovery, 1978
By Richard D. Newton

Published by: Air Commando Association Press, 2021, 38 pages

It has been 42 years since the tragic November 1978 mass suicide/murder of American citizens at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Settlement in Jonestown, Guyana. In the intervening four decades, so much has happened to US special operations forces and the US Air Force, brought about in large part by world events that demonstrated the unquestionable need for fully resourced, trained, and ready joint special operations forces.
This monograph tells the heretofore untold story of what the Airmen who would, a few years later, form the nucleus of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), did to help recover the victims’ bodies – a special air operation that pushed the limits of what their training and previous combat experiences had prepared them

Order your copy now!

CMSgt Richard A. Young 1942 – 2022

Richard A. “Dick” Young, 80 of Ft. Walton Beach passed away May 2, 2022, surrounded by family at Sacred Heart of the Emerald Coast in Miramar Beach, Florida.

Dick was born April 2, 1942, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of the late William and Lois Young of Masonville, Ohio. He graduated in 1959 from Hiram Johnson Senior High School in Sacramento, California, and immediately entered active duty with the United State Air Force. In 1979 he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Park College in Parkville, Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in Management.

Dick is survived by his wife, Fonda, and daughters Jennifer Nelson (Rick) of Ft. Walton Beach and Joanna Merchant (John) of Crestview, grandchildren Kennedy, of Ft. Walton Beach, Kenneth (Sabrina) of Orlando, Kendall, Brienna, and Lane. He is also survived by a sister, Marty Stockton, of Greenville, Missouri, a brother, Steve Young, and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents William and Lois.

Dick entered the Air Force in 1959 and served continuously until his retirement as a Chief Master Sergeant in July of 1992 with over 33 years of dedicated and honorable service. Career fields included Aircraft Maintenance, Flight Engineer, and Recruiter. His last ten years were served as the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Commander of the 834th Airlift Division, Hickam AFB, Hawaii, 1st Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Florida, and Military Airlift Command, Scott AFB, Illinois.

Chief Young accumulated over 4,800 hours in B-47 and C-130 aircraft of which 950 were combat time, flying 156 missions on a Forward Air Control C-130 Flare Ship, 59 of those missions were over North Viet Nam. He was also a private pilot with over 900 hours in single-engine aircraft, land, and sea. During his military service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, 4 Meritorious Service Medals, 7 Air Medals, and 2 Air Force Commendation Medals.

After his retirement from the Air Force, Dick was hired at the Air Force Enlisted Village, also known as Bob Hope Village. He retired from the foundation in 2011 as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Loyal Order of Moose, and many more.

Dick loved his family; especially his grandchildren. He enjoyed socializing and catching up with friends at his favorite spots to have an adult beverage. His companionship and generosity will be missed by those who had the pleasure of knowing him.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Air Force Enlisted Village at www.afev.us

A Visitation will take place on Saturday, May 14, 2022, at 2:00 PM at Emerald Coast Funeral Home followed by a funeral with full military honors at 3:00 PM.

Expressions of love and sympathy may be placed and viewed online at www.emeraldcoastfuneralhome.com

Courtesy of Emerald Coast Funeral Home

LeRoy W. Svendsen Jr. 1928-2022

Major General LeRoy W. (Swede) Svendsen, Jr. died on the 14th day of February at the age of 93. General Svendsen is survived by his wife, the former Juanita Boggs. Eight children: Randy, Chicago IL, Lance (Sandra), Charleston SC, daughter Kristi, San Antonio TX; stepsons Jon Boggs (Sue) Houston, Jeffery Boggs (Patty) Gaithersburg, MD.; eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Swede was born in Chicago on the 26th of December 1928 into a working class family and grew up in the Great Depression. Times were tough on the adults, but the children never seemed to realize the economic impact, there was plenty of love in that big family. Grandparents, two of their married children and three grandchildren lived in the same home – there was never any thought about asking for government help.

Swede was approaching his 13th birthday when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He tried to join the Marine Corps at age 14, but his parents would not give their permission. At age 15 his parents finally agreed, and he enlisted in the Navy as an aerial gunner and radio operator. His mates had trouble with the name Svendsen, so they called him “the Swede”. From that day forth he was known as Swede Svendsen. He was honorably discharged from the US Navy 11 June 1946 after WWII ended. He returned to high school, finishing two years in one semester and completing two years of college in one semester taking end of course exams, most based on training schools he attended in the Navy.

Since grammar school, Swede always wanted to be a fighter pilot. When the US Army Aviation Cadet program opened back up after the war, he joined up in 1947. Flight training began February 1948 at Randolph Field; where he completed Primary and Basic pilot training. Before completing the training, the US Air Force became the new branch for fliers. By 21 years of age he had served his country in the US Navy, US Army, and began a long career in the USAF. He received advanced pilot training at the Fighter School at Williams AFB, AZ, graduating as a Second Lieutenant in February 1949. His first assignment was to the 4th Fighter Group at Langley, AFB, VA, flying F-80’s and then F-86’s.

When the Korean War broke out (June 25th, 1950), he was among the first volunteers to deploy for two combat tours – one with the 25th Infantry Division, 35th Infantry Regiment as a Forward Air Controller and as commander of a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) during the perimeter campaign in August of 1950.

While in Japan TDY for 3 months, he requested assignment back to his squadron at K- 2 Korea. Major Ben King was the commander who approved the re-assignment. He returned to the 8th Fighter Squadron, 59th Fighter Group, flying F-80C fighter bombers (114 missions) in attacks deep into North Korea, stemming the flow of enemy – Chinese and North Korean forces and equipment. Losses were heavy in the fighter bomber business, and half of his squadron was lost in four months.

Returning to the United States in 1951, Swede served with the 6th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio, then the 62d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, O’Hare Air Force Base, IL., as fighter pilot, operations officer, flight commander, air commander, and executive officer. In 1956 he flew in three test programs for the F-102 “Delta Dagger” at the U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center. From 1956-1959 he was flight commander and later air operations officer, 323d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Truax Field, WS.

He was the Chief for the Fighter- Interceptor Branch, Headquarters Fifth Air Force, Fuchu Air Station, Japan, 1959-62.

He joined Air Force Special Operations shortly after it was formed (1962) Hurlburt Field, Fl. All were volunteers, and he deployed to South Vietnam early in 1963 as commander 6th Fighter Sq, 1st Air Commando Wing in 1963/4 and ran a classified commando operation prior to the introduction of general-purpose forces. He flew the AT-28 fighter bomber (about 100 missions) in sanitized civilian gear and operated with US Army Special Forces on the ground in various war zones. He was also responsible for employment of B-26, A-1E, C-46, C-47, U-10, and Palatus Porter assets. On his second tour in Southeast Asia, Swede was chief of Project 404 in Laos, meaning he managed all USAF programs in country–a covert operation! After this, he completed college and graduated from Florida State University in 1965.

Swede served five years in the Special Operations Command and in 1969 was one of first inductees into the Air Commando Hall of Fame.

Swede would return to Southeast Asia in the closing weeks of our withdrawal from Vietnam in April 1975 as a Brigadier General and Deputy to the US Army commander of residual forces in charge of evacuations. When surrounded by about 15 North Vietnamese Divisions, he personally set about to destroy Bien Hoa, which had the capability of building US-1 “Huey” helicopters and other sophisticated military equipment. As Bien Hoa went up in flames, he set a plan to destroy Long Bin, a supply base of the ARVN, the following day. He evacuated by Air America Helicopter that evening to the command ship, Blueridge, off the coast of Vietnam.

Swede served at the Pentagon, 1966-70, first as a plans officer in Warfare Division, Directorate of Plans, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and later in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force as liaison officer for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1968 he volunteered to pilot the historically famous Pima Paisano B-24 from the desert of Puna, India to the Tucson Air Museum, Arizona.

After graduating from the Army War College in the class of 1971, Swede was assigned to Laredo Air Force Base, Texas, as deputy commander for operations and, later, commander, 38th Flying Training Wing. He was assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, Headquarters Air Training Command, Randolph Air Force Base, 1972-74, and commander, 29th Flying Training Wing, Craig Air Force Base, AL., 1974-75.

Swede was appointed Major General in 1974, and in 1975 was on his way to Egypt as defense attaché, U.S. Embassy in Cairo. He served in that capacity until he assumed his final assignment to Randolph Air Force Base, TX. There he served in dual capacity as assistant deputy chief of staff, Manpower and Personnel Center for Military Personnel Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and commander, Air Force Manpower and Personnel Center, Randolph Air Force Base, TX. Swede retired from the US Air Force May 1980.

Swede was a command pilot with more than 6,000 flying hours, mostly in fighter aircraft, and an airborne parachutist. He flew over 230 logged combat missions in 2 wars. Many other missions were not logged due to their covert nature.

Awards Swede received include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with silver oak leaf cluster and four bronze oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, and the Outstanding Unit Award. Swede is also a member of the Order of the Sword.

A service will take place at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.

Obituary courtesy of Porter Loring Mortuary

Another day in the life of an Air Commando

By Ralph Grigg
ACA Member #5218

I was stationed in Saigon, Vietnam with the 19th Air Commando Squadron flying C123 aircraft.

This is about my experiences in the 19th Air Commando Squadron in South Vietnam. This took place in early 1966 through early 1967. The flying was absolutely the best experiences I have ever had flying anywhere else. Primarily the reason was that we had no FAA rules to go by, we had few instrument procedures that we could follow, and the aircraft (C123 without jets) was ideal for the flying that we were doing. When I and everyone else who joined the squadron participated in the orientation flights to prepare us to be productive crewmembers “in country”, we were shocked and sometimes terrified at some of the maneuvering and procedures necessary to complete the missions. It wasn’t too long until we started relaxing and understood that this was the “normal” for accomplishing the missions that we had.

IFR, we had few instrument procedures. We had to improvise most of the approaches that we had. This led to some quite interesting approaches as you can imagine. For instance, going into Saigon when the weather was bad, if you called Approach for an instrument approach, you will be given probably 45 minutes to an hour and a half for an approach time. If that happened, what we would do would be to set the radar altimeter to 200 or 100 feet depending on how bad the weather was. We would fly down over the South China Sea and let down until we broke out. If we didn’t break out, then we would go back and ask for an approach time. If we broke out, we would head back towards Saigon. We would find the inlet of the bay at Saigon and fly north. There was a river that emptied in on the north side of the bay. We would fly up that river. Now, of course, we were high enough that we could see there were several turns and loops that that river had. But we would fly north until we found a creek coming in on the left. We turned to the runway heading over that creek and kept listening to the radio to see if someone had reported the outer marker. If they had reported over the marker, we would do a 360 at that time and allow them to pass overhead. Of course, we couldn’t see them, but we the 360 maneuver would give them enough time to pass overhead. After that we would go back to the runway heading and call the tower and give our call sign of Provide 54 (I’ll use this call sign for all calls in this book) The call I made was, “ Saigon Tower, Provide 54 VFR final for landing.” Usually the response would come back “Provide 54, Saigon Tower, cleared to land.” We would proceed to visual contact of the runway and go ahead and land. Saigon Tower knew the Provide call sign and what we were doing.

For takeoffs, in IFR weather, we would file an abbreviated flight plan. They would give us taxi instructions, and when ready, clearance for takeoff. After takeoff we were cleared to contact Paris Control for departure. We would stay with Paris control, until we were then handed off to one of the other controllers, or if we were in VFR conditions at that time, we would cancel our flight following. One morning, the visibility was extremely bad. Operations knew that the field was closed, but our frag was a tactical emergency (TAC- E) mission. We started engines and tuned the radios to the ground controller and listened for a minute. The tower was transmitting for the VFR aircraft not to start engines or contact the tower until they put out the message that they were ready for traffic. They said the field was closed at this time, and for IFR aircraft not to start engines until they received their Clearance. I keyed the mike and transmitted,” Saigon Tower, Provides 54, TAC E, taxi.” Ground controller prime replied, “Provides 54 taxi runway 25.”Now we had a problem because getting to runway 25 was going to be difficult. As I pulled out of the parking slot. I did see a taxi way light. As I passed that light. I looked ahead until I could see the next light. That’s the way I got to the end of the taxiway in the run-up area. After run-up, we requested and were given permission to take off. I taxied on to the runway and stayed close to the left side so I could see the lights, as I passed one light on takeoff roll. I would look for the next light and so on until liftoff.

One day, quite a few of us were tasked with missions to resupply Quan Loi. The weather was not too bad as we broke out on top at approximately 1500 feet. I flew on top to the general location of Quan Loi, but could not see a thing except the clouds that we were flying over. I contacted the Army controller and found out that the runway was overcast, with the cloud height above the ground at 50 feet at the west end and about 100 feet on the east end As I was maneuvering over the location of Quan Loi. I spotted a hole in the clouds and spotted rubber trees below. I descended through the hole in the clouds and broke out about 150 feet above the trees. Knowing that rubber trees were all about the same height, as opposed to the jungle where you can have a ragged canopy of small trees to 200+ foot high trees, I started flying around over the rubber trees looking for the runway. The terrain was kind of rolling hills, and I was following the terrain over the rubber trees. When I spotted the runway, up to my left and a higher elevation than I was flying, I turned 90° and started climbing up towards the runway. I was climbing towards the west end of the runway. When I passed over the end of the runway, I went in to the clouds at 50 feet. I told the other pilot I was flying with to time me for 30 seconds. He asked what I was going to do. I’m flying Cross wind. I’m going to go 30 seconds and enter down wind. The runway at Quan Loi is 05/23. When the time was up I turned to the heading of 050 and ask him to time me for two minutes. As I was still climbing during these maneuvers. I did break out on top at about 1000 feet. When the time was up. I turned 90° to the left and asked for 30 more seconds. When the time was up. I turned to the heading of 230, dropped the gear and flaps and started descending. On descent, we went back into the clouds. We broke out of the clouds at about 100 feet elevation east of the runway with the runway perfectly aligned about a quarter of a mile in front of us. We landed, and parked. While they were unloading the aircraft, I walked over to the Army controller and asked if any other aircraft had called in? He said, negative. But while we were talking about what I had done, another aircraft called in. The pilot asked if anyone else had made it in. The controller told him,” Yes, one other had made it in.” The pilot asked the controller how the other aircraft had made it in. The controller told him that the other pilot was standing right here and asked if he wanted the other pilot to be on the radio. He said affirmative in a controller handed me the mike. I told him that I had found a hole in the clouds and let down above the rubber trees. I then explained how I had maneuvered to come back to the runway and land. He said okay, but about 10 minutes later, he said he couldn’t find any holes in the clouds, but that he had an idea. He told me to ask the controller if he had any parachute flares. Since the controller could hear the conversation he said yes he did have. The pilot asked that he pop one to see if he could see it. The controller had the type of flares that you take the covering off of one end, slide it on the other end, and pop it with the palm of your hand while holding it in the vertical position. The controller walked out onto the runway and fired the fire. The pilot said he could see it and asked to get three more flares available. The controller asked me what the pilot was going to do. I told him he was going to maneuver the aircraft so that the heading of the aircraft was the same heading as the runway with the flare straight ahead. A few minutes later the pilot asked for another flare. A few minutes later, he asked for two more. That’s the last we heard of him until he broke out, perfectly aligned with the runway.

We were the only two that made it in that morning. Don’t try this at home. We had several factors going in our favor. One was we were well experienced with flying these aircraft at slow speeds, and being able to maneuver them with precision. The other factors were: one: The rubber trees are all the same height and two: We knew the height of the base of the clouds.

A little about the 123: the ones we were flying at the time I was there did not have the jet engines. The ones with jet engines started coming into operation in early 1967. Normally we had a four-man crew of two pilots, a flight mechanic, and a loadmaster. For drop missions, overseas missions, and some difficult to find airfields. We added a navigator. The aircraft was a true assault aircraft. We were equipped with angle of attack indicators and the props could be reversed in the air. The original assault landing procedure called for proper reversal at about 15 feet above the ground. But that procedure was done away with after quite a few accidents and or hard landings. Empty I think we could stop at about 700 feet. For planning purposes, we got out the takeoff and landing data and applied that to the field length -50 feet. We gave ourselves 50 feet of slop. During takeoff from short fields, when we lifted off, we were 15 knots below power off stall speed. That meant that if you lost power, you stalled and you came down (hit the ground) from however high you were. We normally lifted off and leveled off a few feet above the runway or field and accelerated until we at least got past power off stall speed. We now had 15 knots to go to get past minimum single-engine control speed. If you lost an engine prior to reaching the minimum single-engine control speed, then usually the procedure was to pull the other engine and put the aircraft down.

We hauled everything imaginable including people, combat troops, paratroopers, cargo of all descriptions, ammunition, vehicles, trailers, fuel bladders, drums, foodstuffs both frozen and fresh, animals, mail, and the wounded or dead. We also had flare missions. Our missions with the above included air para-dropping or free dropping and air landing. We landed on roads, fields, sidewalks (Song Be City), and runways made of grass, laterite, Sod, Clay, and PSP steel planking.

Twenty year retired Regular AF with eight years enlisted (five years Airborne Comm & Nav equipment repair and three years Jupiter and Atlas Ballistic Missile Systems Analyst.) Attended OCS and Pilot Training. Counterinsurgency School at Maxwell and C123 training at Hurlburt Field. Instructor Pilot in Viet Nam with 762 Combat hours, 1260 Combat Sorties, and 245 Combat IP hours.

2019 Heart of the Team Award


Senior Master Sergeant Surovick is an inspiration to the men and women with whom he serves despite great adversity and countless personal and family challenges.  Unceasingly, he excelled in his work, exceeding expectations of peers and leadership on a daily basis.  As superintendent for Air Force Special Operations Command’s largest MQ-9 squadron, Sergeant Surovick worked tirelessly to secure a fifty-five percent increase in much needed senior non-commissioned officer leaders for four squadrons enabling the wing’s sustained combat performance and his squadron’s contribution of fifty-seven percent of those hours.  While performing his duties and meeting the challenges at work with his consistently positive attitude, he endured intense treatments for his own medical conditions and stepped forward for his family to even greater challenges as they coped with the critical illness and ultimate loss of a parent. Sergeant Surovick’s unflagging professionalism and care for his fellow Airmen, the mission, and Air Force Special Operations Command, epitomize the individual who is the Heart of the Team!

AF JROTC Air Commando Award

The Air Commando Association, working with Laurel Highlands High School Air Force JROTC Mustang Squadron in Uniontown, PA and Headquarters, Air Force JROTC is proud to offer a national level award to AFJROTC cadets. It is the Air Commando Association Award and is designed to increase the awareness of our youth in Air Force Special Operations Forces and their historical contributions.

The ACA encourages members to reach out to their local high schools and volunteer to present the Air Commando Association Award to these young future Air Commandos.

One cadet per unit will be recognized annually based on a one-page essay highlighting a historical Air Force Special Operations Mission. The cadet must also possess the 13 Critical Attributes of Success that distinguish an elite AFSOC Air Commando.

Physical Fitness
Family Strength

Each unit’s winner will be selected by the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor (a retired officer) or Aviation Science Instructor (a retired NCO) and will receive a recognition package including a ribbon and certificate. AFJROTC Unit PA-20091 will mail the ribbons and certificate template to each AFJROTC unit not later than the last day of March of each calendar year as a national service project. If a medal is desired, one is available for each unit or cadet to purchase from Vanguardmil.com. The medal and ribbon are based on the colors and meaning within the Air Commando Association logo.
These efforts will pay off for years to come by helping to educate nearly 100,000 cadets yearly in over 850 AF JROTC Units on the history and contributions of Air Force Special Operations.

Click here for the certificate template.

If your det would like to present the accompanied medal they are available through Vanguard. The price per medal is $18.55. Please visit vanguardmil.com and search for Item No: 6610700 or follow the direct links below. Direct link to purchase medal: http://www.vanguardmil.com/air-force-rotc-full-size-medal-air-commando-award-p-16559.html Direct link to purchase both the ribbon and the medal: http://www.vanguardmil.com/air-force-jrotc-presentation-set-air-commando-award-p-16560.html

John Levitow Award

Each year the Air Commando Association sponsors the John Levitow Award for Hurlburt Field and Cannon AFB ALS Graduates. While we don’t have the individual graduates listed we wish all the men and women ALS graduates all the best in their future endeavors.

