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The Year in


2013-2014 Edition



SOF GROUND VEHICLES EVOLUTION OF THE MINIGUN interviews: Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris


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The Year in

Special Operations 2013-2014 Edition

Editors’ Foreword

U.S. and partner-nation special operations forces (SOF) spent 2012 and early 2013 carrying out global missions at a breakneck pace. Along with joining Afghan commando and other units on operations, training accelerated as the United States prepared to pull its forces from Afghanistan. At a time when American SOF is among the most capable and trusted of institutions in the United States, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Commander Adm. William H. McRaven proposed his Global SOF Network, designed to create a worldwide network of highly capable SOF units and communities among U.S. partner nations and allies in a more agile command structure. But as much as the Global SOF Network is about increasing the effectiveness of special operations forces, it is also a reflection of the continuing worldwide economic downturn that is being felt most acutely among NATO allies, as well as America’s own continuing budget crisis and sequestration. “With current fiscal constraints, not only in the U.S. but worldwide,” McRaven said in an interview, “we have to find new solutions to effectively operate in the current strategic environment.” The government’s inability to agree upon a budget led the nation to a point where automatic and mandated spending cuts (“sequestration”) took effect. Sequestration has cut deeply into operational training and exercises for all U.S. military forces, including SOCOM. In the short term, it remains to be seen how long it will take Congress and the administration to agree upon a budget, exit sequestration, and put the Department of Defense back on stable financial footing. In the long term, there is also a natural worry that with the drawing down of forces in Afghanistan there will be a corresponding drawdown of funding for SOCOM. While there is as of yet no sign of this, the direct-action approach seen so often over the past decade, and so much appreciated by those who hold the purse strings in Congress, is not likely to be as much in evidence as it was in the past. The long-term, indirect, whole-of-government approach to combating extremism, terrorism, and insurgencies, while more effective than direct action, is also more subtle in its effects, and the concern for the years ahead is that financial support for such efforts may be more difficult to sustain. Chuck Oldham Editor in Chief John D. Gresham Consulting Editor

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Contents 52




 aj. Gen. Mark A. Clark M Commander, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command By J.R. Wilson


 ommand Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris C U.S. Special Operations Command Senior Enlisted Adviser By John D. Gresham



 OCOM Year in Review S Looking to the future

By John D. Gresham


 FSOC Year in Review A Missions galore and plans for a greater future

By Maj. Gen. Richard Comer, USAF (Ret.)


 ARSOC Year in Review M Still growing, but no longer new

By J.R. Wilson


 AVSPECWARCOM Year in Review N A balanced, effective, efficient force in a marathon fight

By Scott R. Gourley

62 74

USASOC Year in Review By John D. Gresham

International SOF Year in Review By Nigel West







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Contents 88

110 82

Worldwide SOF: Evolving to Meet Emerging Threats By David C. Isby

88 SOF Ground Vehicles By Scott R. Gourley


M  45A1: A New Colt .45 for the 21st Century


T he Evolution of the M134D Minigun

By John D. Gresham

By Scott R. Gourley

106 OPERATION HAWKEYE: Shooting Hoops to Help the Families of Fallen Heroes By Dwight Jon Zimmerman


A  Rich Legacy: The Origins of Air Force Special Operations Command By Robert F. Dorr



 pecial Operations Forces and the Liberation of Iraq S Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase 1: March 19 to May 1, 2003 By John D. Gresham

T ask Force Ranger 20th Anniversary: The Battle of Mogadishu, Oct. 3, 1993 By Mike Markowitz


USSOCOM’s First Test of Fire: Operations Prime Chance and

Praying Mantis

By Dwight Jon Zimmerman


URGENT FURY: U.S. Special Operations Forces, Grenada 1983 By Mike Markowitz

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The Year in

Special Operations 2013-2014 Edition

Published by Faircount Media Group 701 North West Shore Blvd. Tampa, FL 33609 Tel: 813.639.1900 EDITORIAL Editor in Chief: Chuck Oldham Consulting Editor: John D. Gresham Managing Editor: Ana E. Lopez Editor: Rhonda Carpenter Editor: Iwalani Kahikina Editor/Photo Editor: Steven Hoarn Contributing Writers: Maj. Gen. Richard Comer, USAF (Ret.), Robert F. Dorr, Scott R. Gourley, John D. Gresham, David C. Isby, Mike Markowitz, Nigel West, J.R. Wilson, Dwight Jon Zimmerman DESIGN AND PRODUCTION Art Director: Robin K. McDowall Designers: Daniel Mrgan, Lorena Noya, Kenia Y. Perez-Ayala Ad Traffic Manager: Rebecca Laborde DEFENSE MEDIA NETWORK ONLINE Managing Editor: Chuck Oldham Product Manager (Internet Strategy): Damion Harte Lead Developer: Clyde Sanchez Internet Marketing/SEO: Brian Melanson ADVERTISING Ad Sales Manager: Patrick Pruitt Account Executives: Mike Blomberg, Art Dubuc III, Jim Pidcock, Jay Powers, Adrian Silva, Gary Weiner OPERATIONS AND ADMINISTRATION Chief Operating Officer: Lawrence Roberts VP, Business Development: Robin Jobson Financial Controller: Robert John Thorne Chief Information Officer: John Madden Circulation: Alexis Vars IT Administrator: Colin Davidson Events Manager: Jim Huston Executive Assistant: Lindsey Brooks FAIRCOUNT MEDIA GROUP Publisher, North America: Ross Jobson Publisher, Europe: Peter Antell ŠCopyright Faircount LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction of editorial content in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Faircount Media Group does not assume responsibility for the advertisements, nor any representation made therein, nor the quality or deliverability of the products themselves. Reproduction of articles and photographs, in whole or in part, contained herein is prohibited without expressed written consent of the publisher, with the exception of reprinting for news media use. Printed in the United States of America.


Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark Commander, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command By J.R. Wilson

In August 2012, Maj. Gen. Mark A. “Droopy” Clark became the fourth commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), which celebrated its seventh anniversary six months later. He is the first aviator to head the command – and the first with previous special operations experience. A naval aviator since 1983, he was assigned to the Air Force 20th Special Operations Squadron in 1992 as the first exchange pilot on the MH-53J Pave Low, a long-range combat search and rescue helicopter. He returned to Marine Corps squadrons in 1995; with the start of the war in Afghanistan, he deployed to Combined Joint Special

The Year in Special Operations: What is your assessment of the past 18 months for MARSOC? Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark: The past year saw MARSOC adapting to the “new normal,” acknowledging the fact we are no longer new. MARSOC has seen many changes during these seven years, but it has stayed the course in becoming an integral member of the SOCOM team, adjusting quickly to the needs of the combatant commanders [COCOMs], SOCOM, and the Marine Corps while being engaged in conflict. No small feat, and a testament to the people and [the] organization. This past year, MARSOC has continued to work, train, educate, and fight alongside our SOF [special operations forces] brethren and our partner forces across the globe. We continue to learn from each other and share ideas to not only make each of our organizations better, but to provide a better commonality in the operational environment. What do you expect to be your major areas of concern through the end of 2013?


