It is my pleasure to introduce our readers to this 13th issue of the Air Commando Journal. Presented here are stories of little known special operations, principally in Southeast Asia (SEA), as we focus this quarter on air commandos in Indochina.
Although the Vietnam War is almost “ancient history” for most Americans, this long war saw a great expansion of air commando organizations and capabilities in South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, along with similar growth in the US, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. These seven stories give one a good sense of the range and scope of operations from which our modern AFSOC forces have evolved.
It is true that the Eagle Claw (Desert One) disaster in 1980 was the catalyst that kicked off the resurgence of US special operations capabilities. But the air commandos of the 1960s and ‘70s provided a sizeable foundation for today’s special operations air forces. At the height of the war in SEA, USAF air commando strength reached nearly 100,000 men and women, organized into 5 wings and with numerous smaller units deployed around the world. The articles in this issue of ACJ were written by men who at the time, were at “the tip of the spear.”
Their stories cover a wide range of air commando activities, beginning with Project Jungle Jim in 1961, which restored our modern USAF special operations force. Look for articles in upcoming issues that talk about Air Force SOF in another “forgotten” war, Korea, and how the capabilities and spirit of the air commandos were kept alive during the 1950s. We also promise articles on the US Army Air Forces “Carpetbaggers” from the Second World War and how those airmen pioneered air commando operations.
Always controversial in the all-jet US Air Force, air commandos again find themselves at the center of a classic conventional vs. unconventional capabilities debate—similar to the quality vs. quantity issue air forces have faced after every conflict since the end of the First World War. That debate continues today as our nation looks beyond over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. My crystal ball is no better than anyone else’s, but every indication seems to be that air commandos and USAF SOF will continue to be key to our nation’s future security.
These articles offer insight into aspects of the war/post-war and quality vs. quantity debate, and how earlier air commandos “played the hands they had been dealt.” Things are changing, but the good news is that the leadership is working hard to create the optimum force mix—mobility, ISR, strike, and air-ground integration, plus active, Reserve, and Guard forces, to ensure the current and future air commandos are in the best position to deal with the unknown challenges that will undoubtedly come our way. It probably won’t be easy, but there is much to be optimistic about.
I trust you will find this issue to be a good read—I did. And as always, we welcome your comments and recommendations to improve our association and our journal.
Any Time, Any Place.
-- Richard V. Secord, Maj Gen, USAF (Ret)
Chairman, Air Commando Association