2021 Special Tactics (Enlisted) of the Year

Technical Sergeant Adam B. Anderson is a Tactical Air Control Party (TAC-P) Craftsman assigned to the 17th Special Tactics Squadron (STS), Det 2, Joint Base Lewis McChord WA.  TSgt Anderson was born in Zaragoza Spain on 7 August 1991.  He attended A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas, graduating in 2009.  He lettered in football and ice hockey his junior and senior year.  After high school, he worked as an EMT for Robinson County EMS in Hearne, Texas before joining the Air Force in 2010.  Upon graduating from basic training, he attended the TAC-P schoolhouse and received his first assignment orders to the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Campbell KY.  While serving at the 19 ASOS, TSgt Anderson deployed in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE in 2016.  After 5 years at the 19 ASOS, he attended Assessment and Selection for SOF TAC-P in 2017 and was selected for the 17 STS.  Presently, TSgt Anderson is a Section Chief for Detachment 2.  He is a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) instructor and evaluator, and serves as the detachment Chief of Training.  During his free time, he attends Liberty University Online and is working towards his Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation.  He is also pursuing his private pilot’s license. TSgt Anderson’s military awards include the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with Combat Device (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Army Commendation Medal with Combat Device, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Combat Action Medal, and Army Combat Action Badge.

2021 Special Tactics Officer of the Year

Captain Brandon P. Farrell is a Combat Rescue Officer assigned to the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, 353rd Special Operations Wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan as a Special Tactics Flight Commander. He is 27 years old. Captain Farrell was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on 26 January 1994. He attended Sand Creek High School, graduating top ten percent of his class in May of 2012. He lettered in wrestling, cross country, and academics his sophomore, junior, and senior year of high school. After graduating high school Captain Farrell was locally employed as lifeguard supervisor for LifeTime Fitness. He subsequently enrolled in the University of Northern Colorado, where he played Rugby and joined the Air Force Officer Reserved Training Corp. In 2014, Captain Farrell was selected for enrollment allocation to attend Air Force ROTC field training. Upon graduating the University of Northern Colorado with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and minor in Business Administration, Captain Farrell commissioned into the United States Air Force in May of 2016 with a direct assignment to the 48th Rescue Squadron Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. Since arriving to at Davis-Monthan, Captain Farrell has completed the Combat Rescue Officer Training pipeline, served as Battle Captain during a deployment to Kandahar AF, Afghanistan, and a Fixed Wing Team Commander during a deployment to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. His military awards include an Air Medal, and Aerial Achievement Medal, a Commendation Medal, two Achievement Medals, Meritorious Unit Award, National Defense Service, Humanitarian Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Medal, and Air Force Training Ribbon.

2021 DAGRE of the Year

Staff Sergeant Ethan C. Pierce distinguished himself as a superior performer while serving as a DAGRE Team Leader, 352d Special Operations Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall. As a member of the Training Section, Sergeant Pierce temporarily filled the NCOIC position, normally staffed by a Technical Sergeant for 180 days. While leading the training section, he directed fourteen members to meet 23 objectives while preparing three teams for the wing’s force generation initiative. Sergeant Pierce, drawing upon his wisdom and knowledge, secured yearly DAGRE training requirements ensuring his peers were trained and equipped to meet SOCEUR’s strategic priorities. In addition, he went above and beyond by crafting training for three wings whereby constructing seven tactical medical scenarios for 43 personnel that boosted the crisis response capability for three bases. Next, bridging local squadrons, he created eight joint lesson plans and led 80 members through four exercises to enhance AFSOC’s combat employment capabilities. Sergeant Pierce advanced both AFOSI and Security Forces’ strategic interoperability initiatives while leading Advanced Gunfighter training. Additionally, he coordinated with AFOSI’s Anti-terrorism Specialty Team to conduct joint, mission-centered, live fire and Simulation training events. Moreover, he coached seventeen personnel from two local organizations to assist DAGRE in meeting the 352d SOW’s “Prepare for Conflict” priority. Next, he garnered zero discrepancies by updating the flight’s master training plan which secured compliance with the flight’s MICT checklists. While deployed, Sergeant Pierce acted as the anti-terrorism/force protection (AT/ FP) liaison for SOCEUR Exercise Trojan Footprint-South. He coordinated security on behalf of the mission commander and led the security detail for two MC-1301 and two CV-22B, valued at $374M. As the assistant Team Lead, he coordinated two fly-away security missions, with one inserting two reporters covering a story on Defender ’21, an exercise supporting SOCEUR’s “Counter Russian Malign Activity” priority. With proficiency training still being a necessity while down range, he instructed a live fire event for the Chief Military Coordination Office of Romania, advancing the wing’s vision of increased theater engagement. Additionally, he coordinated tactical off-road vehicle familiarization, infiltration, exfiltration, and ropes training with Special Tactics and Host Nation Special Forces which bolstered interoperability with allied forces in a deployed location. Further, he conducted two route and hotel surveys, expanding EUCOM’s future deployment footprint. He also led two Tactical Security Details for the mission commander, and led the forward area refueling point (FARP) security team in a demonstration for Major General Tabor, SOCEUR Commanding General, and the Romanian SOF Commander. During General Tabor’s visit, Sergeant Peirce advised the MC-1301 aircraft commander and Romanian IAR 330 aircraft commander with security inputs for the scenario, solidified SOPs for future FARP missions, and embodied the elements of the 352d SOW Commander’s vision. Furthermore, as the AT/FP Team Lead, he liaised with Special Tactics to conduct three landing and airdrop zone surveys in a non-NATO partner nation to support SOCEUR’s “Prepare for Conflict” priority. In fact, while deployed as an AT/FP liaison in support of the North African Response Force, Sergeant Pierce collected vital security information for the mission commander, provided close-in security for two MC-130Js totaling $190M, and coordinated an airfield security survey at a location previously not used by the SOW. Above all, Sergeant Pierce invested in the spiritual and mental well being of his peers and leaders by establishing a weekly therapy session. Additionally, while balancing mission requirements, Sergeant Pierce chaired RAF Mildenhall 5/6 chapter’s ACE program. He mentored Airman to volunteer in the community and organized a Red Cross drive in which 150 pounds of clothes and $300 in school supplies were donated. While simultaneously leading in the community, he fulfilled all requirements for his CCAF in Criminal Justice, finishing with a 3.7 GPA and completed two classes towards his bachelors in Homeland Security. Sergeant Pierce benchmarked multiple Air Advisor courses across seven wings and satisfied an AFSOC HQ initiative. He guaranteed 307 members were certified while saving the Air Force $228K. Lastly, Sergeant Pierce’s actions garnered his DAGRE Team’s 2021 wing nomination for the General Larry O. Spencer Innovation Award. He has consistently performed above his grade and has set an example for other DAGREs to emulate.

2020 AFSOC Squadron of the Year

The 7th Special Operations Squadron had an outstanding year of accomplishments, not only excelling at the mission at home, but also in answering the nation’s call on a moment’s notice. From dodging Iranian Strategic Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East, successfully facilitating the search and recovery of a fallen US pilot, to rescuing an American hostage in the middle of Africa, the members of the 7th Special Operations Squadron have been ready at all times and have successfully executed the nation’s most complicated missions.

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Operation BIG EAGLE

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ACJ Vol 10/3


Happy New Year! I wish each of you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2022! WOW, what a year 2021 turned out be…COVID-19 did not relent, we departed Afghanistan after 20 years, and AFSOC Airmen continued to answer the nation’s call across the globe. I couldn’t be more proud of their amazing accomplishments and I’m delighted that this edition of the Air Commando Journal is filled with the Airmen of AFSOC doing what they do best, excelling!

Let me start by sharing personal thoughts about our 20 years of engagement in Afghanistan. On September 11, 2001, our world changed forever. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon drew America into conflict with violent extremists in Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years, the blood and treasure sacrificed in Afghanistan rings especially true for me because of multiple deployments and the pain of losing Airmen and sister service members who were personal friends. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of them, their families, and their sacrifices. Please take a moment of silence to honor all of those who served so remarkably and dedicated their lives to service…remember.

AFSOC Airmen certainly answered our nation’s call in Afghanistan. In this edition some of our greatest Air Force Special Operations Forces legends who also served in Afghanistan are highlighted and are being inducted into the ACA Hall of Fame: Col Timothy Hale, Lt Col Bill Schroeder, Maj Dan Turney, CMSgt William “Cal” Markham, and SMSgt James “JB” Lackey. Each of these Airmen provided countless contributions to AFSOC and their impact and legacy continues on today through the lives and careers of so many.
To continue the theme of greatness, service, and sacrifice we also have the special tribute to the compelling life and career of Lt Col Felix “Sam” Sambogna. Lt Col Sambogna had an illustrious career from flying as an attack pilot with two tours of duty in Southeast Asia. After 29 years of service he served again for another 17 years at the Oklahoma State University Office on Eglin AFB and continued his service as a volunteer for the Guardian ad Litem and as the ACA President from 2004-2008. What an impressive life and story and I think you will enjoy, as I did, learning so much more about this Air Commando. Well done Sir!

I’m so thankful for all of the heroes that came before us and their lineage permeates through the outstanding Air Commandos we have today. As I read through the 2021 AFSOC awards and each individual’s accomplishments, I’m extremely proud of each of them and as you will see; they continue on the proud legacy. MSgt Hannah Walters from the 352nd SOW is one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for the entire Air Force. I have the privilege of knowing Hannah and she is the epitome of what we want and desire in all of our Air Commandos…she is impressive!

Thank you for the opportunity to be surrounded by selfless All-Stars and as we begin 2022, I wish each of you and your families health and happiness and the profound hope that this year is even better than previous years. I know our Air Commando community will continue to thrive and ascend to even greater heights. I’m forever indebted to so many Air Commandos, and the exceptional joint force we work alongside, and couldn’t be more honored to be on this team. Happy New Year!

Read the complete issue in PDF format here.

2021 Commander’s Leadership Awards

2021 Commander’s Leadership Awards

This award recognizes AFSOC’s outstanding performers from any AFSC/career field who have made the most significant contributions to mission accomplishment as determined by their respective commanders. Their outstanding accomplishments make them truly deserving of this prestigious recognition. The inductees are chosen by their respective commanders not the ACA.

  • Brittany K. Brown

    First Lieutenant Brittany K. Brown distinguished herself as Officer in Charge, Fitness and Sports, 1st Special Operations Force Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Lieutenant Brown led 135 Airman and a 27-million-dollar sustainment operation during the Coronavirus pandemic, providing critical sustenance to mission essential Airman across four wings and 40 tenant units. Additionally, she was the lead for Air Combat Command and Hurlburt Field’s first ever Agile Flag experiments, where she provided agile combat support through sustainment and beddown for 376 deployers, enabling testing for bare base rapid deployment capabilities of three multi-capable Airmen teams and four aircraft weapons systems validations, reducing the overall acclimation time for deploying members. Furthermore, Lieutenant Brown was critical to organizing Hurlburt Field’s first pre-deployment quarantine operation, where she directed restriction of movement lodging and fitness support for 331 combat-ready deployers, enabling the continuation of four special operations missions across three combatant commands. Finally, she collaborated with the Human Performance Lab in a body mass index analysis for Air Force Special Operations Command. The results were presented to Headquarters Air Force Manpower, Personnel and Services, contributing to removal of the waist measurement requirement across the Air Force. Her leadership directly contributed to Air Force Special Operations Command’s recognition as the Air Force Sustainment Flight of the Year award win in 2020. The distinctive accomplishments of Lieutenant Brown reflect credit upon herself and the United States Air Force.

  • Jonathan C. Edwards

    Captain Jonathan C. Edwards distinguished himself as Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer In-Charge, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. Captain Edwards expertly led 197 talented CV-22 Osprey maintainers conducting field-level maintenance, sortie generation, and sustainment for a fleet of 13 special operations tiltrotor aircraft valued at 1.4 billion dollars. He validated the CV-22’s agile combat employment capability through an operational readiness evaluation where he sustained three aircraft in an austere location with a 75 percent reduction in the logistics footprint demonstrating his team’s ability to operate in a contested environment. His efforts showcased the relevance of CV-22 operations in support of the United States Special Operations Command’s pivot to accelerate change in addressing great power competition between near-peer competitors. Additionally, Captain Edwards deployed to Afghanistan as the 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron’s maintenance officer-in-charge where he generated 178 sorties and produced 161 combat hours utilizing four CV-22s to transport 227 passengers, 100 special operations forces, and 37,000 pounds of cargo while overseeing 38 airlift missions supporting the Presidential directed retrograde in Afghanistan. For his actions, Captain Edwards was recognized as the 27th Special Operations Maintenance Group’s 2020 Maintenance Professional of the Year and was the 2020 Leo Marquez recipient for excellence in leadership. The distinctive accomplishments of Captain Edwards reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • James R. Evans

    Staff Sergeant James R. Evans distinguished himself as Electrical and Environmental Craftsman, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Sergeant Evans was hand-selected to fill the role of Flightline Expediter during a critical manning shortfall. In his capacity as a Flightline Expediter, he used his expertise to manage maintenance actions across six Air Force Specialty Codes, which enabled the generation of 141 sorties, 2,700 flight hours, and led to 293 special operations aircrew graduates. Additionally, Sergeant Evans took decisive action as the subject matter expert to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning bleed air valve and preserve a critical timeline for an isochronal inspection, which resulted in an aircraft’s timely return to the flying schedule. While repairing the valve, he trained and certified four members from the squadron to alleviate an experience shortfall. Finally, Sergeant Evans was selected as the lead technician for a five-member emergency maintenance response team tasked with repairing a severely damaged aerial refueling pod on an MC-130J. His incisive troubleshooting and leadership enabled him to quickly identify the faulty mounting hardware, determine the cause of the failure, and develop an executable plan to return the aircraft to a flyable condition. His actions, during a crucial repair, prompted an Air Force-wide C-130J one time inspection and safety time compliance technical order leading to the resolution of the mounting hardware deficiency across the C-130J fleet. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Evans reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Riley A. Feeney

    Captain Riley A. Feeney distinguished himself as the AC-130J Program Manager and an AC-130J Instructor Pilot, 492d Special Operations Training Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Captain Feeney led an AC-130J crew to aid in the rescue of an American citizen by providing on-call close air support for a Secretary of Defense directed alert mission. Additionally, as a Flight Commander, he expertly managed all readiness and training requirements for 53 combat aircrew members ensuring his unit was postured to meet 100 percent of its worldwide deployment commitments. Furthermore, Captain Feeney established and implemented a “Feed the Flights” initiative resulting in the delivery of 65 meals to isolated personnel during the Coronavirus pandemic. For his efforts, Captain Feeney was recognized as the 1st Special Operations Group Flight Commander of the Year. As the AC-130J Program Manager, he updated and revamped 11 syllabi of instruction, over 1,700 training tasks and 37 training events in order to streamline initial qualification training which led to an immediate two-week reduction in training timelines. Finally, Captain Feeney’s talents were critical in executing the first-ever AC-130J formal course review and the subsequent efforts to reengineer the AC-130J formal training program and rewrite all of its 18 syllabi of instruction in order to align with Air Force Special Operations Command strategic guidance. The distinctive accomplishments of Captain Feeney reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Andrew T. Flynn

    Technical Sergeant Andrew T. Flynn distinguished himself as a Special Operations Weather Forecaster at Operating Location Alpha, Detachment 1, 23d Special Operations Weather Squadron, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Sergeant Flynn deployed in support of Operation FREEDOM SENTINEL with a joint task force for two-months as the sole weather forecaster, where he produced 854 mission weather products for 1,400 flight hours, ensuring the safety of nine Army Special Operations Aviation Command helicopters and 201 personnel. While deployed, Sergeant Flynn simultaneously filled two, three-man unit type codes, effectively performing the duties of six personnel during the final phase of the Afghanistan retrograde. Once all other weather personnel and equipment redeployed from the deployed location, Sergeant Flynn assumed airfield weather support responsibility, installed a tactical advanced micro weather sensor, and began transmitting hourly meteorological observations to Air Mobility Command and United States Special Operations Command assets. Additionally, Sergeant Flynn provided critical environmental intelligence, which enabled commanders to synchronize the base defense plan for President-directed retrograde operations. Furthermore, as his unit’s lead trainer, Sergeant Flynn was selected by the 1st Special Operations Wing to attend the Joint Fundamentals Course where he earned Honor Graduate recognition. He used this baseline of joint knowledge to lead four Air National Guard and Active Duty personnel through an intensive two-week combat mission training event covering 84 Army special operations support requirements, which resulted in fully qualified personnel capable of deploying four weeks faster than standard. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Flynn reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Ryan M. Laube

    First Lieutenant Ryan M. Laube distinguished himself as Deputy Commander, Communications Flight, 352d Special Operations Support Squadron, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Lieutenant Laube led 19 Special Operations Command – Africa personnel during a 52-day Presidential-directed theater force relocation. As the deployment’s senior communicator, he fused command, control, communication, and computer capabilities with the joint task force, resulting in the execution of 141 sorties, the offload of 110,000 pounds of fuel, 31-days of alert, and the firing of 1,000 rounds of ammunition from AC-130 aircraft. Additionally, Lieutenant Laube steered electrical services and facilitated the stand-up of an alternate support site for the President of the United States’ first-ever overseas visit and worldwide-televised speech. He also led the wing’s participation in a bilateral communications exercise, teaming with the Special Operations Command Europe and British Armed Forces in their first contested cyber event in more than two years. Moreover, Lieutenant Laube led the preparation for a rapid contingency deployment, delivering command and control capabilities and 4,200 pounds of cargo, where he ensured the successful execution of a Presidential-ordered mission that resulted in saving the life of an American citizen. Finally, Lieutenant Laube’s efforts were validated by his selection as the wing’s 2020 Network Operations Officer of the Year and his team’s selection as the Wing’s Team of the First Quarter of 2021. The distinctive accomplishment of Lieutenant Laube reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Robert T. Lemay

    Technical Sergeant Robert T. LeMay distinguished himself as the MC-130J Wing Planner, 352d Special Operations Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Sergeant LeMay exhibited exceptional leadership while serving as the senior enlisted leader for two large force exercises, overseeing 58 deployed personnel and executing 68 sorties across six countries. Sergeant LeMay’s efforts enabled strategic theater messaging to North American Trade Organization allies in the European Theater while simultaneously meeting the top priorities of the combatant commander by countering malign activity. Furthermore, Sergeant LeMay led a site survey team to the Balkan region, certifying multiple drop zones and ensuring the availability of a critical staging area for future operations. Additionally, Sergeant LeMay led a 10-month, partner nation forward area refueling point training program, establishing an austere refueling capability and critical access to the strategically important high north Arctic Region. Moreover, while serving as an Operations Flight Chief, Sergeant Lemay executed a squadron reorganization initiative, enabling predictable deployment windows aligning with Headquarters, Air Force Special Operation Command’s guidance. Finally, while under presidential direction, Sergeant LeMay served as the lead loadmaster on the longest-range hostage rescue in United States history, flying 2,100 miles while offloading 59,000 pounds of fuel, ultimately resulting in the successful recovery of an American citizen. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant LeMay reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Michael J. Lintz

    Major Michael J. Lintz distinguished himself as the Senior Intelligence Officer, at his unit from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Major Lintz’s unparalleled leadership and knowledge were vital to the successful command and control of over 2,000 sorties supporting Secretary of Defense directed missions, combat operations, and joint exercises. He filled a two-month leadership gap as the acting Director of Operations for his unit leading 112 personnel operating onboard a 755-million-dollar Special Operations Command Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance aircraft fleet. Furthermore, under his leadership, special operations forces conducted missions across five geographic combatant commands. His dedicated efforts directly aligned his unit with National Defense Strategy objectives sustaining joint force military advantages, both globally and in key regions. Additionally, Major Lintz authored a liaison officer roadmap fostering interoperability with Army, Navy, and Intelligence Community partners paving the way for the creation of three new liaison positions. He pioneered three new developmental opportunities gaining access to over 80-hours of instruction focused on strategic communication. Finally, Major Lintz led a 10-member team in the creation of a unique intelligence product fusing 35 reports from across the intelligence community informing a sub-unified command’s global response plan and garnering interest from the United States Special Operations Command and Joint Chiefs of Staff level. The distinctive accomplishments of Major Lintz reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Erik A. Lolland