Operations Task Force-South (K-Bar) as current operations officer, then to the Combined Joint Force Special Operations Command in Qatar as the Joint Operations Center chief. In 2009, Clark was named director of operations at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), moving up to chief of staff in 2011 and, shortly before taking over at MARSOC, served as SOCOM’s acting deputy director. Clark spoke with senior writer J.R. Wilson about his plans and expectations for MARSOC, through the drawdown in Afghanistan and into the “Pacific pivot.”

Resourcing requirements will be even more important in the fiscal environment we’re in, that we do the best with what is good enough right now. I’ve adjusted the concept of building the MARSOC “total force” to building the “right force.” We can’t get locked into decisions we made three or four years ago. We need to adjust to the people and resources available. That may mean a smaller force right now and building up later, but we have to recognize DoD [Department of Defense] is going through some hard licks and we must adjust to that environment. We’re look i ng at prov id i ng a network for persistent engagement and a crisis responsive force to serve the COCOMs’ needs. AFRICOM [U.S. Africa Command] has a lot of theaterspecific requirements that need to be addressed, not just random acts where you visit them once a year, but constant contact, people who understand the culture and speak the language. That’s something SOF is good at and will get better at. We’re making a lot of headway, but there is still a lot of work

ahead – you can’t just absorb language and culture overnight. How did your time at SOCOM help you in taking command of MARSOC? Each position I had in SOF and the Marine Corps built on each other. When I was at AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command], many of the guys I knew there I ran into again when I was assigned during the early days in Afghanistan. You build relationships with others and take things from the tactical to the operational level. My first assignment at SOCOM really immersed me in the world of combating terrorism and in the development of plans to defeat the terrorist networks. I was educated in the world of the joint staff, the interagency, and the SOF community. My experiences at SOCOM helped me build upon the relationships I have with the SOF community and in the “speed of trust” when working issues with higher headquarters staff. It also helped me look at issues through the SOCOM lens and, conversely, now through a unique MARSOC lens into the SOF community.

U.S. Marine Corps photo

How do your plans for MARSOC reflect that – and perhaps differ from your predecessors? MARSOC is building off concepts esta bl ished by its prev ious commanders. Our core capabilities are not changing, but we’re refining what they will mean as we shift toward regionalization and a focus on the littorals. What MARSOC is beginning to do now is fill in the details and operationalize those concepts. For example, we are beg inning to look very closely at the Pacific to develop recommendations on where we might be best postured there, what level of collaboration we should have w ith Naval Special Warfare [NSW] and with Marine forces in that theater, and what maritime capabilities we should bring to provide

the Geographic COCOMs [GCCs] and TSOCs [Theater Special Operations Commands] the capability they need from their SOF Marines. In the 1990s, the Corps had a concept of putting SOF on ships, with the MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]. The problem we had was with movement. Now, with the V-22 [Osprey] out there, we can look at “just-in-time” SOF to provide that capability with the MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] and for the TSOCs and GCCs. Given your SOF background, what do you see MARSOC bringing to the table that is unique? A s [SOCOM com mander] Ad m. [William H.] McRaven has said, what makes MARSOC unique is we are Marines. We all came through the same entry point, through the Marine

“This past year, MARSOC has continued to work, train, educate, and fight alongside our SOF brethren and our partner forces across the globe.”





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Corps – different occupational specialties and backgrounds, but we all are Globe and Anchor. That is the common thread we will never lose. We also bring a deep maritime heritage to the SOF community, which has not been real evident in Afghanistan, but as you look to the pivotal view in the Pacific and the littorals around the world, you will see increasing demand for and reliance on the SOF component. Our naval colleagues have been doing that for a long time, of course, but we have been having lengthy conversations with the SEALs on how we can complement each other without being duplicative and provide a deep capability to the TSOCs and COCOMs. Where does MARSOC now stand with respect to moving toward its 2016 goal of 48 teams in 12 companies? Our build is on track, but there is risk with shortfalls in qualified Corpsmen, which we will work through. I am confident that, by 2016, MARSOC will be able to provide each of our three aligned TSOCs – SOCPAC [Pacific], SOCCENT [Central], and SOCAF [Africa] – with a fully enabled Marine Special Operations Company [MSOC] on a persistent basis, be capable of sourcing a SOTF [Special Operations Task Force]-level headquarters to each for crisis response, and surge additional MSOCs when contingencies emerge. MARSOC is still growing toward our right force to outfit three Marine Special Operations Battalions [MSOBs], 12 MSOCs, and 48 Marine Special Operations Teams [MSOTs], and we continue to meet the challenge of concurrently building the force and deploying the force. We are on track with our CSO [Critical Skills Operator] build and are working hard with the Marine Corps to align our CS [combat support] and CSS [combat services support] enabler build to maximize capability and answer operational requirements. What impact do you see the uncertainties of future budgets – and especially sequestration – having on MARSOC? Growth of MARSOC is still planned through FY 16 and there are no indications that sequestration will affect this planned growth; however, MARSOC is fully prepared to adjust to the fiscal environment as directed and needed. We plan to continue to be good stewards with our resources and provide

the best capability we can for a small investment, continually analyzing what is the right force based on today’s and tomorrow’s environments. One of the fundamental truths of special operations is you cannot produce SOF overnight to respond to a crisis. It takes years. One of MARSOC’s strengths is that we bring a Marine Corps ethos to SOF. Part of that ethos is the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the service that provides most bang for the dollar. Though we are not immune to the impacts of reduced spending, we will work with SOCOM and the Marine Corps to ensure that we preserve operational capability to the extent possible. What is your concept of “leaning forward” for MARSOC? For us, leaning forward is making sure we are looking ahead of today, providing the right training and resources for our operators to deploy and the capabi l ities the TSOCs and COCOMs require. That may be language and culture, equipment, or building relationships with particular units OCONUS [outside the continental United States], so when we do have to go somewhere, we’ve already prepared the environment. They count on us to look beyond not just the next horizon, but the horizon after that, proving we are agile and responsive enough to be able to change this organization to do that. It’s a mindset, but a mindset geared for action. We expect future demands on our Marines will change qualitatively, so we are developing intellectually and organizationally f lexible units that allow us to rapidly retool to address developing situations. Our inherent enabling capabilities make us very agile, so we can rapidly task organize and adapt according to evolving mission requirements. What do you see in the command’s future for sea-based/maritime SOF? On one side of the pendulum is MARSOC SOF going back on the boat; the other side is a liaison. The sweet

spot is somewhere in the middle. Whatever decisions we reach, we will turn that into a concept we actually execute within the next year or so to make sure what we decided will work. We will maintain that persistent, agile capability in key theaters with fully enabled MSOCs, capable of both partner nation engagement and crisis response. Those forces will be OPCON [operational control] to the TSOCs and ready to conduct distributed engagements with partner nations, aimed toward conflict prevention and with the capability to quickly aggregate for other actions as directed. How do you see MARSOC helping to enable Corps operations in the littorals? We are working with both SOCOM and the Marine Corps to determine how MARSOC and MAGTFs can best integrate capabilities for crisis response and for enduring, steady-state operations. MARSOC is developing the capabilities to conduct and/or provide SOF support to maritime and amphibious operations, able to deploy very capable company-sized forces that include, through task organization, inherent CS and CSS. A for ward-deployed MSOC can provide subregional C4I [command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence] to a TSOC while conducting distributed SOF engagement operations, all the while maintaining the capability to aggregate for more directed and specific crisis response requirements. That subregional C4I could equally act as a key coordination node for MAGTF operations in the littorals. As the United States pivots toward the Asia/Pacific, how do you see MARSOC and SEALs working together af loat and in force-from-the-sea missions? The Asia/Pacific will be a key future engagement area. MARSOC and SEAL units are collaborating to conduct SOF operations in the maritime/ littoral

“One of MARSOC’s strengths is that we bring a Marine Corps ethos to SOF. Part of that ethos is the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the service that provides most bang for the dollar.”




