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