    First Lieutenant Erik A. Lolland distinguished himself as Chief of Intelligence Training, 720th Operations Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Lieutenant Lolland expertly managed a 12-person flight during three mission qualification training courses totaling 630 instruction hours which increased the group’s combat readiness by 16 percent. Under his leadership, the training course generated a 40 percent increase in attendance from units external to the special tactics community. Additionally, Lieutenant Lolland led the group’s Defense Strategic Debriefing program by guiding five geographically separated units and becoming the driving factor for a 20 percent growth of Air Force Special Operations Command’s reporting to the intelligence community. Furthermore, Lieutenant Lolland deployed as Officer in Charge of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance to Joint Special Operations Air Component Africa where he controlled a 353-million-dollar air intelligence package responsible for 13,000 collection hours which facilitated more than 2,000 counter-violent extremist organization missions. Finally, he spearheaded the air intelligence coordination responsible for the search and discovery of a downed remotely piloted aircraft, as well as the successful targeting of over 400 kidnap-for-ransom objectives, and the recovery of an American citizen. Due to his skillful management of air assets and cooperation with multiple agencies, the American citizen was located and recovered within 72 hours of capture. The distinctive accomplishments of Lieutenant Lolland reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Adam C. Long

    Technical Sergeant Adam C. Long distinguished himself as Tactical Air Control Party Craftsman, 720th Operations Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Sergeant Long served as Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Joint Terminal Attack Controller operations and training for the 720th Special Tactics Group. Sergeant Long oversaw training and upgrades for a 450-day Air Force Special Operations Force Generation cycle and enabled resourcing decisions for a two-million-dollar training budget. Additionally, he drove 304 ground and close air support events, 1,389 close air support controls, 316 ground and aircrew readied for a 180-day deployment cycle and managed the group’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller program for six squadrons in support of five geographic combatant commands and Theater special operations commands. Furthermore, Sergeant Long was the lead inspector on four group-level functional visits where he scrutinized 240 records to validate the Joint Terminal Attack Controller training program for five deployable squadrons. Sergeant Long debriefed 148 personnel from three theaters to refine the 24th Special Operations Wing’s 75-million-dollar actual expense authorization for 160 wartime solutions. Finally, Sergeant Long stood out among his peers during professional military education where he oversaw seven weeks of squadron drills, inspections, and over 100 hours of community service, earning Distinguished Graduate honors at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Long reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Zachary R. Maginnis

    Captain Zachary R. Maginnis distinguished himself as Pilot Resource Manager, 1st Special Operations Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Captain Maginnis’ outstanding leadership was pivotal in the synchronization of national level assets and a theater directed operation to counter a near peer threat and ensure freedom of navigation throughout the Indo-Pacific Area of Responsibility. Additionally, he was selected to lead the air campaign at an Indo-Pacific Command large Joint Chiefs of Staff directed exercise, meeting National Defense Strategy objectives, and strengthening ties with partner forces. Furthermore, Captain Maginnis led a squadron training program, authoring an examination, and managing 61 flight upgrade folders, ensuring the squadron’s aircrew are combat mission ready. His attention to detail led to the discovery of an MC-130J system deficiency. Captain Maginnis then liaised with other units across the globe to identify and implement an operations security resolution across Air Force Special Operations Command. Captain Maginnis showed adept leadership by sponsoring new squadron members and their families acting as their sole link to the outside world to ensure they had housing, food, and essentials while conducting two weeks of isolation during a global pandemic. Finally, he was selected as the Pilot Resource Manager for the squadron where he scheduled 375 sorties, guaranteeing continued integrated combat mission training despite the Coronavirus pandemic. The distinctive accomplishments of Captain Maginnis reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Arthur W. Mapp

    Technical Sergeant Arthur W. Mapp distinguished himself as an Enlisted Executive Officer, 27th Special Operations Group, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During mission qualification training, Sergeant Mapp was selected as the class leader, mentoring eight officers and six airmen, ensuring a 100 percent graduation rate. During his deployment, Sergeant Mapp was the Flight Chief of 54 personnel where his team flew over 1,500 combat hours, striking 16 high-value enemy targets. For their outstanding contribution during deployment for the development of aerospace power and for the betterment of mankind, Sergeant Mapp and the members of the 3rd Special Operations Squadron received the Citation of Honor award. After returning from deployment, Sergeant Mapp was hand-selected for the group Enlisted Executive Officer position, where he led a nine-member executive team. He led the personnel actions for 13 squadrons, 38 Air Force specialty codes, and 1,400 personnel. His dedication to excellence culminated in his recognition as the 3rd Special Operations Squadron Non-Commission Officer of the Year and the group’s Tuskegee’s Airmen and Senior Master Sergeant Barbour Award winner. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Mapp reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Jeremy D. Morlock

    Technical Sergeant Jeremy D. Morlock distinguished himself as Squadron Intelligence Department Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, 353d Special Operations Support Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Sergeant Morlock identified 12 erroneous threat assessments from a national level intelligence agency. The rectification of this data altered the personnel recovery alert posture criteria for Indo-Pacific Command, decreasing the number of alert periods by 80 percent, and reducing strain on the force by saving 2,000 man hours annually. Additionally, Sergeant Morlock sifted through two decades of data from six intelligence agencies. Aligning it with current trends, he identified a critical area of interest of a top National Defense Strategy adversary. After up channeling his findings, the Secretary of Defense and Commander, Indo-Pacific Command, created three new missions based on his discovery. Furthermore, Sergeant Morlock led the 353d Special Operations Group’s Joint Intelligence Support Team through six Secretary of Defense directed missions. During which, Sergeant Morlock provided live threat recognition and awareness to ten aircrews and revealed 45 new adversary tactics. Finally, Sergeant Morlock masterfully led his section during a four-month absence of the officer in-charge. He displayed phenomenal leadership skills mentoring 43 airmen, resulting in the section garnering one annual award, five quarterly awards, and four promotion stratifications. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Morlock reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Jason M. Morris

    Captain Jason M. Morris distinguished himself as a C-146A Instructor Pilot, 859th Special Operations Squadron, Duke Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. Captain Morris deployed as Director of Operations, 524th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron in support of Special Operations Command Central. Captain Morris supported 29 Special Operations Forces units by supervising 429 air mobility combat missions, delivering 511 joint special operations personnel and 112,000 pounds of cargo across the Department of Defense’s most active area of responsibility. While serving at Headquarters, Air Force Special Operations Command, Captain Morris authored the command’s newest “Reset the Force” deployment model, changing the way Airmen and assets are employed to counter future threats. He also saved 2.4 million dollars by identifying an error in the command’s flying hour program. This correction created a six percent increase in flight hours across all the command’s squadrons. Captain Morris also deployed in support of Special Operations Command South, and spearheaded 7th Special Forces Group’s new theater evacuation plan, ensuring theater-wide access and freedom of movement while reducing risk to force. The distinctive accomplishments of Captain Morris reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Keith A. Proze Jr.

    Technical Sergeant Keith A. Proze, Jr., distinguished himself as an MQ-9 Sensor Operator Scheduler, 2d Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 through 31 May 2021. During this time, Sergeant Proze scheduled six aircraft ground control stations in Air Force Reserve Command’s only special operations Reaper Operations Center, in support of special operations task forces in four areas of responsibility and directly enabled the continuous battlefield presence of more than seventy percent of special operations Reaper combat air patrols, which produced 1,760 combat sorties, totaling more than 14,000 hours for 169 personnel. Furthermore, Sergeant Proze flew 134 combat sorties totaling 510 combat hours, during which he located more than 100 enemy combatants and personally laser-guided three Hellfire missiles and two guided bombs, which resulted in six enemy eradicated and the destruction of two enemy vehicles armed with improvised explosives. Finally, he served on the first-ever special operations aircrew to participate in Emerald Flag Exercise. As a result, the unit was hand-picked to plan and execute the first-ever live fire training during the exercise series, which enabled development of new tactics and techniques to enable Joint All-Domain Command and Control. The distinguished accomplishments of Sergeant Proze reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Trevor L. Rohrer

    Staff Sergeant Trevor L. Rohrer distinguished himself as C-146A Loadmaster and Supply Non-Commissioned Officer, 524th Special Operations Squadron, Duke Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Sergeant Rohrer assisted in managing the squadron’s 1.5-million-dollar budget for 130 service members enabling operations in more than 105 countries in support of four theater special operations commands. Furthermore, he oversaw the implementation of a two-factor authentication system allowing the squadron to securely communicate with embassies worldwide while hedging against emerging cyber security threats. Additionally, Sergeant Rohrer led a 60,000 dollar renovation of the squadron mission planning area, modernizing the mission planning suites while also doubling the available space. The updates allowed squadron aviators to have a dedicated location to thoroughly plan flights together as a crew using the most up to date hardware and software applications. Finally, he took charge of the 105,000 dollar squadron technology refurbishment initiative. He served as the single point of contact with the communication squadron and managed the purchase of 92 new computers, their reimaging, installment, and the disposal of old hardware. This refurbishment was key to the squadron’s Coronavirus pandemic mitigation efforts by supplying squadron members with the ability to telework during the peak of the pandemic. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Rohrer reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Brett E. Rush

    Technical Sergeant Brett E. Rush distinguished himself as Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge, Religious Affairs, at his unit from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Sergeant Rush deployed as the Air Operations Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge, assigned to a joint task force in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE. His superior display of leadership, dedication, and professionalism empowered the coordination and execution of 115 sorties, 52,000 pounds of cargo, 53 mobility movements, and 389 combat flight hours. He expertly oversaw and protected sensitive property accounts worth more than 10 million dollars and increased flight crew berthing capacity by 15 percent, preserving vital mission capability during the Coronavirus pandemic. Concurrently, while dual-hatted in his primary duty as the unit’s senior enlisted member of the Religious Support Team, he advised seven commanders in the areas of spirituality, ethics, and morale. His tireless advocacy propelled 987 hours of squadron visitation from the unit’s chapel team, leading to 109 critical crisis interventions. As the budget manager for the unit’s resiliency funding, he executed 295 thousand dollars, bringing 27 events to fruition and engaging 998 attendees. These actions directly ensured the wellbeing and readiness of the unit’s Air Commandos and their families. Additionally, Sergeant Rush was crucial in developing a Moral Injury awareness curriculum which trained 11 joint Chaplains and 63 operators. Furthermore, his excellence was continuously recognized, as he led his team to their third-consecutive command Small Chapel of the Year Award. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Rush reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

  • Jacob L. Wiseman

    Captain Jacob L. Wiseman distinguished himself as Assistant Director of Operations, 353d Special Operations Support Squadron, Kadena Airbase, Japan, and 415th Special Operations Squadron, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this time, Captain Wiseman served as the mission commander for a joint, short-notice typhoon evacuation, leading six MC-130J aircraft with 96 personnel to safety. His efforts preserved 570 million dollars in Air Force assets and helped bolster United States Indo-Pacific Command’s crisis response force capabilities. He also operationalized intelligence support for two squadrons, resulting in increased near-peer combat readiness of 200 special operations aircrew and operators. Moreover, Captain Wiseman identified training policy shortfalls for the MC-130J aircraft commander upgrade. He liaised with six MC-130J squadrons across three major commands and authored policy changes to improve MC-130J aircraft commander upgrades while reducing operational risk. Separately, he led the mission planning environment transition for the 415th Special Operations Squadron during major system upgrades. These upgrades resulted in the installation of 24 new systems totaling 81,000 dollars and ultimately led the 415th Special Operations Squadron to meet Air Force Special Operations Command’s original transition timeline. Finally, Captain Wiseman served at multiple volunteer events for food distribution to at-risk families and removed over 1,000 pounds of rock and cement paving the way for the renovation of a religious site. The distinctive accomplishments of Captain Wiseman reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Award Spotlight

Related Awards

Photos by ScottPhotoWorks

Scott Schaeffler is an Air Commando and a retired USAF helicopter pilot. The ACA is extremely fortunate to have Scott Photo Works as our official photographer. He has the experience, skill and equipment to take great pictures of you, your event, your property, your boat, just about anything.

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Jerry Klingaman

Col Jerry Klingaman CAA #9

Photos submitted to the Air Commando Journal to accompany the articles “A Tribute to Jerry Klingaman” by Larry Ropka, Col, USAF (Ret) in Vol 10 Issue 2 and “Origins and Concept of Train-Advise-Assist” by Jerry Klingaman, Lt Col, USAF  in Vol 5 Issue 1.

ACA Blog & Photos

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6th SOS

6th SOS Photo Gallery

Photos submitted to the Air Commando Journal to accompany the article “Adaptive Precision Strike: Combat Aviation Advisors put the Finish in Partner Nation Air Forces” by Maj Daniel Jackson, USAF

  • A Hellfire missile streaks from the rail on a CAA-flown Cessna 208 at White Sands Missile Range, February 2020. (Photo courtesy of MAG Aero)

  • Majors Paul Tandberg (left) and Daniel Jackson (right) conduct precision strike training with a Lebanese AC-208 crew in 2020. (Photo courtesy of author)

  • Left to right, Lt Col Will Slotter, Capt Ryan Mayer, Maj Brian Schaf, and Lt Col Steve Vestel preflight their missile-toting Caravan prior to the first live-fire flight on the White Sands Missile Range, February 2020. (Photo courtesy of Brian Schaf)

  • Lt Col Steve Vestel and Maj Brian Schaf took delivery of the squadron’s first CATM on December 1, 2017, and snapped this “proof of life” picture before locking it up for the night. (Photo courtesy of Brian Schaf)

  • The author shoots a Hellfire missile at the Utah Test and Training Range, July 2021. (Photo courtesy of author)

  • A Hellfire missile slams into a CONEX target at the White Sands Missile Range, February 2020. (Photo courtesy of Brian Schaf)

  • Majors Phil Vaughn, Brian Schaf, and Paul Tandberg takeoff in N321NH with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and AFSOC commander Lt Gen Brad Webb in February 2018. (Photo courtesy of Air Force Special Operations Command)

  • Conducting a rocket attack at the Fort Stewart Range, March 2021. (Photo courtesy of author)

  • A Hellfire leaves the rail at White Sands Missile Range, February 2020. (Photo courtesy of MAG Aero)

  • Secretary Wilson addresses CAAs from the 6th and 711th SOS in front of the CATM-armed Caravan at Hurlburt Field. (Photo courtesy of Air Force Special Operations Command)

  • Majors Brian Schaf and Jeff Malinen plot out single- and multi-ship strike tactics on a whiteboard at Destin Executive Airport. (Photo courtesy of Paul Tandberg)

ACA Blog & Photos

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Saving A Wild Boar

Saving A Wild Boar

Air Commandos Support the International Thai Cave Rescue Effort

Reference: Air Commando Journal, Vol 10 Issue 3, February 2022, pages 32-37

By Lt Col (Ret) Matthew Durham

The US military team delivered search and rescue experience and capacity to the tremendous efforts provided by Thai authorities and international search and rescue teams. (Photo by Capt Jessica Tait)

On Saturday, July 23rd, the Moo Pa, roughly translated to Wild Boars, a junior association football team (“soccer” to Americans–“football” to the rest of the world) from Chiang Rai province, on the northern border of Thailand, had just finished practice and planned a quick trip. It was later reported they traveled to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system to celebrate a birthday, with lots of food. This turned out to be incorrect. They rode their bikes up to the nearby cave entrance simply to explore the cave a little. They were led by the Boars’ 25 year-old assistant coach, Ekkaphon Chantawong, a trained Buddhist monk. After parking their bikes 12 boys, ages 11-16 and Coach Ek entered the cave. Almost as soon as they went into the darkness it began raining. Hard.
Point in fact, in 2018 the monsoon season had arrived two to three weeks early in northern Thailand. There were signs posted advising not to get beyond the entrance of the 6.2 mile-long cave from July-November, the rainy season, but it was not supposed to be the rainy season quite yet. The cave system is in the Doi Nang Non mountain range and is called “the Mountain of the Sleeping Lady,” which it vaguely resembles, a woman laying on her back. As the rain continued, the porous limestone ground on top of the cave leaked water into the cave system itself, creating flooded chambers. As the chambers flooded, the Wild Boars were forced back deeper into the dark cave. After Coach Ek unsuccessfully tried to swim out, they eventually found themselves on a rock ledge, almost two and one half miles from the cave entrance, and no one knew they were there.
One man was looking for them, though. Wild Boars head coach Nopprat Kanthawong had checked his phone about 7 p.m. and found 20 missed calls, all from parents wondering where their kids were. He started calling every team number he had listed, until he reached a 13-year old Boar who got picked up after practice. He told the coach the rest of the team and Coach Ek were planning on biking to the cave and doing a little exploring. Nopprat sped up to the cave entrance and easily found their bikes and packs, but no Wild Boars. He did find lots of water in the cave and it was rising. Fearing the worst he immediately notified authorities.
Thus began an underground rescue operation that would eventually involve approximately 10,000 volunteers, including Thai Army and Special Forces, divers from around the globe, doctors, mining specialists, military and civilian rescue specialists from 38 different countries, from Ireland to India and just about everywhere in-between, with over 100 government agencies represented. Hundreds of media descended upon the rapidly growing base camp. Helicopters flew, ambulances hurried, and food trucks began to arrive. The Wild Boar families had been sent for and were being bedded down. The camp had everything but the kids. Nobody had found the Wild Boars yet. As each hour passed it was becoming harder to be overly optimistic about “the boys in the cave.”

Air Commandos meet with Royal Thai military officials and a Thai engineering company to advise and assist in the rescue operation. (Photo by Capt Jessica Tait)