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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau

interview domains and we are working with NSW to develop maritime SOF concepts and to explore Afloat Forward Staging Base options. Given the vast maritime nature of the Pacific, such concepts will have particular applicability in PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command]. The MARSOC selection process has evolved substantially since it stood up; where do you see it going in the future? MARSOF cannot be mass produced and we will never compromise quality for quantity. We are picking the right people for the right job who will do the right things for the right reasons. MARSOF Marines proactively seek out responsibility and shoulder more than their share of the burden. MARSOC develops highly adaptable combat athletes who are agile and can work on a flexible, adaptable team across the spectrum of our special operations capabilities. How has making MARSOC a career choice rather than a rotation billet been accepted and implemented within the command and the big Corps? It is important we put the right MARSOC folks in organizations in the Corps to help them understand the requirements and capabilities of MARSOC and with the TSOCs and COCOMs. And that is part of the challenge: What is the right career path for our officers? Right now it is five years in MARSOC, then they return to the Corps. So what is the right place to put them in MARSOC so they can help inform the Corps and other organizations about MARSOC, then bring them back into MARSOC at the right time? We’re working with the Corps and SOCOM to determine that path and with our COCOMs to determine how to take advantage of the skills they learn here, both in the big Corps and when we bring them back, so we don’t lose that investment. We rely heavily on our senior officers and staff NCOs [noncommissioned officers], who represent maturity, experience, and continuity. They are our key mentors who will bring MARSOC into the future. We look to them to be our standard bearers and, by leveraging their experience, we can constantly improve what we are doing, specifically in the processes and best practices we use to enhance our advertised capability. M A RSOC’s streng th and future continues to be that smart, tough,

A Marine Special Operations Team member assists with security during the construction of an Afghan Local Police checkpoint in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 30, 2013.

well-trained, culturally aware, properly equipped Marine we can send anywhere in the world and be confident he will be able to have the desired effects as an individual and all the way to a complete SOTF. What is MARSOC’s position on female SOF, especially in light of DoD’s decision to open some combat slots to women and the record of Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan? MARSOC will conduct a deliberate, measured, and responsible approach to validate occupational performance standards for all female ser v ice members assigned to MARSOC and ensure the standards are consistent with SOCOM policies. Women who serve in MARSOC have very significant roles and contribute greatly to our success – and those roles are not limited to Cultural Support Teams, previously known as Female Engagement Teams. Through our internal review in this area, we will capitalize on every opportunity to enhance our warfighting capabilities and maintain the highest levels of combat readiness through the contributions of all our service members – male or female. It’s simply the right thing to do. Budget issues aside, as an aviator, do you see any need to add an aviation capability to MARSOC – or perhaps training some operators as pilots or existing Marine pilots as SOF?

Most people expected me to push for an aviation element, but having seen how things have worked out in Afghanistan and the demands on aviation – plus the fiscal environment – I think it would put a fracture in Marine aviation to do that. So I have asked, “What are we not getting now [that] we would gain by having an aviation element?” And nobody could tell me. I don’t think the Corps could handle a MARSOC aviation element right now. And in this case, we don’t need to own it. We have the support of the Corps and Navy and [are] getting what we need right now. What do you believe MARSOC will be by the end of this decade? It may be a little different than what is out there right now, but I envision us having three battalions and teams out there from single- to double-digit numbers doing engagements and networked back to their companies, which could be anywhere, even back in CONUS. And that we are agile enough to aggregate or desegregate at a moment’s notice, whether it is littoral or even commercial assets, based on the initial requirement. And with the capability to plug into a deployed MAGTF or other organization, working side by side or in support of our allied partners. One thing we need to do – and we’re playing significant catch-up – is build our senior officer bench with SOF experience as we normalize MARSOC within the SOF community and the Corps.


Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 supported Navy SEALs and parachute riggers with Naval Special Warfare Logistics and Support Two, an Air Force combat controller team, and Army Special Forces with parachute operations in Emporia Airfield, Va., Feb. 20, 2013. The service members jumped by static line and military free fall from the back of an MV-22B Osprey several times at heights of 1,500 feet to 12,500 feet in the air.


U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Manuel Estrada

socom year in review

SOCOM Year in Review Looking to the future By john d. gresham

For U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), 2012 was a year of both achievement and ominous warning as the command remained fully engaged across the globe but with new threats emerging worldwide and challenges here at home with which to deal. In Southwest Asia, SOCOM personnel and forces continued to support America’s withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the continued proliferation of radical Islamic forces in the region remains a threat to U.S. interests across the globe. In addition, the growth of terrorist groups across Africa has become a genuine threat to American national security, as recent events have demonstrated. Finally, political infighting and the continuing fiscal crisis within the U.S. government itself is becoming a real danger to the gains made by the American special operations forces (SOF) community in the past decade. 17 17

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socom year in review

All of these factors made 2012 a challenging year for the command staff at SOCOM and its various component commands, especially as they worked to complete the mandated expansion laid down as a result of the past several Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) cycles. Fiscal year 2013 (FY 13) is planned as the year those mandates will be completed, and 2014 will begin another round of QDR examinations and studies. And while there is every expectation that SOCOM will do well in the eyes of the Department of Defense (DoD), Congress, and the administration, there is also no expectation of any sort of “plus up” in either finance or in strength. On the contrary, the SOCOM leadership and staff are fully expecting lean times ahead in the next few years and are planning appropriately.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway

THE GLOBAL SOF NETWORK From the very beginning of his time commanding SOCOM, Adm. William H. McRaven recognized that events far away from his headquarters in Tampa, Fla., would dominate the next decade of his command. Some of these included: • Afghanistan – The decision by President Barack Obama to withdraw all American combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014. • Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) – In January 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta issued his DSG, which included drawdowns of U.S. military forces, cancellations of some modernization or procurement programs, and a “pivot to the Pacific” for the American military. • Emerging threats – Uncertainty over rapidly emerging threats worldwide, including a resurgent al Qaeda in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Airmen jump out of an MH-47 Chinook April 9, 2013, at Wynnehaven Beach, Fla. The helicopter conducts overt and covert infiltration, exfiltration, air assault, resupply and sling-load operations in a wide range of environmental conditions. The airmen are assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

