As we Air Commandos reflect on the early exploits of Johnny Alison and Heinie Aderholt, we are reminded of the challenge each of them had to overcome to integrate a force many did not understand nor appreciate. When the Vietnam era came to an end, we still faced an uncertain future with conventional wisdom not understanding the relevance of special operations forces (SOF). Upon our return to CONUS, we faced a downturn with a disinvestment in SOF capabilities. It was not until the failure at Desert One on 24 April 1980, that the Nation realized the consequences of previous decisions. This wake-up call to the nation was considered the birth of modern day special operations.
With Jim Locher working behind the scenes to form the legislation that led to the implementation of the Cohen-Nunn Amendment and the establishment of the US Special Operation Command (USSOCOM), SOF was finally placed on a path of national importance. This year marks the 25th anniversary of that historic legislation and the impact of this amendment continues to be felt throughout the community.
In Panama, Iraq, the Balkans, and the aftermath of 9-11, these forces have been called upon at an unprecedented level for the most sensitive and critical operations in support of our national objectives. With USSOCOM taking on the supported role for the planning of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), new realities for SOF were apparent. Prior to 9-11 with a USSOCOM budget of just over $3 Billion per year, leveraging the services was the norm. However, after 9-11 the Command needed to expand in order to meet the new commitments for GWOT. With the increased demands for SOF from all the Combatant Commanders, USSOCOM developed 13 initiatives for approval by SECDEF; not without controversy. The one question of major concern involved the Major Force Program (MFP) funding for the Command. The “snowflake” from Washington questioned the need for MFP-11 with an assumption these funds could be better exercised by the services in support of SOF. As the debate continued and the need for additional resources gained momentum, SECDEF chartered the President of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), General (Retired) Larry Welch, to conduct an analysis of the 13 initiatives. On Saturday, 7 December 2002, in a private meeting, the assessment of the 13 initiatives was presented to SECDEF which, if supported, provided the resources required to fulfill the new role of the Command. During General Welch’s assessment of MFP-11, he succinctly stated, “I was the TAC/DO during Desert One and if you take away the MFP-11 funding, SOF will die of benign neglect.” After completing his assessment for all 13 initiatives with a positive recommendation, SECDEF asked if resources were available to fund them. The answer was yes. With the Command now at an estimated $10.5 Billion per year (with the services providing the funding for military personnel accounts of $3.5 Billion) and still growing, USSOCOM and the components, along with the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), are in a better position to fulfill their global commitments.
For Air Commandos, the past ten years have shed more light on the importance of the SOF Operator. From Special Tactics personnel on horseback calling in B-52 close air support (CAS), to AFSOC aircrews developing new tactics, techniques and procedures for upgraded capabilities on legacy aircraft, the innovativeness of our personnel maintains our premiere war-fighting capabilities. In the same manner, the introduction of new systems such as the CV-22, Non-Standard Aviation (NSAV), Predator remotely piloted aircraft and specialized ordnance delivery capabilities such as Dragon Spear and the maintainers who keep a step ahead in supporting multiple small fleet size operations, prove the SOF truth that “Humans are more important than hardware”.
For the future, we are steadied knowing that the Quiet Professionals are well led, well trained, well resourced and ready to continue to meet the challenges of the 21st century—anytime , anyplace. I salute each of you for your dedication and resiliency. You continue to make a difference!
-- General (ret) Charles Holland
AFSOC Commander July 1997 - August1999
USSOCOM Commander in Chief October 2000 - October 2003