The United States government, in all its power and might, is good at many things. Unfortunately, the government is also known for its levels of bureaucracy. As the requests for help went out, the US Embassy in Bangkok contacted their desk at the State Department in Washington DC, who then contacted the Department of Defense, also in Washington, who contacted Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), who notified Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC), who immediately contacted an organization known to be quite good, and practiced, in moving quickly. Air Force Special Operations Command’s 353rd Special Operations Group, headquartered at Kadena AB, Okinawa, was told to prepare to deploy for rescue support. Less than 19 hours after SOCPAC was notified, the 353rd had rescuers inside the cave. They were joined by members of the 31st Rescue Squadron from the 18th Wing, host unit of Kadena. The approximately 40 personnel had flown into Chiang Mai airport on two of the 1st Special Operations Squadron’s MC-130J Commando II aircraft after receiving special permission to overfly the country of Vietnam. It was now early morning of June 28 and, aside from the team’s footprints leading into the cave, no one had found anything yet. The Wild Boars had been in the cave, unheard from, for nearly five days.
It was not from any lack of effort that nothing was found early on. The Thai authorities knew of a local man that could be of help. The first official diver to enter the cave was 63 year-old British expat Vernon Unsworth. As divine providence would have it Unsworth was an experienced cave diver, lived about an hour south of the cave entrance and had been planning to dive the Tham Luang Nang Nong system, with which he was already familiar, that very day. Unsworth advised the Thai government to contact the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC). Hearing of the dilemma, the BCRC rushed three experienced cave divers to the cave , arriving one day before the 353rd. Thai Navy SEAL divers had been in the cave since June 25, but even using bright lighting the water was so murky it was impossible to operate. Sniffer dogs were used above the cave to try to find a crevasse where engineers could look at drilling down from above. Drones and robots would soon join them. It continued to rain.
The members of the 353rd arrived and went to work. However, they had to look at things realistically. The Wild Boars had not even been found yet. When they arrived at about 2 a.m. on the 28th, there was a trickle of water in one part of the cave. In one hour it had risen to two feet. Major Charles Hodges, a Citadel graduate from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron and the mission commander later said, “When we arrived it was worse than had been painted. I thought it was highly probable we would never find these kids.”
Special Tactics is not formally trained in cave diving rescues, but they are outstanding at planning difficult missions. Members of the 320th began working with the unit in charge, the Thai SEALS, to come up with an extraction plan if or when the Wild Boars were found; a plan that would have a chance of success without killing kids or rescuers. MSgt Derek Anderson of the 320th became a lead planner for the extraction. It was an all-international team effort but Anderson is generally given credit for drafting the plan that ended up successfully saving the kids. It involved a complicated scheme of dropping hundreds of necessary air tanks at various points to supply the Wild Boars and the extracting divers. That, and the guide rope system, was complicated, but it could work. The Air Force team of the 320th and the 31st had already examined the possibility of pumping water out and drilling down from above. Hodges contacted Chevron Oil in Bangkok and quickly found it unworkable, too complicated, and too lengthy.
Battling rising water and swift currents, two of the BCRC cave divers, Richard Staunton and John Volanthen, a Belgian cave diver and a French diver, Maksym Polejaka, began searching the cave and setting up guidelines for other divers. The rain continued to fall and the water rose. Operations had to be suspended until the weather improved. On July 2 Volanthen was setting guidelines and ran out of rope. He surfaced in a cave chamber and in the darkness smelled something… human. The Wild Boars had been found. They were weakened and confused, but passably healthy. Coach Ek had kept the kids calm, told them to drink the clearest water possible and had given the kids all of his food. Word was passed down the line. Thanks to those hundreds of media on site, the good news rocketed around the world. Hours later, seven Thai military personnel, including a doctor and a medic, made the extremely difficult trip to the Wild Boars, bringing medical supplies, high calorie food, and clean water. Four of the seven volunteered to stay with the Wild Boars for the duration. They would be the last to leave the cave. Now the real challenge began.
How were they going to get 12 kids and a coach, most of whom could not swim, and none with diving experience, out of a flooded cave two and a half miles back, with twist, turns, changes in elevation and some openings as small as 15 X 28 inches? It would take some of the best cave divers in the world five hours with the current, and six hours against it, just to get back and forth to the Wild Boar’s ledge. As the world rejoiced at the news the rescue experts took a real, deep sigh. This was going to be very, very dangerous.
“It’s zero visibility, it’s cold, and it’s far, far back into a cave. There were never any guarantees and I remember Major Hodges saying specifically there’s maybe a 60 percent chance of survivability. We were completely honest when briefing the Thai leadership that we were expecting casualties. Even though we did as much mission planning and rehearsals as possible, no one had ever done anything like this before.” said Anderson.
Alternatives were examined. A shaft was found that sank to 900 meters, but it was not enough. During the rescue operation over 100 shafts were drilled, but none were sufficient. There was serious consideration by the Thai government to constantly resupply the Wild Boars, wait months for the monsoon season to end and have them walk out. This would have meant an almost constant train of divers shuttling supplies back two and a half miles through a mostly flooded cave. You could almost guarantee casualties. Then there was the oxygen, or, more accurately, the lack thereof. On July 6, the oxygen level had dropped. By July 8, the oxygen level was less than normal and becoming dangerous. Engineers looked at the possibility of running an oxygen line back to the Wild Boar’s chamber but quickly deemed it next to impossible in the timeframe. The Thai government naturally wanted the safest possible extraction, just wait it out, but time was quickly evaporating.
“We were explaining it was time to fish or cut bait,” said Hodges.” If you don’t do something now the cave will make the decision for you. Five or six months from now, when the water recedes, we will be lucky to find remains.”
The experienced divers and Thai SEALS examined and contributed to MSgt Anderson’s plan. Cave divers would have to lead the Wild Boars out one at a time. Slowly, deliberately and carefully. Practice missions were already being run in a nearby pool and a rope system to get the divers accustomed to the size of the twist and turns had been put into place. Normally a mission this intricate would call for months of practice. There was no time.
As if to emphasize the danger, on July 6, a volunteer and former Thai Navy diver, Saman Kunan, died while helping deliver the almost endless need for fresh diving air tanks. It is often thought that Kunan was the only casualty in the rescue operation, but there were several injuries and another Thai SEAL diver, Beruit Pakbara, contracted blood poisoning while in the cave and died that December. On the same day Kunan died, oxygen levels on Wild Boar ledge dropped to 15 percent, down from the normal 21 percent and more rain was forecast. The plan had to be initiated and the rescue extraction had to be moved up.
At the same time, one member of the 353rd had an unexpected role. Capt Jessica Tait, the 353rd Public Affairs Officer, deployed to on-site as rescue support, unexpectedly found herself the face and voice of the rescue for the English-speaking public of the world. This was a little more complicated than at first glance. Tait had been sent with the 320th/31st initial package because the Thai Cave Rescue was already a world-wide story when they received orders. On the ground she became the focal point for the English speaking media, and was expected to arrange interviews and give updates for everyone. The possible sensitive issue of US heavy messaging and “taking credit” with an American military member speaking for a Thai-led operation was always discussed between the State Department, OSD/PA, and AFSOC/PA. Tait consistently emphasized this was a Thai operation and the United States, along with all the other nations, were in support. Apparently, she got that point across. The King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn, later asked to meet Tait and expressed his gratitude.
On July 8, the cave entrance was cleared and over 90 international divers, including those from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, the 31st Rescue Squadron and US medical personnel were stationed along the staging areas deep inside the cave. The water was still so muddy that the support divers’ air regulators would often malfunction due to the mud buildup. All aspects of the plan had to be precise; there was no room for error. A team of 13 international cave divers and five Thai SEALS began their hours long journey back to the Wild Boars. The team included an Australian doctor, Richard Harris, who would administer the anesthetic Ketamine to render the boys going out of the cave unconscious. It had been decided that it was safer to guide them through the maze of muddy water, rocks, twists and small openings if they were unconscious and therefore would be no chance of them panicking and endangering both themselves and their rescuers. They were also given the anti-anxiety drugs Xanax and Atropine to steady their heart rates. The Ketamine was effective for 45 minutes to an hour, meaning the escorting divers, trained by Dr. Harris, had to re-administer a dose of Ketamine. The Thai government gave Dr. Harris and two of his assistants diplomatic immunity in case something went wrong. At various cave chambers they were quickly examined by medical personnel before being sent on.
The boys were dressed in wet suits, with positive pressure full face masks and a harness. Handles were attached to their backs to allow them to be “carried” in the water. They were also tethered to their escort. Divers at various points carefully pushed, pulled and lifted the boys, always careful not to bump their heads or masks on the ever-present jagged rocks. The escorting divers ensured their heads were always above the unconscious boys so if there was an unseen rock in the muddy water the divers would hit their head instead of the boys’.
“It wasn’t going to be an issue of visibility,” said Hodge. “Visibility was always going to be bad. They were kicking up so much silt that the concern was mud getting into the regulators. The guy in front would start and the guy behind him would have mud in his regulator.”
The trip was arduous on the divers. When the boys made it to a dry spot in the cave, they were met by three other divers, taken out of their dive gear and at one stop they had to be dragged on a stretcher approximately 600 feet across slippery rocks and wet sand hills to the next demarcation point. There they were medically examined, put back into their dive gear and sent on the next part of their journey. In Chamber 3 they were alternately carried and transported by zip line, installed by rock climbers, to the cave entrance. The route remained partially flooded and rescuers later recalled how tough that part of the journey proved. The first day that Chamber 3 section took five hours alone, though at the end, practice and improvements had reduced it to a little over one hour. At the cave entrance an ambulance awaited to take them to Changrai Prachanukfroh Hospital where doctors found the Wild Boars had lost, on average, approximately four and a half pounds apiece, but were generally in good shape. The boys wore sunglasses while their eyes readjusted to light and were checked for any infections.
How was it decided who would go first? They considered youngest to oldest or the weakest to strongest. Actually, Coach Ek said the boys were all “still strong,” mentally and physically. Then they left it to the Wild Boars themselves to decide who went first. After talking they reasoned the boys living farthest away from the cave should go first. They could ride their bikes and tell everyone where the others were and would be coming out shortly. They had a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact the world was watching and nobody was going to let them bike ride off into the sunset. A decision was reached by the on-site Thai divers and the first four were quickly prepared.
That first day four boys were taken from the cave. The rescuers knew that they would need 10-20 hours to resupply the cave route with air tanks, medical equipment and other supplies. For once the weather had cooperated—it had stopped raining. That, and efficiencies cut down the amount of time it took to transport the kids the required two and a half miles. However, it remained a tough go.

Thai rescue authorities work together to support the staging of equipment for pumping operations. (Photo by Capt Jessica Tait)

On July 9, four more Wild Boars were rescued. The weather, and the luck held. Again, the difficult and still dangerous procedure of resupply had to be accomplished. The cave had proven several times it was unforgiving of mistakes. On July 10, the remaining four Wild Boars left the cave, along with Coach Ek. Mission accomplished? Well, the Wild Boars had been saved but approximately 100 divers, volunteers, and medical personnel remained in the flooded cave, most almost a mile back, with a few even farther from the entrance. The cave rescue was not done.
Almost immediately after the last ambulance left, water began rapidly rising in Chamber 3. It is thought the main water line, pumping water out of the cave, had broken. Pumps had been installed early on to help bring down the water in the cave. With all the rain the pumps were never expected to be the final solution. However, the pumps had removed the equivalent of 400 Olympic-sized pools of water and with the short dry spell had actually made a little progress in the water levels. As soon as the kids and Coach EK left the cave, the pumps stopped and water rose rapidly. The codeword for “drop everything and get out” was issued. Air tanks, equipment, all of it had to be abandoned. Workers and divers moved in an orderly way, but quickly, for the entrance. They began to work against the advancing water. By the time the Thai divers, deepest in the cave when the pumps broke, made their way to the entrance, only about an 18 inch air pocket remained. Everyone was out.
Looking back, it probably should not have worked as well as it did. Everyone on the inside expected casualties, but that did not happen. They were justifiably proud, but it took a little while.
“The actual core of rescuers, were all kind of exhausted, but kind of in awe that we had pulled this off over a three-day period. Everyone was pretty quiet, just rinsing off our gear. The very next day the hotel had a dinner for us and we were able to relax a little bit and take in what had just happened,” said Anderson.
What had happened had some interesting side notes. The oldest of the Wild Boars, Phiraphat Samphianghai, turned 17 years old while in the cave. In fact, while the world literally came together to rescue them, four of the Wild Boars and Coach Ek had no country to call their own. Belonging to tribes that extended across the borders of Thailand, Laos, China and Myanmar, they were considered technically “stateless,” and could not be issued a passport or technically be allowed to leave the Chiang Rai providence. The team had run into past difficulties when playing outside of Chiang Rai. After the rescue the four “stateless” Wild Boars and Coach Ek were officially made Thai citizens.
Was Coach Ek held responsible by the parents and an army of lawyers for leading the Wild Boar youths into the cave? Not at all. The parents forgave Coach Ek and actually showed appreciation for all he did while spending two weeks with their boys, in a dark and flooded cave. The Thai cultural outlook is both forgiving and graceful.
Many people like hearing or reading about the rescue. It was a time when the world literally came together to help the helpless. China had sent two teams, with robots and a 3D imager, to work alongside Americans. The Czech government had tried to deploy four large water pumps, but the ground was found to be too unstable. Space-X CEO Elon Musk had his engineers design a “kid-sized submarine”, but it was deemed too impractical. Musk then got into a somewhat bizarre feud with one of the Australian divers, but at least he tried to contribute. In all, best-selling books were written, documentaries were produced and at the time of this writing a large-scale movie, directed by Ron Howard and starring Viggo Mortenson, Colin Farrell, and Joel Eggerton is currently shooting. It is to be entitled 13 Lives.
The “Quiet Professionals” from the 353rd? They gathered what equipment they could, made their way back to the airport and boarded their MC-130Js, tired and relieved. The flight back to Kadena would take a bit longer because the country of Vietnam had denied their overflight. Vietnam’s rationale was “The crisis is now over.”

About the Author: Matt Durham served on the AFSOC headquarters Public Affairs staff for over 19 years, under eight different commanders as both officer and civilian. He has deployed to Haiti, the Bosnian AOR, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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2019 SrA Julian S. Scholten ISR Commando Award

2019 SrA Julian S. Scholten ISR Commando Award


Sergeant Allan was critical to establishing 353 Special Operations Group’s first imagery training program by designing and instructing courses addressing a critical mission planning and execution need for the unit’s combat operations. Through initiative, he equipped the special operations group with mission planning materials and designed training aids for three operations plans, eliminating a gap for the geographic combatant commander’s sole special operations forces aircraft crisis response unit. Furthermore, Sergeant Allan developed joint service imagery outreach by coordinating multiple equipment transfers between Air Force, Army, and Marine units saving the Department of Defense valuable resources. Finally, Sergeant Allan revitalized a $1 Million sensitive compartmented information facility. His innovative approach maximized workspace and integrated sensitive equipment enabling his fellow Airmen to meet the most challenging demands of expeditionary special operations. Sergeant Allan’s professionalism, innovation, and initiative distinguish him as a true Air Commando.

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Scott Schaeffler is an Air Commando and a retired USAF helicopter pilot. The ACA is extremely fortunate to have Scott Photo Works as our official photographer. He has the experience, skill and equipment to take great pictures of you, your event, your property, your boat, just about anything.

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Award Spotlight Brittany Brown

First Lieutenant Brittany K. Brown distinguished herself as Officer in Charge, Fitness and Sports, 1st Special Operations Force Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021. During this period, Lieutenant Brown led 135 Airman and a 27-million-dollar sustainment operation during the Coronavirus pandemic, providing critical sustenance to mission essential Airman across four wings and 40 tenant units. Additionally, she was the lead for Air Combat Command and Hurlburt Field’s first ever Agile Flag experiments, where she provided agile combat support through sustainment and beddown for 376 deployers, enabling testing for bare base rapid deployment capabilities of three multi-capable Airmen teams and four aircraft weapons systems validations, reducing the overall acclimation time for deploying members. Furthermore, Lieutenant Brown was critical to organizing Hurlburt Field’s first pre-deployment quarantine operation, where she directed restriction of movement lodging and fitness support for 331 combat-ready deployers, enabling the continuation of four special operations missions across three combatant commands. Finally, she collaborated with the Human Performance Lab in a body mass index analysis for Air Force Special Operations Command. The results were presented to Headquarters Air Force Manpower, Personnel and Services, contributing to removal of the waist measurement requirement across the Air Force. Her leadership directly contributed to Air Force Special Operations Command’s recognition as the Air Force Sustainment Flight of the Year award win in 2020. The distinctive accomplishments of Lieutenant Brown reflect credit upon herself and the United States Air Force.

Commando Medic of the Year

The 2019 CMSgt Roland “Hap” Lutz Air Commando Medic of the Year Award recipient is TSgt Erik Waldrip of the 27th Special Operations Support Squadron at Cannon AFB, NM.

Gen Robert Cardenas Flies West

Col Phil Cochran, Maj Gen John Alison, and Gen Robert Cardenas

Gen Robert Cardenas, military legend who co-founded the ACA in 1969 with BGen Harry C. “Heinie” Aderholt, passed away on 10 March 2022. He, along with Johnny Alison and Phil Cochran, dedicated the first Special Operations HQ and presided over the first Air Commando Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Gen Cardenas was a legend and a true quiet professional. The Air Force veteran led World War II bombing missions, helped create Miramar National Cemetery, and so much more.

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First Command

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Bill Rone

Bill Rone

Executive Financial Advisor


Bill Rone, a retired member of the DoD Senior Executive Service (SES), is an Executive Financial Advisor to the Air Commando Association and Foundation. He is also the Planned Giving focal point for the Foundation.
Bill’s DoD civilian career spanned over 40 years with the Air Force and 2 with the Navy. He held senior positions in Air Force Systems Command (Eglin AFB Complex), Air Force Logistics Command (Warner Robins Air Logistics Center), Naval Air Systems Command (Depot Pensacola) and his final 23+ years as Deputy Comptroller/Comptroller and senior civilian for HQ Air Force Special Operations Command. In the 34 years of those assignments, his organizations were selected by their MAJCOM/COCOM as the Outstanding Comptroller Organization seventeen times. His most significant personal recognitions include: Presidential Meritorious Rank (first look), DoD Meritorious Comptroller, AF Comptroller’s Stuart and Short awards, USSOCOM’s highest civilian recognition, AF Association’s Brereton Award and the AF Logistics Executive Award.
He has a BA in Accounting, an MBA and completed the Professional Military Comptroller School, Air War College (seminar) and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces/ICAF (residence). He holds 5 professional certifications.
Bill is currently a Military Advisor to Congressman Matt Gaetz, a member of the Eglin Federal Credit Union BoD, University of West Florida Foundation BoD and is a Director Emeritus of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation where he served over a decade as BoD Treasurer.

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Sherri Hayes

Sherri Hayes

Special Advisor


GS-15 (Ret) Mrs Sherri J. Hayes retired from the Department of the Air Force on 3 April 2018 after 37 years of federal civil service. Mrs. Hayes entered the federal service in 1981 at Tinker AFB, OK and is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College and Air War College. She received her BS degree in Business Administration from Troy State University and an MBA in Human Resource Management from Southern Columbia University, AL. She has served in a variety of positions of increasing responsibility at wing, center, numbered AF and major command levels. She has a multi-faceted, diverse background in human resource specialties of manpower, personnel, as well as accounting, budget, procurement and readiness. Prior to retirement, Mrs Hayes served as the Executive Director of Manpower, Personnel and Services, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida. She was responsible for MAJCOM policies, programs and objectives involving all functional areas of military and civilian personnel management ensuring the delivery of fully qualified Air Commandos to the joint warfighter while also meeting the needs of more than 16,000 active duty military and civilians as well as their families. Her decorations include the DoD Exemplary Civilian Service Medal, Civilian Meritorious Service Medal, two Air Force level Civilian Manager of the Year Awards, three AFSOC Senior Civilian of the Year Awards, AFSOC’s AFA Outstanding Civilian of the Year, AFSOC’s General Benjamin Davis Jr Management Engineering of the Year Award, twice AFSOC’s General Michael P.C. Carns Award for Leadership, Innovation & Ingenuity Award, and awarded the Air Force Roger M Blanchard Memorial Award for Character and Innovation. Mrs Hayes joined the ACA Board as a Civilian Advisor in 2018 as well as Advisor to the S.O.F. Missions Board of Directors in 2019.

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Shelley Woodworth

Shelley Woodworth

Director, Term: 1 Jan 2022 – 31 Dec 2024, Eligible for Ballot 2024


Shelley Woodworth, Col, USAF (Ret) retired from the Air Force in February 2021, as the Chief, Programming, Force Structure, and Basing Division, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida. In this position, she led a team of 22 personnel to resource and equip 19,000 Air Commandos through force structure planning and programming, military basing initiatives, and development of the command’s program objective memorandum across both Air Force and US Special Operations Command funding totaling $26 billion.
Shelley previously commanded the 58th Operations Group, training 1,700 students annually as well as executing operational response to search and rescue missions, contingencies, and humanitarian missions. Prior to command, she served as the Senior Aviation Advisor for Counterterrorism Operations for the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, located in the Pentagon, Washington, DC. Colonel Rodriguez is a command pilot with 3,500 flying hours, serving in numerous operations worldwide. During her last deployment completed July 2019, she served as the Senior Air Advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Defense for North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Resolute Support Mission located in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Currently, Shelley serves as Air Commando Association´s interim Operations and Communications Director and strongly desires to continue to serve Air Commandos and their families. As one of the original creators of what is now known as the SOCOM Care Coalition, she has a strong background in organizing resources to assist others and believes she can help further the ACA Mission. As testament to her commitment to others, Shelley has immersed herself in the evacuation of Afghan allies, working to not only evacuate but help resettle Afghan partners and their families.

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Rebecca Shelley

Rebecca Shelley

Director, Term: 1 Jan 2022 – 31 Dec 2024, Eligible for Ballot 2024


Chief Master Sergeant Rebecca Shelley served the nation for 27 years as a maintainer. Prior to retirement, she was the Weapons Systems Superintendent for Headquarters, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida. As the superintendent, she was responsible for the maintenance and logistics of the command’s aircraft, providing overarching guidance to field and DEPOT level repair and modification functions. She advised the AFSOC Director of Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection on maintenance operations, policies, procedures, budget, and force structure.
Chief Shelley was born in Taipei, Taiwan and spent her youth as an Air Force brat before entering the Air Force herself in February 1993. Her assignments include tours in Florida, Guam, New Mexico, and Japan. As a C-130 Crew Chief she has maintained and managed the MC-130P, AC-130W, AC-130H, AC-130J, MC-130H, and MC-130J special operations fleets. In January 2021, Chief Shelley was hand-selected to fill the AFSOC Weapons System Superintendent position. She has deployed numerous times in support of Operations PROVIDE COMFORT II, NORTHERN WATCH, SOUTHERN WATCH, ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, INHERENT RESOLVE and FREEDOM’S SENTINEL.
Prior to assuming her current position, she served as 353d Aircraft Maintenance Unit Superintendent at Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan.