• 2014 QDR cycle – The 2014 QDR cycle and what it will bring remain a mystery. • Sequestration – The Budget Control Act of 2011, designed to rein in federal spending, has turned into “sequestration” and has wreaked budgetary havoc within the U.S. military. What all of these factors translate into is one word: uncertainty. McRaven, something of a visionary during uncertain times, clearly saw the worst-case scenarios beginning to develop in 2011, and in 2012 rolled out his answer to the specter of an uncertain world and budget. Known as the Global SOF Network, McRaven’s plans for SOCOM in the post-Iraq/Afghanistan world involve the development of an international SOF network, described in answers to a series of questions put to him recently by The Year in Special Operations. “Expanding the SOF network is about increasing and strengthening our partnerships throughout the global SOF enterprise,” McRaven said. “The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate – all under



A squad of U.S. Navy SEALs participates in special operations urban combat training. The training exercise familiarizes special operators with urban environments and tactical maneuvering during night and day operations.

“Accordingly, USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate – all under the authority of the GCCs and COMs. “The genesis of the network comes from my days as the SOCEUR [Special Operations Command Europe] commander, when we established the NATO SOF Coordination Cell, which eventually became today’s NATO SOF Headquarters, which has paid tremendous dividends by establishing an efficient way to conduct professional military education, combined training opportunities, and information sharing opportunities,” McRaven said. “It has proved invaluable to our efforts in Afghanistan, where its success has led to an increase in our collective SOF partnering efforts and an expansion of overall SOF capabilities throughout ISAF [International Security Assistance Force].

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Meranda Keller

the authority of the geographic combatant commanders (GCCs) and the Chiefs of Missions (COM). “We live in a world in which the threats have become increasingly networked and pose complex and dynamic risks to U.S. interests around the world. To address these threats, we must also be dynamic in regard to a global perspective. With SOF deployed in over 70 countries on a daily basis, SOCOM can provide a global view to help link and synchronize global effects across geographic boundaries,” he said. “I am a supporting commander to the geographic combatant commanders and the Chiefs of Mission. To best serve the interest of the GCCs and the COMs, SOCOM is developing a plan to enhance its already global force by networking with our U.S. interagency counterparts, and our foreign allies and partners around the globe.” In some ways, the Global SOF Network looks like a return to core American SOF roles and missions, especially those of the Army Special Forces (SF). But McRaven clearly sees the Global SOF Network he envisions, as something more than simply a trip “back to the future,” because it depends more on allied and partner SOF. “The Global SOF Network is a natural extension of what we have been doing for decades,” McRaven acknowledged. “As a whole, the network represents a way to improve the support to the GCCs and Chiefs of Mission and to empower a global effort with capable allies and partners. Within the network, SOCOM will be able to surge or transfer SOF capability as global situations warrant. The new authority provided to SOCOM through the network will provide SOCOM the needed efficiency and agility to better support the GCCs when facing emerging threats.

socom year in review

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessi Ann McCormick

U.S. Special Forces and Afghan commandos provide security from a rooftop while residents of the village walk to a shura in northern Khas Uruzgan, Afghanistan, on March 16, 2013.

“Special operations forces do nothing, absolutely nothing, without the approval of the president, the secretary of Defense, the geographic combatant commanders, and the Chiefs of Mission. Those entities will still maintain the authority to approve or disapprove any reallocation of forces. The GCCs have and will continue to maintain operational control of their assigned SOF, allowing them to employ those forces to best address regional security challenges. What we can do is ensure we are best prepared to answer our nation’s call whenever and wherever necessary. Whether the threat is asymmetric and unconventional or a traditional, large military force, I’m focused on manning, training, and equipping our force to be agile, responsive, and problem solving in nature.” Training the military and internal security forces of partner and allied nations has always been a specialty of U.S. SOF forces over the decades. However, McRaven wants to take this specialty to the next level, helping partner/ allied nations build their own world-class SOF units and communities and integrating them into a seamless worldwide network that can then respond to emerging threats and quick breaking incidents. “With U.S. SOF operating in over 70 countries on a daily basis, building partner capacity and interoperability are vital. Recognizing that we have much to learn from each other, working with partner SOF will build mutual trust, foster enduring relationships, and provide new opportunities to affect shared challenges,” he said. “Although SOF usually only garner attention for highstakes raids and rescues, direct-action missions are only a small part of what we do, albeit a very important part. I’d like to emphasize that, in fact, on any given day, U.S. SOF are working with our allies around the world, helping build indigenous special operations capacity so that our partners can effectively deal with the threat of violent extremist groups, insurgents, and narco-terrorists – themselves. Indeed, SOF

focuses intently on building partner capacity and security force assistance so that local and regional threats do not become global and thus more costly. I believe that these efforts – that is, building capacity and capability – represent the best approach to dealing with some of the world’s most complex security problems. “Today’s threats have become so complex, fast-moving, and cross-cutting that no one nation could ever hope to solve them alone. We live in a world in which the threats have become increasingly networked and pose complex and dynamic risks. These threat networks are diversifying their activities, resulting in the convergence of threats that were once linear, and that convergence can have explosive and destabilizing effects. They are too diverse, too unpredictable. So no longer is there such a thing as a local problem,” McRaven said. If you look at the Internet home page of SOCOM, there are five principles known as “SOF Truths.” Truth No. 3 states: “Special operations forces cannot be mass produced.” No. 4, which is even more telling, reads: “Competent special operations forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.” These truths not only apply with respect to building capability and trust with international partners and allies, but are crucially important to remember during times such as these of fiscal crisis, military force reductions, and growing terrorist threats. “There is a clear recognition that developing enduring partnerships is a key component of our long-term military strategy. It is hard, slow, and methodical work that does not lend itself to a quick win. Instead, it is about patience, persistence, and building trust with our partners – a trust that cannot be achieved through episodic deployments or chance contacts. Special operations leaders always have known that you can’t surge trust. Trust is developed over years by personal one-on-one interaction,” McRaven said. “These partnerships give us our strength, based on a trust forged of mutual hardships, common cause, and shared ties. These relationships, built on trust, have clearly paved the way for greater security to counter regional challenges before they become global problems. “Enduring success can only be achieved through the application of indirect operations, with an emphasis in building partner-nation capacity and mitigating the conditions that make populations susceptible to extremist ideologies. The increased level of trust and friendship has greatly expanded our network. This is what will provide the best defense for the homeland and for our partners abroad,” McRaven said. And what does McRaven see resulting from the Global SOF Network, even though it will probably not be completed prior to his leaving command of SOCOM? McRaven likes to base his responses firmly on the realities at hand and within sight in the future. “In January 2012, the secretary of Defense issued his Defense Strategic Guidance and describes the joint force of the future as ‘agile, flexible, ready.’ SOF, by their nature, already meet the criteria, and thus will play an increasingly critical role in the joint force of the future,” McRaven said. “SOF are an integral part of the geographic combatant commanders’ strategy. As a sub-unified command under the GCC, the Theater Special Operations Commands [TSOCs] serve as their primary command and control node for special operations in theaters. Simply put, the


socom year in review TSOCs are the center of gravity for SOF in theater, and if we want to adequately address current and emerging challenges with a SOF solution, we need to increase their capability. “The goal is to increase the capacity and capabilities of the TSOCs and their assigned forces to the GCCs to conduct full spectrum special operations – ranging from building partner capacity to irregular warfare and counterterrorism. We aim to provide GCCs and COMs with improved special operations capacity and are aligning structures, processes, and authorities that enable the network.” While the Global SOF Network represents a “first draft” of what U.S. and allied SOF may look and operate like a decade from now, SOCOM has a real roadmap to follow. It now is up to the entire SOCOM community to try to make the Global SOF Initiative into reality.

