It is my distinct honor to contribute to this issue of the Air Commando Journal in dedication to the MH-53 “Pave Low” helicopter and the men and women who supported the mission. Over the past 30+ years, until the retirement in 2008, the “red scarf” community of Air Commandos were involved in, and I would say critical to the success of, nearly every military engagement required by our nation’s leaders. From the jungles of Panama to the mountains of Bosnia and the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq with many harrowing contingencies in between, this aircraft and its crews were relied upon to perform some of the most difficult missions imaginable in order to save American lives and support special operations forces around the world. To this day I am in awe of their bravery and commitment.
When I was a young captain in the 20 SOS, during the late 80s and early 90s, I quickly learned that this squadron was different. There was a cadre of leaders and support personnel who understood the importance of the MH-53 in the tactical SOF mission. With unique modifications, the Pave Low would prove over time the ability to do what no other aircraft in the world could do; precise infiltration and exfiltration in nearly all weather conditions, day or night. As the Pave Low grew, those leaders would spread the same tactics and procedures, and instill the new leadership with the same understanding. This revolution in capability would be the guiding vision that eventually bonded the three operational squadrons and the training squadron together. It created a culture of innovation and pushed the limits of training and performance for the crews and the aircraft. If I could encapsulate the essence of Pave Low, it would be the enduring commitment of the people and the willingness to dedicate their lives in support of the mission. Gen Schwartz put it so eloquently in the foreword of the recent by Darrel Whitcomb On a Steel Horse I Ride: “Ultimately, the story of Pave Low bears out the first SOF Truth: Pave Low proved to be a highly capable and impressive aircraft, but more significantly, the people behind Pave Low, and those who served with it, were, and always will be, even more impressive.” Over the years, those people coalesced into a family of operators, maintainers, trainers, testers, and acquirers who gave it their all time and time again.
Today, MH-53 aircraft are proudly displayed in air parks and museums across our nation. Pave Low crews and support personnel served with great distinction in combat all the way until the very last flight in September 2008. But the culture of innovation, tenacity, and mission focus lives on in the myriad of other squadrons in AFSOC. I am proud to see how far our command has come since then, and I am inspired by our current leaders and the direction they are going. We have passed the torch and they are running strong. God-speed on their mission in the future.
-- Maj Gen Michael Kingsley is the Director for the NATO Afghanistan Task Force. He is the former AFSOC Vice Commander.