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Louis Orrie

Lou Orrie

Director, Term: 1 Jan 2022 – 31 Dec 2024, Eligible for Ballot 2024


I am CMSgt (ret) Louis “Lou” Orrie and I served for 30 years on active duty from Oct 1986-2016. I started out as a weapons troop for six years in USAFE before joining AFSOC when I became a MH-53J/M PaveLow Gunner, serving in that capacity for 13 years then as a MH-60G PaveHawk Gunner for two years. I earned the reputation of being Mr. Fixit, being put in charge of troubled sections and turning them around to be fully functional and effective. I was also upgraded to Instructor and eventually Evaluator Gunner during this time. It was at this time I became a C-17A Loadmaster, serving in that capacity for 3.5 years and earning the SOLL-II certification as a C-17 Evaluator Airdrop Loadmaster before becoming a Group Superintendent in PACAF for two years. I was then hired to be a Command Chief at McGuire AFB with the 305th AMW and Lackland AFB with the 37th TRW. I finished my career back in AFSOC serving on the staff as the Command Functional Manager for the Career Enlisted Aviators and A3 Superintendent. I deployed in support of numerous operations and contingencies, spending 10+ years deployed out of my 30 years of service. I bring a wealth of knowledge regarding not only the SOF world, but that of multiple major commands and varying levels of responsibility. I’ve also earned numerous awards such as NCO and SNCO of the Year as well as being the AFSOC Red Erwin SNCO of the year. I am a hard charging individual who does not accept failure and will devote the same type of time and effort to the ACA that I did while serving on active duty. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Security Management and am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence and Analysis through Northeastern University. I am married to a wonderful woman of nearly 20 years and we enjoy spending time with our three children and five grandchildren.

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Lloyd Moon

Lloyd Moon

Director, Term: 1 Jan 2022 – 31 Dec 2024, Eligible for ballot 2024


Col (Ret) Lloyd B Moon Jr completed 25 years of service as the Commander, 816 Contingency
Response Group. He is a command pilot with over 5,300 hours in the MC-130E and MC-130H
aircraft as instructor and evaluator, with 10 additional years as a MC-130E/H contractor
instructor pilot in the 19 SOS.
He commanded at the group and squadron levels, commanding the 8th Special Operations
Squadron during the initial Operation Enduring Freedom employments. He led the initial
Afghanistan deployments at multiple locations, completing nearly 600 combat missions.
He has extensive staff experience as Chief Requirements Division and Deputy Chief, Fixed Wing
Assessments, USSOCOM. He served as a MC-130H Test Director completing operational testing
and Chief Technology Branch, HQ AFSOC guiding all their acquisition special access programs.
He attended the Florida State University, a distinguished ROTC graduate completing a degree in
physics with interdiscipline in computer science. He also completed masters’ degrees at Troy
University and Embry Riddle University.
He was a Boy Scouts of America Assistant Scoutmaster for 9 years and is currently an active
member of Destiny Worship Center Fort Walton Beach as a small group leader and coach.
He is now retired. He has been married to Sandy for 35 years with three grown children. His
son-in-law was a combat controller – now a KC-135 copilot, one son is currently in EOD training
at Eglin AFB, and one son working for American Airlines.

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Matt Caruso

Matt Caruso

Director, Term: 1 Jan 2022 – 31 Dec 2024, Eligible for Ballot 2024


In 2019, Matt completed 32+ years of active-duty service. His 14 assignments culminated with his role as the senior enlisted leader for USTRANSCOM. Prior to USTRANSCOM, Matt was the Command Chief for Air Force Special Operations Command. Matt has lead service members from all services and successfully held roles at every level of command as a combat flight engineer and command senior enlisted leader.
Matt currently is the business development leader and a program manager for Iron EagleX, a service disabled, veteran owned small business in Tampa. In this capacity he leads all growth and capture efforts with USSOCOM and its components and serves as a program manager for the company. He also gives his time to the Air Commando Association mission providing strategic inputs and actions for growth and coordinates closely with AFSOC for ACA. He is on the Global SOF advisory council and serves the military community around Fort Bragg and Hurlburt Field as the Chiefs Group Vice-President.
Matt also provides transition advice and counsel to separating senior enlisted and senior officers entering the corporate and business sector and is available to those needing assistance or advice on how to navigate transition into the business world.

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Tom Baker

Tom Baker

Director, Term: 1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2023, Eligible for 2023 Ballot


CMSgt Tom Baker enlisted in the Air Force in May 1985 and served the majority of his 28 years in service in AFSOC units as an MC-130E/H Loadmaster. In 1997, he was a member of the 7th Special Operations Squadron aircrew awarded the prestigious MacKay Trophy for the Air Force’s most meritorious flight of the year after rescuing 57 personnel from the civil war-torn Republic of the Congo. Tom was recognized again in 2002 when he was selected as the SSgt Henry “Red” Erwin Award winner as the Air Force’s outstanding aircrew member of the year. He was inducted into the ACA Hall of Fame in 2018.
Chief Baker currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is employed by CAE as a contractor instructor (CI) training AC, MC and HC-130J aircrews. In addition to the leadership roles he had held on active-duty, Tom has served as a shop steward representing 90 CIs, is an operational team member for the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council as well as the chairman for the team’s store and a volunteer ski instructor for the New Mexico Adaptive Sports program.

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Richard Comer

Richard Comer

Executive Director, Term: 1 Jan 2020 – 31 Dec 2022, Eligible for 2022 Ballot

Executive Director

Maj Gen (Ret) Richard Comer entered the USAF with a commission from the Air Force Academy in 1973. He went straight to Helicopter Flight School and earned pilot wings in 1974. Assigned to H-53s, he flew various versions of that helicopter for his entire flying career, last flying it on his fini-flight as the AFSOC Vice-Commander in September of 2002 when he last left AFSOC. Between 1974 and 2002, he flew with Air Rescue first in SEA and then in Europe. He joined AFSOC in 1987 with an assignment to Hurlburt Field. He commanded the 20th SOS from 1990-92, which included Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. He commanded the Hurlburt Operations Group and the Wing in the 1990s with two assignments to JSOC in between the Hurlburt postings. Other staff assignments in his career included Associate Professor of English at the AF Academy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for SO/LIC, Director of Policy and Planning at US NORTHCOM, and Director of the Coalition Coordination Center at US CENTCOM. After retirement from active duty in 2005, he worked as a defense consultant until fully retiring in 2017. Today, he serves on a several boards of non-profit organizations. Comer is married to Stephanie, and they are the parents of Warren and Melanie.

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David Mobley

David Mobley

Treasurer, Term: 1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2023, Eligible for 2023 Ballot


Col (Ret) David Mobley is a civil service employee in AFSOC’s Strategic Plans Division. Prior to this, he was a Senior Program Manager at MacAulay-Brown, Inc. managing the company’s special operations contracts at USSOCOM, SOCEUR and SOCAFRICA. Colonel Mobley retired from the Air Force in 2013 while Deputy Commander of the 1st Special Operations Group at Hurlburt Field. Other assignments included the 9th SOS, 17th SOS, 18FLTS, 550th SOS, SOCPAC, and HQ AFSOC A3 and A5. During his career, he accumulated over 3,000 hours as a Navigator in the MC-130P Combat Shadow. From 2012-2015, he served as ACA’s Vice President and was a member of the Hall of Fame Committee. He is a 1986 graduate of The Citadel and a former enlisted Marine. Colonel Mobley has been married for 29 years and they have two grown children.

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Joe Mast

Joe Mast

Vice President, Term: 1 Jan 2022 – 31 Dec 2024, Eligible for 2024 Ballot

Vice President

CMSgt (Ret) Joe Mast served in special operations under 23rd Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command. While active duty, he served as a Sensors Maintenance Technician, NCOIC Maintenance Control, Deputy Commander for Maintenance (DCM) Acquisition and Logistics Manager, 20th Special Operation Squadron Specialist Branch Chief, 16th SOW Operations Superintendent, and 352nd SOG Group Command Chief Master Sergeant. Joe has a comprehensive understanding of the Air Commando mission, people, and families serving the command. He also have a thorough knowledge of the many successes, and unfortunately infrequent failures, Air Commandos’ have endured.

Chief Mast served special ops personnel in the capacity as friend, supervisor, branch chief, Chief Master Sergeant, and Command Chief Master Sergeant. He deployed on numerous TDYs assignments both training and real-world deployments to include; Blinking Light rotations to Howard AFB Panama, Vice Presidential Gunship Demonstration Charleston AFB SC, reconstitution of the 353rd Special Operations Group MH-53’s after Mount Pinatubo volcano eruption, King Abdul Aziz Airbase, Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm/Shield, Partnership for Peace Exercise in Hungary, and numerous deployments to San Vito Air Base Italy to support Bosnia operations.

* Raised considerable amounts of monies to support many MAJCOM functions and non-profit organizations. (Order of the Sword, Air Force Enlisted Village, etc.).
* Chairman of the Board for the Air Force Enlisted Village (Emeritus).
* Former Vice President of the Hurlburt Field Chiefs Group (two occasions).
* Lifetime member of the Air Force Association, Air Commando Association, and Hurlburt Field Chiefs Group.

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Dennis Barnett

Dennis Barnett

President/CEO Term: 1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2022, Eligible for 2022 Ballot

Col (Ret) Dennis L. Barnett completed his thirty years of service as Director of Staff HQ Air Force Special Operations Command. Colonel Barnett was commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Wyoming and attained a Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. During his career he was Wing Vice-Commander of the 16 Special Operations Wing, Deputy Commander of 352 Special Operations Group, Commander 17th Special Operations Squadron, a command pilot, instructor pilot, evaluator pilot and flying training officer. He was also an exchange pilot with the Royal Air Force in number 47 Squadron, RAF Lyneham, UK. He deployed during Desert Storm and served numerous tours as Joint Special Operations II Commander leading efforts in Bosnia and the Balkans. He served on two major command staffs and was an instructor at the Air Command and Staff College and the School of Information Warfare and Strategy of the National Defense University. He finished his career with over 4800 hours in a variety of aircraft. His decorations include the Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Defense Meritorious Service medal, the Meritorious Service medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters.

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Norm Brozenick

Norm Brozenick

Chairman of the Board

Maj Gen (Ret) Norman J. Brozenick, Jr., is Chairman of the Board of the Air Commando Association, a 501(c)(19) veterans organization with more than 3,000 members worldwide.
A 31-year veteran of the United States Air Force, he retired as the Vice Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command. He is a command pilot with over 4,000 flying hours in special operations and mobility aircraft.
Gen Brozenick commanded at multiple levels, to include a squadron, group, wing, combined/joint special operations air component, and a theater special operations command. He also commanded joint special operations task forces during Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in International Affairs. He earned master’s degrees from Troy State University, the United States Naval War College, and Air University’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies.
He is the owner of Azimuth Strategies Team, LLC, a consulting service in Pensacola, FL. His passion is helping veteran serving organizations meet the unmet needs of military members, veterans, and their families. Gen Brozenick also serves on the board of directors for the Air Force Enlisted Village and Shield of Faith Missions, as well as the board of advisors for The Warriors Journey.

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Maj Pete Bowman 1934 – 2022


Peter “Pete” Roy Bowman of Fort Walton Beach, Florida passed away on February 17, 2022, at the age of 88. His family was by his side when he drifted off to be with the Lord.

Pete was born to Chester and Helen Bowman on January 26, 1934, in Flushing, New York. After graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force. Soon after enlisting, he met the love of his life, Carol. Pete took great pride in his military career as a navigator. He served in the Vietnam War where he flew an A-26 as co-pilot and C-123 as navigator. Pete’s A-26, which suffered heavy damage and was flown back to base with limited instrumentation, is exhibited at the front entrance of Hurlburt Air Force Base. This display of exceptional courage while engaged in military combat operations awarded Pete the Silver Star.

Pete retired as a Major after 21 years of active duty. His decorations, aside from his Silver Star, include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Air Medal, and many other commendations awarded during his two decades of selfless service to his country.

During retirement, Pete spent a great deal of his free time volunteering for the veteran’s organization Air Commando Association. In 2000, Pete was inducted into the Air Commando Hall of Fame. Pete faithfully displayed the Stars and Stripes in front of his home. He was a proud American. Pete was also an active member of St. Mary Catholic Church.

Pete is survived by his brother Ken Bowman of Great River, New York; his three sons and their wives John and Gina Bowman of South Bend, Indiana, Jim and Diane Bowman of Franklin, North Carolina, Tom Bowman of Fort Walton Beach, Florida; his daughter and her husband Ellen and Bill Gash of Fort Walton Beach, Florida; 11 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.

Pete is preceded in death by his devoted wife Carol and three sons Patrick, Peter, and Baby Bowman.

A celebration of life will be held in June. Pete, alongside his wife Carol, will rest at Barrancas National Cemetery.

Contributions in memory of Pete can be made to the Air Commando Association.

(Courtesy of Emerald Coast Funeral Home)

AFSOC wins Spirit Award for ACA 5k FUN RUN

ACA Director Hollis Tompkins put together a great team of volunteers along with our generous event sponsors for the 2021 ACA 5k FUN RUN. Our Spirit Award went to the active duty or Guard and Reserve unit with the most runners. Our inaugural award went to HQ AFSOC’s team led by Command Chief Corey Olson. The trophy will be a traveling trophy and we look for even greater competition in the future.

2021 EC Honor Games

Emerald Coast Honor Games 2021

Awesome participation this year! Emerald Coast Chapter of the ACA made us proud!! Thank you to everyone who volunteered and participated. We look forward to next year!

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ACJ Vol 10/2

Mark Hicks, Maj Gen, USAF (Retired)

As this edition of the Air Commando Journal goes to press the world is settling into a new era of great power competition between the United States and liberal democracies on one side, and the authoritarian states of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea on the other. This lineup has similarities to the Cold War, but is fundamentally different because of less direct military competition offset by more governmental and economic competition.

This issue of the Air Commando Journal provides some thoughtful ways to learn from our shared history, with articles ranging in time from the Viet Nam War to the present day, discussing individuals and weapon systems.

The diverse set of skills and capabilities across the AFSOC community is truly stunning and expanding almost every day. That diversity will ensure AFSOC remains relevant in a complex and uncertain future.
Once again, the Air Commando Journal delivers on its mission to inform all Air Commandos on operations, issues, and developments within our Air Force special operations community.

Mark Hicks, Maj Gen, USAF (Retired)
Former Commander, Special Operations Command Africa

Click here to read the entire issue in PDF format

ACJ Vol 10/1

Norm Brozenick Maj Gen, USAF (Retired)

First reports of a disaster travel fast. Some are accurate, some are not. Emerging eyewitness accounts, data from surface, subsurface, airborne, and satellite sensors, intelligence updates, and media reports help inform emerging realities. Extensive loss of life, insufficient response capacity, and mounting uncertainty often compel foreign governments to request emergency assistance from the international community.

Air Commandos are leaders among our nation’s rapid responders for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief taskings at home and abroad.

Air Commandos of every capability are made available to save lives. Medical expertise may include deployment medicine, expeditionary readiness, health care, and disaster preparedness. Mission support prowess may be comprised of force protection, communications, contracting, engineering, personnel, and transportation elements. While maintainers prepare to sustain deployed aircraft in austere conditions, “loggies” draft plans to increase throughput at forward locations. Operations personnel, including command and control, special tactics, aviation advisors, surgical, intelligence, and aircrew tweak plans and recheck gear. Public affairs officers stand ready.

Dave Mobley, Col, USAF (Retired)

Click on the link to see how Air Commandos answered these and other questions during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in Aceh Province, Indonesia; Bangkok and southern Thailand; Haiti; the Philippines; Afghanistan; and Beirut, Lebanon. We know you’ll be immensely proud of what Air Commandos accomplished and how they found a way to get it done.

With great admiration and respect for our Air Commandos…patriots, warriors, and rapid responders.


Click here to read the entire issue in PDF format.

ACJ Vol 9/3

James ‘Jim’ Slife, Lt General, USAF
AFSOC Commander

Reflecting on 2020, among the things of which I am most proud is the way AFSOC leaders at all echelons handled the turbulence of the year. Dealing with crises is, after all, what Air Commandos do. I found myself providing broad intent and watching commanders and senior enlisted leaders—from the wing to the flight—execute brilliantly. In this issue, Col Nate Scopac reflects on his own experience in crisis leadership during a year which also found him in combat command. *Yawn*…just another year in AFSOC.

This issue also features articles and a book review which illuminate various other strands of our shared history. For instance, we learn about Combat Controllers in early 1975, during the evacuation of Saigon. We also find an article describing an early Air Advising effort in China during the Second World War. Additionally, this issue contains a great rundown of the impressive 36 year history and significant contributions of the humanitarian arm of the Air Commando Association, the McCoskrie Threshold Foundation. Finally, the book review of COL (Ret) Joe Celeski’s chronicle of Air Commandos in Laos from 1964-1975 highlights a fascinating look at a shadowy chapter in our history, written by a retired Special Forces soldier, no less!

But of all the rich content contained in this issue of the ACJ, none is more important than the recognition of deserving Air Commandos past and present. The 2020 Air Commando Hall of Fame inductees represent a spectrum of leaders and operators whose fingerprints remain on those of us serving in 2021. Meanwhile, the individual and unit-level award winners among today’s Air Commandos remind us that no matter how turbulent the world becomes, Air Commandos will be ready to face it.

With sincere affection and respect,
James ‘Jim’ Slife, Lt General, USAF
AFSOC Commander


Click here to read the entire issue in PDF format.

Task Force Viking and the UGLY BABY Mission

Task Force Viking and the UGLY BABY Mission

Reference: Air Commando Journal, Vol 9 Issue 2, October 2020, pages 34-41

By Colonel Cory Peterson, USAF (Retired)

The “Ugly Baby” infiltration was the key element that opened the northern front in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and was incredibly significant to the overall campaign in Iraq. While small advance force elements were on the ground in the KAZ, they lacked the combat power to accomplish the mission of fixing 13 Iraqi divisions (two thirds of the Iraqi Army) to prevent them from interfering with the main invasion force’s drive towards Baghdad. The audacious air maneuver successfully inserted the bulk of two battalions of Green Berets and convinced the Turks to allow subsequent overflight.
— Lt General Ken Tovo, USA, (Retired)
TF Viking Iraq coin

The US and its coalition partners began planning Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) months before the actual D-Day on 19 Mar 2003. The strategic plan for the initial invasion called for a two-pronged assault from the south on Baghdad by coalition forces, coupled with a simultaneous northern attack by the US 4th Infantry Division (ID) supported by US SOF partnered with Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The intent behind the northern assault was to fix 13 Iraqi divisions in place and prevent them from moving south to oppose the main coalition effort, while also protecting the vital oil fields in the around Mosul. The 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), commanded by COL Charles Cleveland, was given the task to plan and lead the special operations in the north.

Before those northern operations could occur, the 4th ID and their equipment would need to disembark at Turkish ports on the Mediterranean Sea, move overland to link up with additional equipment that had been pre-positioned in Turkey, and then enter the Kurdish Autonomous Zone (KAZ) in northern Iraq. The dilemma, though, was Turkey’s internal political situation. Although Turkey was a reliable NATO ally and very interested in removing Saddam Hussein’s destabilizing influence from the region, they feared that Kurdish participation in OIF might embolden the Kurds to renew their claims for an independent Kurdistan. The Turks’ quandary was how to join and support the coalition without causing domestic political problems.

The 10th SFG(A) was chosen to be the nucleus of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-North (CJSOTF-N) because (1) they were apportioned to USEUCOM and Turkey was a member of NATO and (2) 10th SFG had established relationships with the Kurds after almost 10 years of participation in Operations PROVIDE COMFORT and NORTHERN WATCH. Similarly, the 352nd Special Operations Group (SOG), commanded by Col O.G. Mannon, was designated as Joint Special Operations Aviation Detachment-North (JSOAD-N). After more than three decades of working together during training, exercises, and contingency operations, the 10th SFG(A) and the 352nd SOG had developed a solid partnership based on mutual trust and operational success.

The original plan for CJSOTF-N, nicknamed Task Force-Viking, was to establish a special operations base in Turkey from which to launch missions into the KAZ, establish forward operating bases (FOBs) in Iraq, and then link up with the two rival Kurdish factions. One battalion of the 10th SFG would partner with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the northern half of the KAZ and the other with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the southern sector. It was a classic unconventional warfare operation – US special operations support to indigenous resistance movements supported by airpower.

7 SOS patch

Execution of the initial plan began with Col Mannon deploying to Turkey early with a team to begin the negotiations and encampment. Almost a year earlier, the Turkish government had fully intended to cooperate with potential coalition operations, at least by offering basing and overflight rights. But by New Year’s Day, Turkey’s internal politics had changed. Feeling intense domestic pressure, the Turks let it be known that they were unlikely to allow coalition operations from Turkey. They also cautioned that even if they did approve the use of their ports, roads, and bases, it would unlikely be soon enough to permit the timing needed for proper coalition force staging and preparation. Leaning forward, Special Operations Command Europe, TF-Viking and JSOAD-N began looking for alternatives. With USEUCOM’s help, Romania offered the use of Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) AB, near Constanta on the Black Sea. A team of 30 airmen from the 352nd SOG, led by Lt Col Timothy Brown and dubbed the “Dirty-Thirty” due to the conditions of the base upon arrival, arrived at MK on St Valentine’s Day to prepare the base for future US operations, gambling that diplomatic negotiations would enable TF-Viking to infiltrate from MK by overflying Turkey. In late February, aircraft from the 352nd SOG: MC-130H Combat Talon IIs, MC-130P Combat Shadows, and MH-53 Pave Low helicopters, AC-130 gunships from the 1st SOW, plus Special Tactics teams, support units, and equipment deployed to disused conscript barracks and an off-season Black Sea hotel near MK. Unfortunately, on 1 March the Turkish Parliament voted to refuse staging from Turkey, transit through its territory, and overflight of Turkish airspace. The plan for OIF’s northern assault had to change.