Theater Special Operations Commands, those associated w ith reg ional special operations A Marine Special Operations Team member assists with security during components of Unified Combatant Commands, the construction of an Afghan Local Police checkpoint in Helmand have grown steadily in importance. TSOCs, these province, Afghanistan, March 30, 2013. Afghan Local Police complement counterinsurgency efforts by assisting and supporting rural areas with regional SOF headquarters, are rapidly becoming limited Afghan National Security Forces presence in order to enable significant centers of gravity and influence in the conditions for improved security, governance, and development. U.S. military. • Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) – Maj. Gen. Michael A. Repass, USA, continues to command SOCEUR. SOCEUR commands U.S. SOF forces that contribute to the NATO Alliance, and has a footprint that runs as far south as the Middle East and north to the Arctic Circle. • Special Operations Command Central Command (SOCCENT) – Based at MacDill AFB, SOCCENT plans special operations throughout CJTF-HOA is the largest and best-established SOF the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility (AOR) organization in the region. In 2012, command of and is commanded by Gen. Kenneth “Ken” Tovo, USA. CJTF-HOA passed from Rear Adm. Michael T. Franken, • Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) – Based USN, to Maj. Gen. Rob Baker, USAF. CJTF-HOA has been at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, SOCPAC is responsible for running operations ranging from anti-piracy to hunting special operations forces in the Pacific Command area al Qaeda affiliate leaders in East Africa and Nigeria. of operations. SOCPAC covers a vast territory; more than 40 percent of the Earth’s surface is in its AOR. It was commanded in 2012 by Maj. Gen. Norman J. Brozenick, DOWNRANGE: OUT WITH THE COMPONENT COMMANDS Jr., USAF. SOCOM and its components conducted a number of engage• Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) – Rear ments in the field with partner/allied nations, as is the case Adm. Thomas L. Brown II, USN, handed over command every year. These exercises and training events were run of SOCSOUTH to Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, USA, regularly, as much as real-world contingencies allowed. (a cousin of SOCOM Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. John Some of the exercises run in 2012 included: F. Mulholland), in October 2012. SOCSOUTH is respon• Operation Flintlock (Trans-Sahara) – AFRICOM’s sible for special operations forces and missions in the premier SOF exercise, Operation Flintlock provides SOUTHCOM AOR, which includes Latin America (with training for joint multinational forces to improve inforthe exception of Mexico) and the Caribbean. mation sharing at the operational and tactical levels • Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) across the Saharan region and development of improved – SOCAFRICA is the SOF component for U.S. Africa military-to-military collaboration and coordination. Command (AFRICOM), responsible for special opera• Operation Foal Eagle (Republic of Korea) – Foal Eagle tions forces and missions in the AFRICOM AOR. Rear is an annual large-scale exercise focused on rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, USN, is the commander. area security and stability operations, along with • Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) – onward movement of critical assets to the forward While not technically the SOF component of AFRICOM,


U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau





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socom year in review

area, special operations, ground maneuver, amphibious operations, combat air operations, and maritime action group operations. Fuerzas Commando (Latin America/Caribbean) – Fuerzas Commando is a military skills competition between top military, police, and SOF teams from across the Western Hemisphere. Security forces from 19 countries have taken part in Fuerzas Commando, promoting military-to-military relationships, increased interoperability, and improved regional security. Operation Jackal Stone (Europe) – Coordinated by SOCEUR, Jackal Stone is designed to give U.S. SOF units the capacity to exercise the capabilities of current and future partner nations and to promote interoperability between the participating forces. BUDGET AND THE SEQUESTER

The specter of the 2011 Budget Control Act has finally come into effect in early 2013 in the form of the political phenomenon known as “the Sequester.” The cuts mandated by sequestration have already hit the DoD hard, with major cutbacks in training and exercise activities, along


Rangers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and a multipurpose canine pause during a nighttime combat mission in Afghanistan.

with forced furloughs of civilian personnel. SOCOM saw the early effects of this when they had to cancel the 2013 edition of Fuerzas Commando (planned to be hosted this year in the United States). Virtually all outreach events to the civilian community have also been canceled, along with any training away from home bases not directly related to a pending deployment. How long this will last is impossible to say at present, as the budget deadlock in Washington, D.C., continues with no end in sight.

U.S. Army photo

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Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris U.S. Special Operations Command Senior Enlisted Adviser By John D. Gresham

Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) are the glue that holds together the American military, and at the very top of the NCO mountain are a rare and select group of men and women who have in front of their title the word “Command.” To be selected as a command NCO is to be told that you are among the most trustworthy and respected people in the U.S. military. At the top of America’s special operations forces (SOF), in an office not far from that of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Commander Adm. William H. McRaven, sits Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris. Faris probably never imagined when he enlisted in the Army decades ago that he would’ve had the career and life that brought him to the position of SOCOM command sergeant major. Army Ranger, Special Forces soldier, “operator” with the Army’s special mission unit of the

The Year in Special Operations: Can you please tell us a little about your background and what made you join the service? Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris: I was born in the great Peach State of Georgia, in Thomasville, but moved as an infant to Tallahassee, Fla. I consider myself to be a Floridian that was fortunate enough to take advantage of all that Florida has to offer in the way of its beautiful natural resources. I attended Leon High School and graduated from there in 1980. After waffling about for several years, I joined the Army in 1983 under a Ranger contract and entered one station unit training [OSUT] in January 1984 at Harmony Church, Fort Benning, Ga. Upon completion of OSUT and receiving my 11C MOS [Indirect Fire Infantryman Military Occupational Specialty], I attended airborne school and reported to 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. In 1988, I went to selection and was accepted to attend the Operator Training Course [OTC] for the Army’s


Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and now senior enlisted adviser to McRaven and Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, Jr., at SOCOM, Faris has guided generations of enlisted service members in their careers and worked with some of the finest officers in special operations. Over the past decade of extraordinary operations tempos, however, those serving in special operations forces have been under serious strain, including in their personal lives. Recognizing that the strains on his own family were echoed by the experiences of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines throughout the SOF community, Faris and his wife, Lisa, opened up about their own struggles in an attempt to help those with whose welfare he is entrusted. Faris recently took the time to answer a few questions put to him by John D. Gresham.

special mission unit. While attending OTC, I had a negligent discharge of my weapon and was asked to leave for 12 months and then return for a relook. During that time, I attended the Special Forces Qualification Course and upon graduation was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Ky. In 1990, I returned to the special mission unit, where I remained until September of 2008. While there I was a team leader, OTC instructor, troop sergeant major, unit operations sergeant major, squadron command sergeant major, and the command sergeant major of the unit. I left there and became the command sergeant major of the Joint Special Operations Command until September of 2011, when I was named the command sergeant major of U.S. Special Operations Command. What drew you toward an association with special operations forces, and what is it about the SOF lifestyle that is appealing to you? I joined the Army because it was what I was meant to do. I had always

wanted to be a soldier and as I learned more, I knew I was drawn to special operations. I came in under a Ranger contract because I knew my ultimate goal was to try out for the special mission unit. Due to the time in service prerequisites, I knew I wanted to spend my time in an elite organization such as the Rangers. Much of who I am today I owe to the tremendous experience of being in the Regiment. It was in this unit that I learned discipline and the basic tenets of special operations and the high standards required to be a part of an elite group of men and soldiers. What attracted you about being a noncommissioned officer? The No. 1 attraction for me of being an NCO is an ability to truly have a lasting impact on soldiers’ lives and careers. The NCO corps is where the rubber meets the road in terms of grooming leaders – both enlisted and commissioned officers – mission success, unit culture and effectiveness, and a myriad of other aspects. As I have risen in rank and position

U.S. Army photo

this has remained true. The nature of the focus may change over time, but an NCO’s continuity and contact with the force remains the cornerstone to any organization’s success, and this is especially true in special operations, where the NCO is the majority of the force structure. One feature of the American military, and really all great military services across the globe, is the strength of its NCOs, sometimes described as “the glue that holds a great military together.” What are your thoughts on this, and how do you feel about the current quality of the NCOs that you see throughout America’s military today? It is said that the NCO corps is the backbone of the military or the glue that holds our military together, and this is quite true. After a decade-plus of combat, our NCO corps is stronger and more experienced than ever. Never in the history of our military has the NCO ever been more empowered and given such broad authority. If one examines why, I think you can find it in the nature of this conflict. This war has been dominated by small unit tactics – executing a counterinsurgency in two nations which are culturally diverse and complex against an asymmetric threat driven by similar yet divergent motivations. This dynamic operational environment has forced the NCO to take on more as our commanders are geographically dispersed and fighting mini-campaigns within a broader operational and strategic campaign. These mini-campaigns have been forced by dynamics such as culture, local politics, tribalism, religion, education, etc., and also by geography in the case of Afghanistan. In order to accomplish that, commanders have had to delegate their command authority as never before. As with anything, there is a second order effect that is not necessarily wholly positive. I fear that NCOs are gaining a sense of entitlement or expectation that comes with this delegation of command authority. Concurrently I am concerned that our junior officers are becoming so accustomed to the new dynamic that they are forgetting that it is their command authority that empowers the NCO. It is something that needs to be watched, and leaders need to ensure that this dynamic does not get out of balance. This will be especially true as we implement the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s vision

of Mission Command and also, for SOCOM, as we transition from combat operations to building partner-nation capacity around the globe. Where were you when you were asked to come down to SOCOM to become the senior enlisted adviser? I was at JSOC with Adm. McRaven when he was nominated for command of USSOCOM. He asked me then to come with him to Tampa and I readily agreed. He is a tremendous commander, officer, leader, and man. My respect for him and his abilities runs very deep and I would follow him anywhere. It was a no-brainer. It does not take more than a few minutes of walking around any U.S. military facility serving the SOF community to realize the numbers and importance of NCOs to SOCOM especially. As one of them yourself, can you give our readers some sense of how you view the quality

of your NCOs and their value to the command? I can’t say enough about the quality of our SOF NCOs. They are specially selected and highly trained to accomplish each component’s assig ned mission. It is so humbling to be amongst such an incredibly motivated and skilled force. In special operations, we talk all the time about how we conduct tactical operations that have a strategic effect, and this is true. However, for most of the American public, these operations are the highly publicized and visible direct action and hostage rescue operations. Those actually are such a small part of what SOCOM accomplishes every day. Don’t get me wrong, they are a core mission of SOF and they are exactly the capability our national leadership and public expect of SOF, but the unheralded work of our force building partner-nation capacity is truly strategic.


interview One only has to examine the long years spent implementing Plan Colombia or our work in the Philippines to see the true nature of SOF and its ability to achieve national objectives as well as empower our partners’ capability to handle their own security and sovereignty issues. SOF is a key component to the whole-of-government approaches as seen in these two cases. Looking at Plan Colombia – a campaign developed in concert with the interagency and approved by the Department of State – in a decade we were able to empower Colombia to essentially defeat the FARC [translated as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and bring down internal transnational criminal organizations [TCOs]. As such, Colombia is experiencing an unprecedented period of stability and prosperity. Colombia, of its own initiative, is a contributor to peacekeeping operations around the globe, and is assisting its regional neighbors in their efforts to combat TCOs. In the Philippines, a decade of SOF support, training, and advising along with efforts by the interagency have brought renewed stability and prosperity to the southern area of Mindanao. Yes, there is still work to be done, but these types of efforts are enduring as local populations develop local solutions. In both cases, this is long grueling work by our Special Forces Operat iona l Detach ment Alphas, Naval Special Warfare SEAL platoons, Marine Special Operations Teams, Civil Affairs and Military In formation Support Operations, Army and Air Force aviation, and all of those who support them. There is no immediate gratification or results, but our men and women remain focused and dedicated because they know the potential outcomes of these campaigns are strategic. At the heart of all of this effort lies our NCO corps. Without their drive, experience, and continuity, none of this could be achieved. This is why the philosophy of “SOF for Life” is so key. If one truly takes the time to understand what so few have accomplished around the globe, then, and only then, can you truly appreciate the quality of our NCOs. As SOCOM’s senior enlisted adviser, you help act as McRaven’s eyes and ears with respect to the enlisted personnel of the command. How do you personally stay in touch with them, and how are they holding up?