The Turks’ refusal meant the 4th ID had to reposition from where it was waiting offshore outside the Turkish ports, through the Suez Canal, to Kuwait where it would eventually join V Corps in the assault from the south. The job of holding those northern Iraqi divisions in place now fell to solely Col Cleveland and the soldiers and airmen of TF-Viking. On 3 March 10th SFG deployed to MK, linking up with the Dirty-Thirty and aircraft from JSOAD-N.

USCENTCOM and TF-Viking planners were left scrambling to develop a new plan for the northern front of the war. The resulting “Plan B” called for the Kurdish Peshmerga, backed by US Special Forces (SF) and coalition airpower to keep the Iraqi divisions from moving south to Baghdad and opposing the southern assault until the coalition main effort could fight its way north from Kuwait. The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy, elements of the 10th Mountain Division and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit would later be added to TF-Viking, to increase the CJSOTF’s combat power.

On 20 March, Turkey’s parliament finally voted to allow the coalition to transit Turkish airspace for military operations in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Turkish military refused to comply. For two nights three-ship flights of MC-130Hs from the 7th Special Operations Squadron, commanded by Lt Col Mark “Mo” Alsid, launched from MK to deliver Special Forces teams to their destinations in northern Iraq. On both nights, the Combat Talons were intercepted by Turkish F-16s and told to return to base by Turkish air traffic controllers. The Turkish military was denying use of their airspace until the US agreed to allow Turkish forces into the KAZ, a condition that was completely unacceptable to both the US and the Kurdish leadership.

Meanwhile, a separate crew commanded by Maj Mark “Buck” Haberichter, was isolated from the current operations planners and tasked to develop an alternative route to get the CJSOTF into northern Iraq. The concept of operation they were given to work with was to find a circuitous route that would travel from Romania to Jordan where the force would rest overnight and the next day fly a 5-hour, night, low-level penetration of Iraqi airspace, and return along the same route. This alternate routing would take the Combat Talons through some very heavily defended airspace, not so affectionately nicknamed “Happy Valley” by Northern Watch intelligence professionals. The new routing required precise navigation just inside the Iraqi border, staying north and west of Mosul, all the while avoiding Iraqi air defenses and possible compromise by Syrian and Turkish air traffic controllers. The proposed routing added hundreds of miles to the flight route which in turn reduced the load sizes the Combat Talons could carry due to increased fuel requirements. The number of aircraft needed for the initial infiltration grew, from three airplanes to six, one of which was flown by Maj Rich Dyer’s crew from the 15th SOS. As this option was being briefed at the CJSOTF a member of Col Cleveland’s staff muttered under his breath, “That’s one ugly baby.” The name stuck and the mission has become known by this unconventional moniker.

It then became the responsibility of Col Frank J. Kisner, the commander of the Combined/Joint Special Operations Air Component (CJSOAC) to convince Maj Gen Gary Harrell, the SOCCENT commander, of the validity of the plan. As Lt Gen Kisner now tells the story,

All airpower, with the exception of SOF, was restricted from low-level operations over Iraq, and he (Harrell) knew when he took the plan forward that a low-level infiltration, from south-to-north, transiting the entire length of the western border of Iraq, would raise some questions. I reviewed the facts with him—most of which we had already been discussing: it was critical to USCENTCOM’s campaign plan to get Col Charlie Cleveland’s 10th Special Forces Group into the north to hold down the Iraqi divisions that would otherwise reinforce Baghdad; a northern infiltration was politically denied; no other air platforms were available to infiltrate 10th Group; the amount of time it would have taken the heavily laden MC-130s to climb to altitude once they started to burn off gas along their route would have left them vulnerable to small arms and anti-aircraft fire for too great a time; therefore the only reasonable, albeit high-risk option was to have the force package execute the entire infiltration at low level. Was it an audacious plan? Yes, but the crews and SOF air leadership had conducted detailed and intensive planning to reduce the risk as much as possible, and it was the only option available. I closed by recommending his approval of the infiltration plan.

Ugly Baby Route

The new plan was for three Combat Talons to carry elements of 2nd Battalion, 10th SFG (2/10 SFG) to Bashur LZ and the three additional Talons to transport elements of the 3rd Battalion (3/10 SFG) led by Lt Col Ken Tovo along the same route to As Sulaymaniyah LZ. A small advance force had been infiltrated by ground earlier and Air Force Special Tactics airmen from the 321st Special Tactics Squadron would set up infrared landing markings for the Talons at both locations. Almost 300 Green Berets would be inserted into northern Iraq by the six MC-130Hs taking off at pre-determined intervals and proceeding to each of the two LZs and landing with 20-minute spacing throughout the middle of the night.

As word of the approved mission was disseminated the SF teams and our loadmasters set to work adjusting load plans to accommodate new weight limitations. The SF teams were divided into split teams and redistributed among aircraft in case one of the Talons might be lost. All non-essential equipment was removed from the aircraft and the mission-equipment was planned to be floor loaded with the soldiers using snap-link harnesses to attach themselves, via their belts, directly to the floor of the aircraft. The teams packed heavy not knowing what they would encounter—each operator’s rucksack averaged just under 200 pounds. The weights were carefully calculated as every spare pound equaled another pound of fuel that could be added. This careful planning and prudent cross-loading proved prescient—there was minimal impact to the mission when one of the MC-130Hs took heavy ground fire and had to divert from its planned objective.

According to Capt Joe Gelineau, Assistant S-3 for 2/10 SFG, “The fact that the mission was going was a total relief. For two weeks we had been trying to get into Northern Iraq to link-up with our Kurdish counterparts but had been literally turned back at every attempt. Any approved route, even if it was called “ugly baby,” was very much welcomed. We just wanted to get into country and start our mission, regardless of how we go there.” Another huge consideration for the crews was fuel–we had to carry enough to make it in and out without a stop. The plan for exfiltration, after the Talons were light from offload, would be to fly to the maximum altitude possible and retrace our steps back out hoping that many of the air defense systems would not be able to reach us. Lastly, we would rely on the robust electronic countermeasures of the Combat Talons to protect us from any other threats.

On 21 March, four heavily loaded MC-130Hs from the 7th SOS departed MK to join up with two MC-130Hs and one crew from the 15th SOS at King Faisal AB, Jordan, the forward staging base. Two MC-130Ps and a conventional C-130 followed, bringing additional loads and the extra 7th SOS Talon crew since this was not yet a “wartime” mission and the max weights were not yet allowed. After landing, all crews immediately began mission planning activities lasting well into the morning as coordination now had to take place between two squadrons who had not flown together in years. The 15th SOS crew did not have the benefit of the prior day’s planning and, thus, they were playing catch-up through most of the night.

As the sun rose all of the crews completed their planning and attempted to rest in the “transient-personnel” tents during the noise and heat of the day, but were woken only hours later with the notification that the alert time had moved up and the mission was “On.” They grabbed their gear, tweaked their plans for updated weather and intel and proceeded to their aircraft. Proving the age-old aircrew adage that “no plan survives engine start” the SATCOM system on the lead aircraft malfunctioned. This aircraft was planned to carry the Airborne Mission Commander, Lt Col Pat Dean, at the time the 7th SOS Director of Operations. Without a functioning SATCOM his ability to communicate with both the formation and headquarters elements would be significantly hampered and, thus, a bump plan was executed to move Col Dean to the #3 bird before the mission was even underway. The aircraft taxied out of parking to the parallel taxiway where the troops were marshalled and performed an engine-running onload of the SF soldiers. Men, gear, and equipment were strapped down and the crews ran final checklists. Within minutes, as the sun began to set, five Combat Talons, call sign “Harley,” flying at wartime maximum allowable gross weight, lifted off in into the darkening skies of the Jordanian evening. The sixth MC-130 with the SATCOM issue now fixed launched shortly thereafter and was able to continue.

According to one of the SF team leaders, the first hour or so of the flight felt about the same as any training mission from their home base at Ft Carson, CO. Things changed, however, when over the eastern desert of Jordan the MC-130 pilots cancelled their flight plans, made their last radio call to the E-3A AWACS, and declared they were “tactical.” All aircraft lights were switched off as part of the Combat Entry Checklist and with all aircrew on night vision goggles (NVGs), each aircraft descended on their terrain-following radar into the pitch black night, preparing to blast across the border with Iraq at 250 feet above the ground at speeds nearing 300 kts.

Flight Route

While years of Operation NORTHERN/SOUTHERN WATCH had given our intelligence personnel fairly detailed information about the location and capabilities of Iraq’s fixed air defense and early warning systems, along with Iraqi air defense fighters, what was unknown was how well manned the border outposts were and the number and extent of mobile AAA and man-portable missile systems (MANPADS). As the Talons approached the Iraqi border, navigators and pilots focused radars, IR detection systems, and their NVG-shrouded eyes outside the aircraft searching for locations with the least build-up of people or defenses. Electronic Warfare Officers (EWOs then, now called Combat Systems Officers, CSOs) armed the aircraft self-defense systems and strained over the noise of the cockpit to listen for missile warning and launch indicators. Aboard Harley 37, the EWO, Capt Robert “Opie” Horton, was spiked by an air-to-air radar and “chaffed-off” what he later believed was a US F-15. With only a select few SOF aircraft operating at low altitude the action was probably a good one to let the US pilot know he had not locked up an enemy target.

Rocketing over the Iraqi border at altitudes of 100 ft AGL and maximum speed it seemed we had been successful in not raising alarms. Navigators had easily picked out the border-sentry posts on radar miles out and routes were adjusted so as to take advantage of the gaps. For the first two hours, the six MC-130s passed unnoticed along the eastern Syrian border. This part of Iraq is sparsely settled, but we knew the tough part of the route was yet to come. With the anticipatory excitement past, crews settled into their routines. In the back of the airplanes, the SF teams were sleeping among their loads and tied-down equipment in the blacked-out cabins.

As we passed Anah, Iraq, and then headed north towards Tal Afar, the situation changed. According to Capt Jeremy Kokenes, the lead aircraft’s navigator, he and Maj Eric Elam, the EWO, began to notice horseshoe-shaped returns on their radar similar to our intelligence briefing description of “potential embedded AAA or other enemy fighting vehicles.” After a short conversation they relayed these observations to the rest of the extended-formation via secure radio. Col Dean attributed a portion of the success of the mission to the efficacy of good inflight communications.

Special Forces

While crossing the first belt of Iraqi defenses the first of the MC-130s took the Iraqi defenders by surprise and quickly passed by drawing only sporadic small arms gunfire. The aircrew looking outside with their NVGs could see the Iraqi soldiers clustered around burn-barrels trying to stay warm on the cold desert night. Now, with the first Talon passing by at threat-penetration altitudes just above their heads, the Iraqis were alerted and moving to their guns. TSgt Mark Peters, one of the two loadmasters strapped into the paratroop door scanning for and alerting the pilot for threats from the sides and rear of the plane, saw an Iraqi gunner under camouflage netting run to his AAA piece with a cigarette in his mouth, something that can only be seen from closer than 100 ft on NVGs.

With the following MC-130s in trailing intervals, the Iraqis were waiting but their initial targeting solutions had them aiming too high. The tracers were mostly going over the tops of the aircraft. Aggressive evasive maneuvering by the pilots avoided any serious damage. By the time the following aircraft approached, however, the Iraqis had adjusted and were ready. This time the defenders were able to place effective AAA fire against the next group of Combat Talons.

Aboard the aircraft crewed by the 15th SOS, Capt Todd Fogle, the navigator, recounts having gone through three and a half minutes of continuous AAA from multiple directions and five guys telling the pilot different things: jink-up/don’t jink-up/jink-left/etc. and with the terrain-following system squawking at us, low altitude warnings blaring, and the copilot saying, “They’ve got us,” as he saw tracer fire now coming at them but not moving from its relative position on the window. Fortunately, at that very moment they crossed over the shoreline of the Saddam Dam Lake and all was absolute calm—three and a half minutes of getting shot at, then complete peace. The flight culminated with the crew landing at Bashur and seeing coach-style tour buses ready to pick up the SF teams. It felt pretty strange to go through all that chaos and then cross a line into to what seemed like another world.

“Buck” Haberichter’s aircraft, tail number 89-0280, “The Highlander,” and call sign Harley 37, was the planned tail-end Charlie. We fully expected enemy defenses to be woken up by the time we entered the engagement zone. They opened fire on us with what we later believed to be 57 mm, 23 mm, 14.5 mm, and small arms fire. The initial engagement was from a 57mm proximity-round exploding outside the pilot’s window, which sounded like a pool-ball being thrown at the floor. We all looked at each other and then the engineer verified the pilot’s swing-window had been severely damaged by the explosion. That engagement then continued as we jinked and maneuvered the aircraft for the next four minutes. SSgt Eric Rigby, our flight engineer, reported that our number two engine had been hit and we were rapidly losing engine oil. We began the engine shutdown sequence just as we flew into a second hornet’s nest. AAA was everywhere. We began jinking again, this time on three engines, and maneuvering the plane through all dimensions. Threat calls were coming from all directions and at that moment the TF system failed, leaving us in the moonless night with no radar at 250 feet and under attack. AAA fire began to rip through the fuselage of the airplane and the smell of burning powder was evident in the cargo compartment. “Opie” Horton fought the urge to deploy preventative flares against potential MANPADS knowing they would illuminate us against the pitch back desert. In the back, the SF team leader said his men could hear the shrapnel hitting the aircraft and were just waiting for holes to start opening up in the sides of the airplane. The soldiers sat helplessly as the pilots tried to evade the firestorm and watched as bullets and shrapnel penetrated the cargo compartment.

Capt Gelineau, in the back of Harley 37, remembers hearing and feeling the effects of the enemy air defenses. The enemy gunfire sounded as if someone drove a metal rod into an industrial-sized fan…clack-ity, clack, clack, clack! He remembered seeing debris and insulation scatter inside of our MC-130’s cargo area due to the enemy gunfire. He also remembered seeing the loadmaster’s hand signal that one of the engines was dead and smelling the smoke enter the cargo compartment as the pilot repeatedly descended and ascended in order to maneuver to avoid additional enemy fire. Up front, “Buck” descended to below 100 feet AGL to try and avoid the AAA, but during that engagement a 23 mm round penetrated the skin of the aircraft forward of the right paratroop door narrowly missing the loadmaster, SSgt Dave Buss, scorching insulation, and starting a fire on the honey-bucket curtain. Buss distinctly remembers the wild rollercoaster ride of the flight going from weightlessness to not being able to move because of the 60 pounds of body armor and the survival vest he was wearing. In the opposite door SSgt Ryan “Tico” Pentico called out the dead engine to the pilot while continuing the threat calls. One Special Tactics airman later relayed to me after we landed that he flipped down his NVGs to look out a side window and then flipped them back up, not wanting to see the end which he fully expected due to the massive amounts of tracer fire.

There were a significant number of Javelin missiles and boxes of fragmentation grenades loaded in the center of the aircraft, and the soldiers knew they couldn’t be far enough away from them to be safe. The second engagement lasted almost seven minutes and I remember thinking that our training scenarios never lasted this long. Happily, the only round that struck the floor-loaded cargo went straight into a box of MREs later found squished, but entirely intact in a ham slice (we knew they hated the pork MREs). Harley 37 was hit 19 times before we got past the high-threat zone. We were badly leaking fuel and had lost the #2 engine in addition to the damage to the pilot’s side window.

By that point each of the still heavy airplane’s engines had been over-temped and over-torqued, and the entire plane had been over-G’ed with the massive load of fuel, people, equipment, and munitions we were carrying. After some quick calculations and assessment of the battle damage, we realized we could not make it to Bashur, deliver the teams, and have enough fuel to return to King Faisal AB. Knowing that leaving an aircraft on the LZ would have disrupted the entire battle plan, Buck made the hard decision to abort the infiltration and divert. Despite the Turks’ prohibition against flying through their airspace and using their bases, the best option available was to declare an emergency and head to Incirlik AB where we knew there were American maintenance and support facilities and where the 7th SOS had staged out of for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM just two years earlier.

We made an immediate left turn to the north and began to climb to clear the mountains which separate the two countries without the luxury of a terrain avoidance radar. The copilot, 1st Lt Jon Cotton, declared an emergency and was contacted by the NATO AWACS crew, callsign Magic, which was flying just north of the Iraqi border to monitor the situation. A Turkish F-16 locked us up for an intercept, but Magic directed them away as we were an aircraft in distress. The F-16 “offered” to escort us to Incirlik but our Talon’s ALQ-172 jammers were wreaking havoc on the fighter’s radars and he quickly peeled off. Buck quoting from the movie Airplane, “Have you ever spent the night in a Turkish prison,” didn’t help defuse the mood. Magic relayed our position and status to Turkish controllers who allowed us to pass.

Harley 37 post mission
pilot window

With the next two-hours spent gingerly dodging thunderstorms and doing triage of the damage, we finally began our descent into Incirlik AB. Buck made an incredibly smooth landing. During the ground roll the loadmasters reported fuel cascading from the wings. The pilot carefully applied the aircraft brakes and avoided reverse thrust per the engineer’s direction and thus preventing fuel spray forward of three engines which could have ignited and destroyed the whole plane. Once we came to a stop Buck called for an emergency shut-down of the engines and evacuation of the aircraft. For the SF soldiers who thought the excitement was over, the adrenaline spiked again. All of the crewmembers and SF teams sprinted from the aircraft onto the grassy infield to avoid the rapidly responding fire rescue vehicles which foamed the entire area and put out barriers to collect the thousands of pounds of fuel still spilling from the wings. Our Incirlik AB hosts took us and the soldiers to a reception area and less than 24 hours later we were on a C-17 back to MK via Ramstein.

Aboard what was now the last aircraft, Maj George Thiebes, the C/3/10 SFG(A) commander, sat with his troopers in the dimly lit cargo compartment. In the midst of the engagement he looked over at his supply sergeant whose eyes looked like giant saucers. At one point, Thiebes glanced at the Air Force Direct Support Operator (DSO) monitoring friendly and enemy communications from his suite in the cargo compartment, who looked up and shrugged. Thiebes climbed over the equipment to get near the DSO and asked what was up. He replied the plane had just run out of chaff and flares. Great! After many more gut-wrenching moments Thiebes’ aircraft landed at As Sulaymaniyah and his team carefully slipped down the vomit-slickened ramp before a Kurdish Peshmerga hoard stormed the plane to assist with the offload. In a matter of minutes, the plane was empty, but accountability and redistribution took hours to sort out because of the “help.”

After landing at Bashur, the lead MC-130’s crew, assessed the ingress route, threats encountered and reported, and then discussed whether to fly an alternative low-level route home, or to fly at max altitude to avoid the now, definite small arms and AAA threat. While the 10 SFG(A) Command team, including Col Cleveland offloaded, the flight engineer calculated fuel, weight and balance, and determined that the five Combat Talons could step climb to be high enough to avoid the AAA and MANPADS threats, but it would put the aircraft in range of more capable surface-to-air-missiles. The decision was made to fly at altitude and let the EWOs and their defensive systems do their job. Each aircraft began a spiral climb to altitude over the landing zones and then continued along the return flight home. The view from these altitudes, some as high as 30,000 ft, highlighted the ongoing airstrikes on Mosul, Baghdad, and other key cities where coalition forces were smashing key targets.

As the crews crossed back into Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Combat Exit checklists were run and there were many sighs of relief and thoughts of gratitude. On a more comical note, many 7th SOS crews had never seen King Faisal Air Base at night and were somewhat unfamiliar with the taxiways, especially in poor lighting, with poor markings and on NVGs. It may or may not be true that one MC-130 that night shared a “road” with another American serviceman in a vehicle who was wondering if that was an actual C-130 he was nose-to-nose with.