The force is tired and the force is frayed, but it remains capable and ready. We are at an interesting point in SOCOM’s history as we balance the reset of the force while entering the 13th year of war and maintaining mission accomplishment. A balance must be struck, though, and I am confident that leaders at all levels understand this, but it does not mean that the work is over. In fact, it has just begun truly in earnest. As we see a rise in suicides and disciplinary incidents involving substance abuse, we can’t just view this as a simple lack of discipline or professionalism in the force. We have to truly understand the toll the war has and is taking on our force and families. I can’t emphasize the fam ilies enough, either. They have paid as heavy or perhaps a heavier price as our service members supporting them. For too long we have not appreciated the burden of worry and fear coupled with the responsibilities of raising children as single spouses. We have come a long way in removing the stigmas associated with admitting that we are not superhuman but simply human. As such, we are all affected by the duration of this conflict and the unprecedented personnel tempo this has created. I am on the road constantly to every location that SOF occupies. I have so far made a total of 38 trips totaling a cumulative 6.5 months on the road during my first 17 months of this assignment. I have discussions with both the force and the families. Being at the units and talking to troops and their families at all echelons is the key to getting an accurate and holistic view of the command. One can’t sit in Tampa and truly believe that you can either know or judge what is going on. You have to hear it from them. More importantly, the force has to see that you are listening and you are taking action to correct issues that affect our readiness. The Pressure on the Force and Families Tiger Team (POTFF) was created by McRaven’s predecessor

at SOCOM, Adm. Eric Olson, to take a continuing look at the status of SOCOM’s personnel and their families. What have you been learning from the POTFF, and what sorts of conclusions have you been drawing from their reports? Adm. Olson was correctly concerned about the health of the force and the impacts of the war and the high PERSTEMPO [personnel tempo], and formed the Pressure on the Force and Families Tiger Team to travel throughout the command and talk with them. Their final report landed on Adm. McRaven’s desk as he assumed command. Adm. McRaven then transformed that entity into what is today the Preservation of the Force and Families Task Force. The task force implements the requirements of the various components of SOCOM to meet the readiness requirements of the force and families as it pertains to their mental, spiritual, and physical health. Each component ha s a POTFF representative that interacts w ith the task force here in Tampa. As the requirements are articulated, the SOCOM POTFF acts as the action officers to coordinate with the SOCOM staff, the commander and myself, to either get approval of initiatives or coord i nate t he resou rci ng of approved initiatives. Key tenets of the POTFF that I think are making it successful are, first, that Adm. McRaven directed that we would not study issues ad nauseam. We will waste time trying to objectify subjective issues. Second, the POTFF is not directive in nature. It is foolish to think that a POTFF program created in Tampa could be a one-size-fits-all solution. Each component and its subelements are too unique in missions and culture for that to work, and they must be creative in their solutions to get after their challenges. This applies down to the 0-6 command level. Last is the emphasis on communication and providing direct lines into all levels of the chain of command.

“We are at an interesting point in SOCOM’s history as we balance the reset of the force while entering the 13th year of war and maintaining mission accomplishment.”

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interview As I stated earlier, I am seeing a huge sea change across the force in terms of acknowledgment and recognition of the issues. This is the key. Without that, all the programs in the world will not prove effective. It was interesting as Adm. McRaven and I first came into SOCOM and we visited the units and rolled out POTFF how often we were challenged that “we hear you talking the talk but are you going to walk the walk?” Seventeen months later, the force does see that we are walking the walk and that we are serious and they are as well. While we are a long way from resetting the force, and I think as we draw down our combat operations we have yet to see the toughest times, POTFF and the commander’s emphasis are certainly setting the foundation for a healthy and more resilient force. What is SOCOM’s Care Coalition, and what does it do for the personnel of the command? What is your personal commitment to the Care Coalition, and what does your day-today involvement within the Coalition look like? The Care Coalition is an advocacy organization that works by, with, and through both governmental organizations such as the departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs and nongovernmental organizations on behalf of all of SOF’s wounded, ill, and injured members and their families. The advocacy is for life and supports them wh i le sti l l on active duty, through transition, and in retirement. The founding of the Care Coalition by then-SOCOM Commander Gen. [Bryan] Doug Brown was truly visionary and has had a tremendously impactful and tangible effect on the mantra, “SOF for Life.” The Care Coalition is organically comprised of a network of liaison officers at the major military treatment facilities who are involved in the medical evacuation of our wounded at Bagram, Afghanistan; Landstuhl, Germany; Walter Reed; and San Antonio Military Medical Center, and coordinators who are responsible for specific geographic regions of the country. There is also a staff located in Tampa. I can’t praise enough all of the hard work the coalition does. None of it would be possible, however, without the great outpouring of private charitable support that is so often provided


to fill the gaps in need. The tremendous outpouring of support from the American people is truly amazing. Day to day I do not necessarily work with the Coalition, but that in no way should be construed as a lack of endorsement or support for what they do. I am absolutely committed to the cause, and as I travel I endorse them, meet individuals who need them, and get them connected and talk about what they do at every opportunity. Too often our service members and families think the Coalition only supports our wounded. We are working hard to get them to understand that it is more than that. The Coalition is there for our ill and injured as well. The network that the Coalition has built over the years is truly amazing, and I do not think there is a problem they can’t solve. We just need to get them involved. In addition to your own efforts as the command’s senior enlisted adviser, it’s not hard to see the efforts of your wife, Lisa, as your partner working hard on behalf of personnel and families of SOCOM. If you do not mind, can you talk a little about what she has done for both you and your personnel as you have taken on the task as the command’s command sergeant major? Lisa is the greatest partner I could have ever imagined. While we have been through some pretty try ing times in our 22-year marriage, I could not do what I am doing without her. She is so strong, so loving, and so caring that words often fail me. Lisa keeps me grounded and focused and reminds me to always balance duty with family. For me personally, she is my lifeline and I can’t imagine her not being in my life and an integral part of my world. Her caring for the force and the families is genuine because of what she has experienced, lived through, and survived. This is why she is so passionate about our POTFF initiatives. Her credibility with the spouses

of the force comes from that passion and from the shared experiences in the home after a decade-plus of war. Her willingness to be up front and honest about her life is a direct result of her commitment that helping just one family is worth any cost. It’s hard to imagine a better job for any U.S. NCO than to be the command sergeant major for a warfighting command like SOCOM. Looking at it now, what do you see as you work from the top of the NCO mountain? I see a force that is tired and frayed yet remains dedicated to the profession and to the missions we do. I see a force that needs a reset, and as we draw down our commitment in Afghanistan, this is beginning to happen. I see a force that after so much time of deploy, redeploy, refit, train up, and deploy being the constant cycle of their lives is beginning to experience the real issues of reintegration. These are the challenges. With these challenges, though, I see our service members, civilians, and their families stepping up to confront each head on. The first step is recognition, and our POTFF efforts have created that. With recognition comes solutions, and I am very impressed with the aggressive attitude of leaders at all levels and within the families who are coming up with innovative solutions to balance the mission and family. There may be a hard road ahead, but we will emerge a stronger and more resilient force. To be their senior enlisted leader is truly an honor and a humbling experience. I see the dedication to this nation and its requirements for SOF at no less an effort than it was in 2001. We are fighting hard, but we are now fighting smarter as well. I am inspired by our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians, and families each and every time I am among them. Words will never be able to convey what I feel for this command and what they do on behalf of our nation.

“I see a force that is tired and frayed yet remains dedicated to the profession and to the missions we do. I see a force that needs a reset, and as we draw down our commitment in Afghanistan, this is beginning to happen.”

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. John Bainter

AFSOC year in review


AFSOC year in review

AFSOC Year in Review Missions galore and plans for a greater future By Maj. Gen. Richard Comer, USAF (RET.)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Ian Nims, a loadmaster with 4th Special Operations Squadron, stands in front of an AC-130U Spooky gunship for an engine start check on the flight line on Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 14, 2013.