That night, JSOAD-N successfully inserted 19 SF teams and 4 SF company headquarters at Bashur and As Sulaymaniyah. More importantly, though, the bold decision to take the high risk, circuitous flight caused Turkey to rethink its position on overflight of their territory. When the Turkish General Staff heard that one of the Combat Talons had almost been shot down with 37 souls onboard because of their obstinacy, they relented. This fact is often lost in the tactical retelling of the mission. On 23 March, the Turks allowed coalition aircraft to use Turkish airspace and non-combat sorties were permitted to launch from Turkish bases. The air bridge from Europe to Iraq was open and JSOAD-N landed additional missions the same night to begin the flow of replacements and supplies to the northern front.

The Highlander by Rory Dorling


Following the successful infiltration of over 300 SF operators and many more support personnel, the expanded task force, along with their Kurdish partners, successfully held the 13 Iraqi divisions in-place on the northern front. The combination of coalition airpower and unconventional boots on the ground proved a powerful tool in the friendly arsenal.

For the Air Commandos, they continued to fly and fight for the duration of OIF. Harley 37, tail #0280, was grounded for a couple of weeks while she underwent battle-damage repair and was eventually returned to service.

The 22 March 2003 Ugly Baby mission is likely one of the most decorated in AF history. Arguably, the mission was the longest low-level, combat infiltration by US special operations aircraft since the Second World War. In recognition of the exceptional airmanship, bravery, and professional courage displayed during the mission, the Harley flight crews were awarded a total of 32 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 13 Air Medals. The 7th SOS also received a Gallant Unit Citation for their actions during OIF and the Secretary of the Army awarded the squadron the Bronze Arrowhead device to the OIF Campaign Medal for conducting the combat assault.

About the Author: Col Cory Peterson was the navigator on Harley 37. He retired after more than 26 years of service, having flown both conventional and special operations C-130s. He was part of the joint SOF faculty at the US Army Command & General Staff College and the international SOF faculty at the NATO Special Operations School. Col Peterson’s final assignment was as the plank-holding Chief of Staff at Special Operations Command North. He remains honored to have served with the 7th SOS, “The Finest Flying Squadron in the US Air Force.”

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ACJ Vol 9/2

Larry Ropka, Col, USAF (Ret)

On the night of 21 November 1970, a little after 2 a.m., 15 aircraft, led by 7th SOS MC-130E Combat Talons, converged on the Son Tay prison located 23 miles west of Hanoi. They were supported by another 100 Air Force and Navy aircraft fulfilling various roles in Operation KINGPIN, the mission to rescue American POWs.
By the fall of 1969, there were over 500 Americans being held by the North Vietnamese as prisoners of war. The air war over North Vietnam had progressed at a blistering pace and the sophisticated air defenses had previously precluded any serious consideration of a rescue attempt. The President had imposed a bombing halt that fall and by the spring of 1970, the pent up pressure of the “no soldier left behind” tradition led Brig Gen Don Blackburn, USA, Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with Brig Gen James Allen, Director of Plans and Programs on the Air Staff, to initiate an all-out effort to rescue some of the prisoners. Lt Gen Leroy Manor led the planning and execution of this challenging and historic effort and I was proud to be a part of his great team as a planner. John Gargus’ excellent article, “Recollections of the Son Tay Raiders,” is the lead story in this issue of the Air Commando Journal honoring the skill and courage of all the participants and marking the 50th Anniversary of the Son Tay Raid.
In his first meeting with a small inter-service team of planners in the Pentagon, General Blackburn had a DIA expert on POW matters present a briefing on the known POW camps and plight of the prisoners inside them. Following that, in an impassioned statement, Blackburn said “that the planners’ task was to develop a plan to recover some of the prisoners,” and he personally ensured that “whatever it takes” to get the job done would be provided. That attitude and commitment spawned a lot of incredible out-of-the-box thinking by the entire team of planners, aircrews, and SF operators to develop the tactics and capabilities needed to give the mission the greatest possibility of success.
As history tells, we failed to rescue any of the POWs, but the operation deep into North Vietnam set in motion events that dramatically improved the lives and reversed the loss of hope that all POWs experienced while being held in captivity. One of those POWs was Air Commando, Capt Ramon Horinek from Atwood, KS, and in this issue we honor his courage and service as a Forward Air Controller and F-105 pilot flying missions over North Vietnam until his luck ran out on 23 October 1967 when he became a POW in Hanoi.
The same out of the box thinking, courage, and aerial skill exhibited by the Son Tay raiders in 1970 has transcended time and was displayed again by Air Commandos during the opening days of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM in March 2003. Air Commandos from Hurlburt Field planned, coordinated, and flew multiple tough missions early in the war inserting US Special Forces into the Iraqi desert by helicopters and by MC-130s while AC-130 gunships flew top cover and interdiction missions. Our great Air Commandos from Europe planned their missions from the continent into northern Iraq, but due to an uncooperative ally air planners had to create a Plan B driving the mission into a two-night operation and testing the aircrews aerial skills and courage to deliver Special Operations Forces to their landing zones in northern Iraq, dodging heavy Iraqi AAA along the way. The long-range low-level infiltration mission led, coincidently, by aircrews from the 7th SOS would become known as the “Ugly Baby.” Their story is also presented in this issue.
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Son Tay Raid and last reunion for the Raiders, we also honor and remember our Air Commandos, past and present, who live up to the motto “Anytime, Anyplace” every day.

Colonel Ropka, a master navigator and special operations aircraft expert, was selected as one of the original operational planners in Washington DC. He led a small group of intelligence and operations officers for Operation KINGPIN, the raid on Son Tay prison to rescue American POWs. Colonel Ropka was inducted into the Air Commando Hall of Fame in 1969.

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ACJ Vol 9/1

Bruce L. Fister, Lt Gen, USAF (Retired)
2d AFSOC Commander

I write this CV-22 Osprey introduction on the 24th of April 2020, 40 years after Operation EAGLE CLAW, the attempt to rescue 52 hostages held by the Iranians in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. It is appropriate to remember those courageous special operators who risked all in this attempt. But all was not lost, for today the CV-22 and its crews and maintainers are how Air Force special operators could help make a similar operation successful.

The CV-22 was born from a joint service program in the 1970s where the basic Air Force special operations requirement was established and what would be designated the replacement for AFSOC’s MH-60 and MH-53 helicopters. Eventually only the Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps stood, and the Marines became the lead acquisition service based upon their need for greater numbers of aircraft.

Over the years that led up to delivery of training CV-22s to the 58th SOW in July 2006, and the operational aircraft to the 1st SOW in January 2007, the program experienced many fits and starts, but dedicated and visionary airmen from the Pentagon, to AFSOC and USSOCOM, and down to the 1st SOW nurtured the vision until it became a reality. During my tenure as AFSOC Commander, I was asked, to again recertify the special operations requirement for this covert infiltration/exfiltration, fast, refuelable, long-range vertical take-off and landing capability. It is no secret that I had concerns with the program. In 1991 I had my first look at the Marine MV-22 test aircraft during a refueling stop at Hurlburt Field. Later that very day, the aircraft and crew were lost on approach to Cherry Point MCAS, NC. This gave me cause to reevaluate my own views. I saw dimly a great capability, but also an aircraft with many moving parts and consequent maintainability challenges. Yet, it was the only future capability I could envision that would drastically improve the opportunity for success for a future long-range infiltration and exfiltration mission with similar Operation EAGLE CLAW requirements. I saw many growing pains with the CV-22, but as has been proven, the men and women of AFSOC have been up to the task. The CV-22 has never let us down and should an EAGLE CLAW situation ever return, the weapon system and its people are ready to make those EAGLE CLAW warriors proud. And this generation of all Air Commandos still have “THE GUTS TO TRY.”

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ACJ Vol 8/3

Robert Cardenas, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret) Commander #3, USAF Special Air Warfare Center
ACA Life Member #0174

The idea for an Air Commando Hall of Fame pre-dates the formation of our Air Commando Association. In January 1968, “Heinie” Aderholt, then my Deputy Commander for Operations at the USAF Special Air Warfare Center (SAWC), proposed the idea in order to recognize outstanding Air Commandos past, present, and future. Well, as Jim Ifland noted in a previous edition of this journal, if someone has a good idea the commander is likely going to tell you to run with it … and that was exactly what I did.

Heinie put the committee together and they received 200 nominations from Air Commando units around the world. They then created a ballot and sent those ballots back out to the units so that individuals could vote for the most deserving candidates. It was a very democratic process. In April 1969, 20 Air Commando from the Second World War through the beginning of the Vietnam War were inducted into the first Hall of Fame class. I was transferred that summer and for many reasons, including changing priorities, loss of personnel, and resource constraints, the Hall of Fame went inactive after that first class. It took 25 years, but again it was Heinie who took the initiative and resurrected his original great idea. In 1994, we started recognizing Air Commandos again in the Hall of Fame.

Because of the 25-year hiatus, there was some catching up we needed to do. For a few years we had some pretty big HoF classes, but now we’re in a good place and operating at “steady state.” A few years ago, Wayne Norrad described the new updated rules for nominating some to the HoF. He also explained why, in 2010, the ACA Board of Directors decided to limit class sizes to five per year. Theirs was a good decision and fully in keeping with what Heinie intended back in 1968, when he suggested we needed a way and a place to recognize our most outstanding Air Commandos.

Since that first class, way back when in 1969, almost 200 Air Commandos have been inducted into our Hall of Fame. All have made meaningful contributions in the service of our nation and to Air Force Special Operations. As you will read in this issue, in October your Air Commando Association inducted five more outstanding Air Commandos into these distinguished ranks. I urge you to read their stories and think about the examples they have set. They carry on our association’s proud traditions of service, achievement, and valor. Any Time, Any Place.

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ACJ Vol 8/2

Lt Gen Marshall “Brad” Webb Former Commander Air Force Special Operations Command

What Is an Air Commando?

My first exposure to what I would come to know as an Air Commando came in 1986, when an eight-ship of Pave Low helicopters landed at my base — Hill AFB, Utah, where I was a 2LT — for an exercise. I had no idea what all those “things” hanging off the airframe were, nor did I know what these special operators did. And, these SOF Airmen weren’t very forthcoming when I asked about them. I learned nothing. But…it did pique my curiosity, and frankly, the experience absolutely convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that I HAD to be part of them. A year and half later, I was.

Of course, it took me years of developing my craft, tactically as a Pave Low pilot, and seasoning operationally and strategically as a senior leader in our Air Force before I appreciated the “bigger picture” of what an Air Commando is and why we are so vital to SOF, our Air Force, and our nation. We, Airmen, tend to gravitate to our machines and the various sub-cultures of our squadrons as rallying points. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this. It actually makes us a viable force on the battlefield. Still, as far as Air Commandos are concerned, there is another perspective we ought to acknowledge.

An Air Commando is a leader. She is unabashed with her perspective on mission contribution, always keeping in mind that her tactical mission will have strategic consequences. An Air Commando is a unifier. The air contribution to special operations missions…more than any other element in SOF, will require fusing disparate joint contributions together to ensure seamless synchronicity. Because SOF and Airpower (not to mention Space and Cyber) are inevitably thrust together, the Air Commando is routinely the key cog to success (and is often unheralded). Finally, an Air Commando is a quiet professional. He has a keen connection to the mission and has competence in spades. But, he is a humble warrior. Former Secretary of the Air Force, Dr Heather Wilson, coined the term “humble competence” when describing Air Commandos not long ago…I love this!

So, congratulations and thank you, ACA, for 50 years of stellar support to Air Commandos past, present, and future. What follows in the pages of this edition of the ACA journal will most certainly celebrate our past and simultaneously pave the path for Air Commandos to follow. For, while we stand on the shoulders of giants such as Phil Cochran, John Alison, Dick Cole, Heinie Aderholt, and on, and on…Air Commandos of tomorrow will marvel at, and take note of, the legendary exploits of TODAY’s Air Commandos. Because, Air Commandos, at our essence, are warrior patriots who continue to fundamentally shape our national security successes and further the blessings of liberty we hold so dear.

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2nd Special Operations Squadron

2nd Special Operations Squadron

Citizen Air Commandos with a 24/7/365 Mission

Reference: Air Commando Journal, Volume 8, Issue 1, July 2019, Page 37-39

By Maj Amanda Reeves, 919th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

From a non-descript building on Hurlburt Field, FL, a group of Air Force Reserve Citizen Air Commandos carry out a unique 24/7 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) mission for Air Force Special Operations Command. As part of the Air Force Reserve’s only special operations wing, the 2nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS) operates the MQ-9 Reaper in support of warfighters across the globe. Executing a unique mission for the Reserves, the 2nd SOS has overcome great obstacles and proven itself to be a lethal force on the battlefield.

2nd SOS patch

Boasting a unit legacy and heritage dating back to 1917, the 2nd SOS has provided ISR to commanders and warfighters since World War I. Then, they were the US Army’s 2nd Balloon Squadron, using observation balloons over the battlefields of France to help commanders on the ground identify enemy composition, positions, and movements. Although the unit has been de- and re-activated several times in the last century, since March 2009, the 2nd SOS has delivered consistent, timely, and accurate ISR support and capabilities to the greater special operations enterprise.

In its current form, the 2nd SOS was initially activated to operate the MQ-1B Predator at Nellis AFB, NV. Five years later, in 2014, the unit was hit with two major changes simultaneously: changing platforms to operate the MQ-9, and moving to Hurlburt Field, FL. “We didn’t miss a single day of operations,” said a 2nd SOS senior intelligence officer. “What’s even better is the majority of our people chose to move with us as well. That’s rare in the Reserves.”

Indeed, most things about the 2nd SOS are rare in both the Reserves and the Air Force in general. Many traditional AF Reserve units are hindered by restraints on their manning and resources – it is often difficult to support a non-stop mission with people who are only present a total of one month per year. The 2nd SOS, however, has been blessed with a cadre of people who are dedicated to their mission and consistently go above and beyond the minimum requirements.

A technical sergeant assigned to the 2nd SOS conducts training in the RPA simulator at Hurlburt Field, FL. (Photo courtesy of 919th SOW/PA)

“Being a part of AFSOC, we’re on the leading edge of the weapon systems coming out,” said the 2nd SOS superintendent, a senior enlisted member assigned to the unit. “We’re always using the newest software and executing the newest capabilities. This requires constant training, and most of our traditional Reservists are working 120 plus days per year.”

As an AF Reserve unit, the 2nd SOS has been able to take advantage of the diversity of its Citizen Air Commandos by tapping into their varied experiences.
“Our diversity makes stronger,” said Lt Col Brian Diehl, 2nd SOS commander. “It provides strategic depth, and more importantly, it makes us lethal. The mighty 2nd SOS is stitched together with seasoned Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine, National Guard, and Regular Air Force veterans. We have seen it, we have done it, and we are ready for more!”

In addition to bringing a wealth of knowledge, the 2nd SOS’s composition allows it another strategic advantage—every member of the unit is a volunteer who wants to be there and is completely dedicated to the mission.
In a recent command climate survey, respondents had a 97 percent job satisfaction level, with a 94 percent commitment rate. Satisfaction levels that high are nearly unheard of in any work environment, let alone in the Remotely Piloted Aircraft or RPA enterprise, which has historically been plagued by resiliency issues.

For the mission, this translates to incredible longevity and expertise in the 2nd SOS. On average, the unit’s pilots, sensor operators, and intelligence coordinators each have approximately 3,000 flying hours under their belts. In a recent ceremony, the squadron marked both its tenth anniversary since being re-activated and its achievement of 100,000 flying hours.

Maj Gen Vincent Becklund, the deputy commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, congratulates members of the 2nd SOS, marking both their 10th anniversary since being re-activated and their achievement of 100,000 flying hours. (Photo courtesy of 919th SOW/PA)

Maj Gen Vincent Becklund, the deputy commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, spoke at the ceremony and highlighted the squadron’s contributions to the AFSOC mission. “To be great, a unit needs three critical things: professionalism, technical proficiency, and esprit de corps,” said Becklund. “The 2nd SOS has all three in spades. You truly are a great unit.”

The 2nd SOS works around the clock to support AFSOC’s global operations. Since 2009, it has operated in every named operation in which the US has been engaged, encompassing six different areas of operation (AOR). The resulting intelligence from thousands of different targets assisted in countless raids and detentions, while also neutralizing numerous high-value individuals wishing to do the US harm.

“You are a critical part of our team,” said Gen Becklund. “I have never once heard someone say that a mission was so critical that they would rather not have the 2nd SOS handle it.”

As an integral part of the Total Force, the 2nd SOS has also supported its active duty counterparts in untraditional ways. In 2017, when its sister unit, the active duty 65th Special Operations Squadron, underwent its own move, the 2nd SOS mobilized to support the move to ensure operations did not stop. Once the move was complete, the 2nd SOS continued to provide intelligence support for nearly a full year. Additionally, the 2nd SOS runs the operations center for both the Reserve and active duty components at Hurlburt Field. Since they opened in 2014, they have never closed their doors and have maintained steady-state, 24/7/365 operations. “This unit works so seamlessly with the active duty component that I would never know you were a Reserve unit if you didn’t tell me — you’re that good,” said Gen Becklund.

That professionalism and expertise is a direct result of each member’s dedication to the mission. The squadron is comprised of a mix of full-time Active Guard Reserve positions and traditional Reservist positions. Significant system upgrades occurring every six months and the mix of full-time and part-time schedules require true personal commitment to stay proficient.

“Our traditional Reservist crew members come in, and with minimal spin-up are ready to fly any mission in any AOR,” said a senior master sergeant assigned to the unit. “It might be a new system, it might be a new AOR. It’s a really unique and challenging situation for us, but our people thrive.”

In October 2018, the 2nd SOS demonstrated just how good they are when they faced a Category 5 hurricane head-on. Projected to make landfall just 80 miles east of Hurlburt Field, Hurricane Michael was the first Cat 5 to hit Florida since 1992. The storm’s rapid change in intensity forced the 2nd SOS to act quickly, informing numerous global players of the situation, ensuring troops on the ground had the critical air support they required thousands of miles away, and keeping local crews safe from the storm’s path in Florida.

The 2nd SOS operations center remained operational throughout the storm to coordinate aircrews and missions and to maintain personnel accountability. For safety, they moved to minimum manning, and for about 48 hours, the operations center was manned by the unit’s commander, senior intelligence officer, flight operations supervisor, and senior mission intelligence coordinator.

The hurricane ride-out crews served as a hub of communication between several interested wings, squadron members and their families, and the deployed controlling agencies. In addition to command and control duties, the ride-out crew also ensured generators and air handlers operated at full capacity in order to protect the irreplaceable computer servers and equipment required to operate aircraft halfway around the world. The squadron’s leadership carefully monitored the storm’s path, weighing the decision of whether or not to evacuate. This was as close as the 2nd SOS had come to ceasing operations since it relocated to Hurlburt Field in 2014. Once the hurricane’s path shifted slightly to the east and the squadron had 100 percent accountability, the operations center returned their focus to their normal operations, recalling aircrew and flying combat missions again.

The 24/7/365 no-fail mission of the 2nd SOS persisted, despite the threat from an unpredictable hurricane, because its people believed in it and committed to uphold it. The unit’s members make those same decisions day-in and day-out, providing continuous, superior support to the nation’s warfighters on the ground.

To ensure the fast pace doesn’t take a toll on its people, the 2nd SOS works closely with its wing’s Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF) representatives. They hold monthly family events for the members and take resiliency seriously from the moment each member is gained to the unit.

We address the nature of our mission in our initial interviews,” said Diehl. “Everyone who comes here knows what to expect and has decided this is what they want to do. I think that, combined with the exceptional support we receive from POTFF, is why we have such a high job satisfaction rate.”

Looking to the future, the 2nd SOS has no intention of slowing down and is eager to meet its next milestones. “Make no mistake: while looking forward, we will remain fully engaged in our current fights,” said Diehl. “We will leverage all of our experience to lead our community, not only in restoring our near peer proficiency, but in expanding the envelope of capability.”

About the Author: Maj Amanda Reeves is an Air Force Reserve public affairs officer augmenting the 919th Special Operations Wing. Prior to her role in the Reserve, she spent nine years active duty with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and had several opportunities to support the Special Operations community in AORs across the globe.

Editor’s Note: Last names of 2nd SOS personnel are withheld for security reasons.

ACJ Spotlight

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Our goal at the ACJ is to tell the Air Commando and USAF Special Operations story, from our beginning to today. We need your help to do that. We seek quality articles, well written, factually based, and reflecting your experiences living the special operations mission in all of its complexities.

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More Air Commando Journal

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ACJ Vol 8/1

Bradley A. Heithold, Lt Gen, USAF (Ret)
Former Commander, Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency
Former Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command

“You can run, but you’ll only die tired.” Why? Because you can’t hide from the heavily armed Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Airmen of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). ISR Air Commandos out-think, out-maneuver, and out-innovate our enemies. They provide joint force commanders an amazing range of ISR options by combining critical and creative thinking, technology, artificial intelligence, and guts to enable mission success. As the former commander of the Air Force ISR Agency, and also a former AFSOC Commander, I was extremely pleased when I was asked to pen the foreword for this edition of the Air Commando Journal.

Air Force Special Operations Forces have a long history of conducting ISR missions. From armed reconnaissance on the Ho Chi Minh trail using AC-130s in Vietnam, to today’s hunting, tracking, and killing violent extremists using a multitude of unconventional fixed wing and remotely piloted aircraft, ISR has been an essential, but largely unknown, aspect of being an Air Commando. The men and women of AFSOC have created a world class distributed and networked exploitation system of sophisticated sensors and, most importantly, highly trained people who are skilled in multi-domain operations to find, fix and finish our nation’s enemies.

Today, Air Commandos are retooling and transforming the existing ISR capabilities to address the new priorities recently established in the latest National Defense Strategy. Working behind the scenes, as quiet professionals do, ISR Air Commandos are leveraging enhanced cyber and space capabilities to strengthen an already formidable capability. By fusing signal intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, Air Commandos are pushing the envelope of digital age opportunities and applying them in the air to deter and defeat adversaries. As special operations and the nature of our nation’s enemies have evolved so, too, has the special operations ISR mission.

This edition of the ACJ highlights a number of ways innovative thinking and good old Air Commando spirit have used and adapted conventional and commercial hardware to address ever-evolving SOF mission requirements. The ACJ editors have put together a series of great articles to show the readers the essence of what makes AFSOC’s ISR team work. It is definitely not the whole story, but a great introduction. I am really proud of all the ISR warriors in AFSOC who know what right looks like in the invaluable ISR business. As is always the case with Air Commandos, failure is not an option and, without a doubt, this volume drives that home.

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ACJ Vol 7/3

Wayne G. Norrad, CMSgt, USAF (Ret)
ACA President/CEO & Hall of Fame Member

It’s an honor to serve as your new president and introduce this Hall of Fame (HoF) issue of the Air Commando Journal. If you remember, the Air Commando Association (ACA) decided to cap the number of inductees into the HoF at five starting in 2011, but 2018 was different. Air Commando TSgt John A. Chapman, a Combat Controller, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor (MoH) by President Trump on 22 Aug 2018. This MoH was the first earned by an Airman since the Vietnam War — some 47 years ago. It was also a long time in coming, some 16 years after his heroic actions took place. With the help of technology, Chapman’s actions on Takur Ghar Mountain in Afghanistan on 4 Mar 2002, showed he was still engaging the enemy long after he was thought to be dead. The additional information led to his Air Force Cross being upgraded to the MoH. His selection into the Air Commando Hall of Fame was an easy exception to the five-person per year rule. You can read more about his extraordinary gallantry later in this version of the journal or wait and read Alone at Dawn written by Air Commando Dan Schilling and Chapman’s sister, Lori Chapman Longfritz, to be released on 25 Jun 2019.
Without much hesitation, ACA decided to celebrate Chapman’s induction separately and induct the other five selectees at another time. After all, it’s hard to compete with a Medal of Honor recipient. So, in conjunction with AFSOC’s local celebration of MSgt (posthumously promoted) John Chapman, the ACA hosted a special HoF Induction Banquet on Saturday, 27 Oct 2018, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center in Ft. Walton Beach, FL. This was the largest event ACA has sponsored, with more than 800 people in attendance, including Chapman’s widow, both of his daughters, his mother, brother, both sisters, and other family members. Air Force Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein, was the keynote speaker, with Lt Gen “Brad” Webb, AFSOC commander, providing introductory remarks. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright also attended. Thanks so much to the many corporate sponsors who helped make this such an extraordinary event. The volunteers who assisted were awesome — including active duty members contributing on their off-duty time. We couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you!

With that behind us, we still had a Reunion/Convention to put on later in the year. Back to work we went. ACA hosted a memorable Heritage Seminar at the Soundside Club on 6 Dec 2018 featuring some of AFSOC’s most talented female leaders. We honored AFSOC’s Commander’s Leadership Award winners at that breakfast event, too. At the banquet on Saturday evening, we honored the winners of ACA sponsored annual awards in special categories. Last, but certainly not least, the five 2018 Hall of Fame selectees were inducted. Please take the time to read their citations in this journal and offer your congratulations whenever you see them. The HoF is a prestigious honor with less than 200 total inductees – taking into consideration that Air Commandos have been in existence for 75 years, that’s a pretty elite group. I offer my personal congratulations to each of them. Enjoy reading the rest of the ACJ.

Any Time – Any Place.

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ACJ Vol 7/2

Brenda Cartier, Brig Gen (Sel), USAF
AFSOC Director of Operations

In 1993 Congress repealed the ban on women serving in combat aircraft. Shortly thereafter Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) led the way integrating women into all fixed wing aircrew positions. Yet, nearly a quarter of a century later, the story of AFSOC’s female Air Commandos has never been told in a cohesive, comprehensive manner that captures our vast combat experience, leadership, and significant impact on Air Commando history. This volume is an opportunity for the women of AFSOC to share a glimpse into the lives of your wives, mothers, friends, and neighbors who are proud to call themselves Air Commandos past and present.
Twenty-plus years ago when I heard the news that AFSOC was hiring, I was a junior captain at the decision point of whether or not to stay in the Air Force when my active duty service commitment expired. I thought, “This sounds like my dream job.” I made a phone call to the squadron commander of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, then Lt Col Brad Heithold , who told me, “Brenda, we’re happy to hire you into Spectre gunships, but if you want an assignment quickly give the 4th SOS a call. They’re a new airframe and trying to fill a lot of crew positions.” On his advice, I called the 4th Special Operations Squadron and spoke with Lt Col Eric Fiel who asked when I could start. Soon thereafter my orders arrived, and I checked into the 19th Special Operations Squadron for AC-130U Spooky Gunship training in September 1997.
I don’t remember exactly how many female aircrew there were when I arrived at Hurlburt Field in the late ‘90s, but I do recall there were fewer than a dozen or so that I knew of across all AFSOC aircraft. One of those was the first female AFSOC pilot, 2Lt Shelley Ripple (now Col Shelley Rodriguez). Col Rodriguez is an MC-130P/J Shadow pilot who has gone on to have a distinguished career. She recently led Air Commandos as the Operations Group Commander at the 58th Special Operations Wing. Currently she is serving at AFSOC Headquarters developing the future of AFSOC weapons systems, making Air Commandos more ready and lethal.
A couple years after my arrival I was joined in gunships by Lieutenants Tracy Onufer and Meghan English (now Col Tracy Onufer and Lt Col Meghan Ripple), both Air Commandos who share their stories in these pages. There were many more to come, both officer and enlisted, serving as aircrew, maintainers, and combat support, Air Commandos including Allison Black, Heather Bueter, Kristina Montgomery, Rachel Halvorson, Kate Hewlett, Jackie Powell, and Anna Garcia-Lucas. I am grateful to these women for sharing their stories in this edition and personifying hundreds of female Air Commandos past, present, and future.
Nevertheless, in spite of two-plus decades of women serving as Air Commandos, I still run into people who don’t realize or believe women serve in special operations. There are those who, despite our successes—including being awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses, hundreds of Air Medals, and dozens of Air Force Combat Action Medals— still doubt that when faced with the immense challenges of combat we can overcome obstacles and emerge successfully alongside our brothers in arms.
The truth is today we have women serving with distinction in all crew positions and combat support roles. The Air Commandos in these pages represent some of our nation’s top talent, contributing diversity of thought, perspectives, and skills to AFSOC. We have fought in every combat contingency since Operation ALLIED FORCE (1999). We are patriots who have a deep desire to serve our nation, defend our Constitution and support our allies at all costs. Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice, including women such as SSgt Anissa Shero.
We’ve turned to each other along the way, both deployed and at home, forming bonds of friendship and family. We’ve also enjoyed tremendous support from many of our male counterparts and leadership who have trained with us, deployed in combat with us, and developed us into AFSOC leaders. Across our joint SOF world, many of us have a story of being ‘by name requested’ by a SEAL or Special Forces team going to the ‘X’ to be the crewmembers of choice on particularly tough missions.
While these pages highlight our history and our Air Commando experience today, this edition is also a call to the future. The next generation of girls and boys who want to be Air Commandos is out there. We want them to know the hangar doors are wide open for them to join the proud women and men of Air Force Special Operations Command.
My thanks to the Air Commando Association for the opportunity to be a part of this edition, and a very special thanks to Col (Ret) Dennis Barnett for giving me the great honor of penning this Foreword and ensuring that we capture the rich history of all Air Commandos, anywhere, anytime, any place.

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ACJ Vol 7/1

Gary Weikel, Col, USAF (Ret) Former 20th SOS Commander Former AFSOC Deputy Director of Plans, Programs and Acquisition

It has been over four decades since a little-known battle occurred in the Gulf of Thailand, in the shadow of America’s most unpopular war–Vietnam. In May 1975, Cambodian Khmer Rouge gunboats seized the US container ship, SS Mayaguez, in international waters. President Ford made the decision to mount a joint military operation to recover the ship and rescue the crew. I was Don Backlund’s copilot on Jolly Green 11, a Rescue HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant. As such, for 14.7 hours I had a front row seat to the extraordinary heroism and selfless dedication of all who put themselves in harm’s way that day. Collectively, we relearned hard lessons from the World War II Pacific Campaign as to the extreme difficulty in assaulting heavily defended islands. As a side note, the helicopter Backlund and I flew during Operation EAGLE PULL, the evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and again on May 15th, 68-10364, was converted to an MH-53J Pave Low during the mid-1980s. That same aircraft was also the one I flew as the 20th SOS commander 14 years later, in 1989, during Operation JUST CAUSE. It was a true “warhorse.” MH-53M, 68-10928, now in the Memorial Air Park at Hurlburt Field, was a CH-53, Knife 22, flown by Terry Ohlemeier during the Mayaguez Incident.
This edition of the Air Commando Journal keeps alive the memory of those Airmen, Marines, and Sailors who, without question, said, “Send me” when communist Khmer Rouge fighters seized the ship. Between the front and back covers you will find articles that give the history, but more importantly the personal perspectives of those who flew and fought that day. Many of the captains, lieutenants, and young NCOs from the 21st SOS, 40th ARRS, and 16th SOS would go on to form the nucleus of what became Air Force Special Operations Command. Their experiences shaped who we became as Air Commandos, serving at the leading edge of America’s efforts to defend itself against those who seek to harm our nation.
The Mayaguez story is also one about the danger of ad hoc joint special operations and the lessons we did not learn before Operation EAGLE CLAW (Desert One) and the creation of US Special Operations Command. Though the battle at Koh Tang island is now almost “ancient history,” what happened in 1975 offers lessons that modern Air Commandos can and should learn. They illustrate the value of clear command and control, communications, joint mission planning, teamwork, interoperability, and comprehensive intelligence—all of which we now take for granted but were not common practices then.
So, I invite you to read and enjoy another excellent and important edition of the ACJ.

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ACJ Vol 6/3

Wayne G. Norrad, CMSgt, USAF (Ret)
Vice President, Air Commando Association
Second AFSOC Command Chief

After serving 10 years on the Hall of Fame (HoF) Committee I decided to resign last year. I had served long enough and wanted to give someone else the opportunity. ACA President Dennis Barnett asked me to write the foreword for this edition of the Journal and to talk about my experience serving on the HoF Committee.
I was truly honored when asked to serve and also excited to be able to read about so many great Air Commandos. After serving on the committee for several years, Col (ret) Jim Ifland, the HoF Committee Secretary, asked if I’d consider serving in that position. I accepted. Jim and I had a meeting where he graciously passed on his wisdom, insight and files.
As secretary, I started making suggestions to improve the process and format. I suggested limiting the number of inductees to five in any year, making those still serving and those recently retired or separated ineligible for three years, limiting the package narrative to three pages, and revising the HoF Form. Shannon, Melissa, Jeanette, and I tried to make the process better and more convenient for nominators and committee members. For example, most packages are now received electronically, and all are forwarded electronically to the voting members to read, screen, and vote on at their leisure.
Maj Gen (ret) Norm Brozenick, the HoF Chairman, asked Jeanette and I to update the changes on the web site. We developed “Word” and “PDF” documents that allow nominators to fill out the HoF nomination form, narrative, and citation online in the specified font, format, and page length. We believe the changes improved the process and made it more user friendly.
Currently serving with Chairman Brozenick is Secretary CMSgt (ret) Mike Ramos with other voting members: Col (ret) Tom Bradley, Col (ret) Steve Connelly, Col (ret) Jim Connors, CMSgt (ret) Rick Crutchfield, and CMSgt (ret) Bill Turner. These committee members take their responsibility seriously and serve with the utmost integrity.
Just when I thought my involvement was over, Jeanette came up with the idea of having a HoF logo. She asked for my input and we went to work creating one. MSgt (ret) “Tazz” Felde, a former graphics artist, helped me design the 25th Anniversary of AFSOC coin. So, I went back to my friend and asked for his help. Tazz drew up the design and we presented it to President Barnett who gave it his stamp of approval. It went into effect immediately and was used on the citations and name tags for the 2017 inductees. That is the new logo you now see at the bottom of this foreword.
During the past three years I’ve been encouraged by the diversity of inductees. You don’t have to be a general, colonel, or a chief master sergeant to be considered. Three Lt Cols and three MSgts have been inducted. Career field diversity is encouraging too, with the selection of a maintenance officer, maintenance NCO, and for the first time, pararescuemen.
Oh, I can’t close without mentioning my latest suggestion. Let’s present new inductees with a sports coat, like the green jacket at the Masters golf tournament. What do you think? Okay, I’m really done with the HoF. Over and out!

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ACJ Vol 6/2

Eugene Haase, Maj Gen, USAF (Ret) Former (and last) 55 SOS/DO and AFSOC Vice Commander

The spring of 1999 saw multiple AFSOC units come together once again in support of a major combat operation – Operation ALLIED FORCE (OAF) – the air war over Kosovo.
After deploying to points short of Italy in late February, but recalled after the diplomats thought they had resolved the situation in the Balkans, special operations forces from the States joined their European counterparts and descended on Brindisi in late March and quickly spun up for war.
Crews operating Gunships, Combat Talons, Combat Shadows, Pave Lows, Pave Hawks, and Commando SOLO, and Special Tactics teams planned together at San Vito del Normanni Air Station, Italy. The JSOAC was led by Col John Zahrt and Col Jerry Garlington and, in my opinion, performed as an extremely well-oiled machine. The main effort early on was focused on combat search and rescue in support of the Combined Force Air Component Commander (CFACC). Once again, a special operations force (SOF) that was not specifically organized, trained, or equipped for the CSAR mission set was called upon to deliver in a time of need because Air Combat Command’s rescue units did not yet have the right equipment to safely and effectively accomplish the mission. SOF taskings eventually expanded to precision strike ops, leaflet drops, and humanitarian relief operations later in the conflict.
This edition of Air Commando Journal highlights the contributions of AFSOC in OAF to include the AC-130U’s first taste of combat and two successful rescues of fighter pilots who were shot down in Serbia. The first shoot-down and rescue of a F-117 stealth fighter pilot happened very early in the conflict and was an extremely traumatic event for the Air Force. The aircraft was advertised as undetectable by radar and no one could believe it had really been shot down. This rescue was so strategically important to the United States that President Bill Clinton called the crew directly after the mission and personally thanked them for “saving his ass.” It was another great demonstration of the flexibility Air Commandos bring to the fight and I was extremely proud to play a small part in the overall effort.
Support of the air war in the Balkans was the last hurrah for the 55th Special Operations Squadron which closed shortly after returning home. As the CV-22 Osprey became a reality, the 55th was the first bill payer in exchange for this new tilt-rotor capability – capability that is proving itself everyday in combat operations downrange supporting the joint warfighter. Now that all the helicopters are gone from AFSOC, it seems strange looking out to the flight line at Hurlburt Field or any other base where our assets operate and not seeing a UH-1N, MH-53, MH-60, or even an Mi-17 in the pattern. But time moves on and so does AFSOC in advancing the combat power it delivers to battlefields around the world.
Please enjoy the pages within this edition and another walk down memory lane. My hat is off to all Air Commandos past, present, and future who live at the pointy end of the spear leading and executing to perfection whatever mission they may be tasked with.

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ACJ Vol 6/1

David Mobley, Col, USAF (Ret) Former Deputy Commander, 1st Special Operations Group

Initial qualification or “pipeline” training (IQT) for aircrews has been a multi-generation debate for Air Commandos. Arguments usually center on three main dichotomies: 1) should aircrew IQT be organic to AFSOC or should the task belong to Air Education and Training Command (AETC), 2) should AFSOC isolate aircraft as dedicated training platforms or should operational and training units share a single set of mission aircraft, and 3) how much training should be conducted in-flight versus in the simulator? Each of these choices has their pros and cons depending on the perspectives of the units, staffs, and headquarters. The solutions usually come down to human and equipment resourcing, which there is rarely enough of to allow AFSOC to fully separate training from operations.
Like many, I spent much of my “youth” opposed to AETC owning the AFSOC formal training pipeline because I thought AFSOC knew best how to train its own. And, I also wanted to stay operational. Later, I was assigned to the 550th SOS and quickly understood why formal aircrew training was conducted by AETC, separated from the commitments of operations. That perspective was strengthened when I became the 1st SOG deputy commander and experienced the challenges of supporting initial training while also maintaining the group’s operational focus. Training suffered whenever operations required the SOG to deploy those highly qualified instructors and scarce mission aircraft. The AFSOC and AETC teams have always done their best to share available resources, but when the nation calls, operations are the priority. That experience reinforced my belief that it is usually better to let the training professionals focus on the pipeline while operational units concentrate on operations; rarely should the two be mixed.
Which brings us to the last point—how much training should be conducted in-flight versus simulator? This is a real challenge and as you will see in the article from the 58th SOW, the Air Commandos of AETC seem to have found the right balance point. This issue of the Air Commando Journal offers a collection of great features describing the diverse array of innovative, challenging, and impressive training and education programs that are turning Airmen into Air Commandos—mission focused, adaptive, resilient, and relevant for an ever-changing world. The Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center and the USAF Special Operations School (USAFSOS) are driving the future of AFSOC education and training through programs like Air Commando Development, an effort to prepare special operations Airmen for leadership roles in a very uncertain world. The Joint Special Operations University, which got its start at Hurlburt Field as an outgrowth of USAFSOS, is shaping a new era of joint SOF education. It is an exciting time for Air Commando training and education and the Journal is pleased it can help tell that story.

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ACJ Vol 5/3

Norm Brozenick, Maj Gen, USAF (Ret) Hall of Fame Committee Chairman Former Vice Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command

“Just doing our jobs.” That’s how the newest members of the Air Commando Hall of Fame described their contributions to the mission and people of special operations during the ACA awards banquet on October 15.
After carefully reviewing every nomination package last August, the Hall of Fame Committee unanimously recommended five Air Commandos for induction. With the unanimous approval of the Board of Directors, these warriors once again stepped into history, this time as members of the Air Commando Hall of Fame, Class of 2016.
Two pararescuemen, a maintainer, and two aircrew members “doing their jobs,” executing no-fail operations under the most demanding circumstances. Together, the Class of 2016 is responsible for contributions defining our special operations history in Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Cambodia, Iraq, Iran, Liberia, Panama, Somalia, and Zaire, as well as in undisclosed locations. Countless objectives achieved, enemies destroyed, and lives saved. Leaders to a man, this class includes a teammate awarded the Air Force Cross and a Purple Heart, and another awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
These five Air Commandos continue impacting our mission and people years after retiring from uniformed service. Our nation’s most elite forces are expertly supported by the development, testing, and fielding of new personnel recovery capabilities. A fully modernized, capable, and accredited Air Force training and rehearsal center graduates the world’s most capable SOF aircrews. The John Groves School in Honduras remains open to care for disadvantaged children. And the next generation of Air Commandos fully embraces a heritage shared by teammates past, present, and future.
There’s just one thing left to say to the Class of 2016’s John Easley, Scott Fales, Randy O’Boyle, Ray Turczynski, and Tim Wilkinson. From all of us across the ranks, thank you teammates, and a “job well done!”

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