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AFSOC year in review Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has maintained numerous deployments to combat zones, worked numerous issues to modernize its fleet of aircraft, trained its people in new aircraft and tactics, taken care of its wounded, accentuated programs for its families, and, overall, had what its commander would call a “normal” year in the post-9/11 era. The command has had a full share of celebrations, with unit homecomings and awards ceremonies, but has seen them balanced against a couple of aircraft losses and, worst of all, some combat losses of people who were serving their county in dangerous places. AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel said that AFSOC’s priorities conform to U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM), in that current missions come first, as they must when the country is fighting a war against a globally dispersed network of extremists. Second comes the expansion of the Global Special Operations Forces (SOF) Network, and next, tending to the welfare of the people, including active duty, Department of Defense civilians, and their families. Closely related, the fourth priority is providing proper resources in equipment and installations, involving the tools the people use to do their jobs and the places where they work and where they and their families live. This fourth priority constitutes major force laydowns to move greater capability forward to be more responsive to anticipated mission requirements, future expansion of overseas units, major acquisitions of aircraft, and significant changes in the lives of AFSOC’s people. As such, this fourth priority constitutes a major effort to prepare the command for the future and to prepare its people for the changes ahead. The Current Fight: Simultaneous Pullback and Advance The year 2012 began with the last AFSOC aircraft in Iraq, an AC-130H of the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), leaving on Jan. 10, ending AFSOC efforts in that country, which at one time had more than 60 percent of the entire command’s assets committed. The H-model squadron was able to go home in its entirety for the first time since a brief period in 2003. Except for those four months, at least a third of the squadron remained deployed from September 2001 until December 2011. Indeed, during times of surge for combat in either Afghanistan or Iraq, the squadron deployed at 100 percent of aircraft and 90 percent of personnel. The chance for the squadron to be home and to fully re-fit itself also occurred at a relatively new home as the 16th SOS had moved from Hurlburt Field, Fla., to Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), N.M., in 2008. The 16th SOS gunships amassed 24,366 combat flight hours contributing to 4,640 enemy killed in action and 5,018 high-value individuals captured. Meanwhile, the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and the 27th SOW at Cannon AFB maintained their status as the first and second most deployed bases in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). Some of the personnel at these bases belong to another AFSOC wing that is brand new – the 24th Special Operations Wing, activated on June 12, 2012, to provide leadership and to organize, train, and equip all Special Tactics (ST) units in AFSOC. These three wings of AFSOC are continuously deployed, replacing people and aircraft on a rotational basis. They cannot trade out with other wings as the

conventional forces do. There is no time, therefore, when they are not deployed to combat. According to Col. Jim Slife, commander of the 1st SOW, the two squadrons flying the U-28A aircraft – the 319th SOS and the 34th SOS, both at Hurlburt – win the prize as the most deployed flying squadrons and most deployed aircraft in AFSOC during 2012. The deployments of these manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft testify to the needs of that capability in every theater. These small, single-engine aircraft are in use in all combat zones assisting U.S. troops and in several noncombat locations to assist U.S. forces and partner nations in the fight against extremist groups across the Middle East, across Africa, and in the Pacific. The U-28As also sustained the largest single loss in AFSOC in 2012 when one of the aircraft crashed near Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti on Feb. 18. Four crew members died in the accident, which did not involve any enemy fire. The squadrons mourned the loss while continuing unbroken the deployed operations at all U-28A locations. Also seeing more movement into new and different theaters, the 27th SOW at Cannon deployed AFSOC’s newest aircraft, the PC-12, the C-145 (M-28 Skytruck), and the C-146A (Dornier Do-328), to every theater, supporting combat and noncombat operations. In fact, the return home of the C-145s from their first combat deployment to Afghanistan was followed by short-notice deployment to Africa. The C-146s deployed to the Middle East and to Africa within weeks of aircraft delivery. The demand for these aircraft is overwhelming as soon as the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs) learn about the responsive and durable mobility support they can provide. The 27th SOW created a newly deployable unit as well, in the 3rd SOS, which flies unmanned vehicles. Units flying the MQ-1 Predator usually fly them remotely from operations centers in the United States. Sensing a need to have the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) crews fully informed and involved in some SOF missions, the 27th SOW has built the first and only deployable alert package, ready to deploy within hours of notification, to provide RPA support worldwide and to co-locate with the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) or CJSOTF Headquarters. The wing was able to say that the package did deploy on a time-critical basis in 2012 and that it was successful, but no other details could be divulged. The aforementioned relief of the 16th SOS was enabled by an overall increase in the numbers of gunships available as the AC-130W Stinger IIs provided persistent fire support with lethal and precision weapons. The rapid development of the W-model gunship and its movement into combat, even while testing of additions to its weapons suite continued at Cannon, has proved AFSOC’s responsiveness to the needs of combat. The ability of the W-models to fly higher and to provide daytime support has allowed for tactical support of village/tribal engagement operations. The additional benefit of W-model development is the carryover into the coming development of the AC-130J Ghostrider as the future AFSOC gunship. Related to the gunship story is the growth of AFSOC in numbers of aircraft and in numbers of people over the past four years, which has enabled a significant change in how the command deploys its capability. Squadrons now can rotate in total and not in part. Before, the gunship


AFSOC year in review

squadrons deployed flights of three or four aircraft, and rotated other flights to maintain the capability forward. Now, one squadron takes the entire load for a deployment period, then comes home. This is true with the MC-130P Combat Shadows and the MC-130H Combat Talon IIs as well. The change enables an overall compliance with the Joint Operations and Readiness Training (JORTS) cycle of other components of U.S. SOCOM. The predictable nature of the cycle allows for enhancements of training and even of family activity, according to Slife. Probably, the AFSOC wing most closely associated with surface forces is the 24th Special Operations Wing, made up of the battlefield airmen – combat controllers, pararescuemen, combat weathermen, and joint tactical air controllers. All deployments of special operations forces benefit from the inclusion of Special Tactics/battlefield airmen as part of the force mix. The year’s summary of operations provided by the 24th SOW shows that 60 percent of its people deployed to combat during the year: The ST total force of approximately 1,900 Airmen is comprised of Special Tactics Officers, Combat Controllers, Combat Rescue Officers, Pararescuemen, Combat Weather Officers, Special Operations Weather Technicians, Air Liaison Officers, Tactical Air Control Party operators and a number of combat support specialties. … The 24 SOW was globally engaged in 2012 conducting operations in 75 locations around the world supporting 11 joint task forces. Over 1,100 24 SOW personnel were deployed in support of combat operations and, on average, 24 SOW operators and support personnel conducted 35 combat missions daily. Providing an example of the actions of Special Tactics airmen, the AFSOC History Office provided record of an AFSOC ceremony held on April 12, 2012, to award Capt. Barry Crawford Jr., a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC), the Air Force Cross for heroism. “Capt. Crawford controlled airspace above a 10 hour battle opposing over 100 insurgents,” according to the History Office. “He called in numerous air strikes, controlled several different aircraft types, helped move his comrades out of an ambush kill zone, and saved the lives of his task force team made up of Army Special Forces and Afghan Command Team.” Indeed,


Crawford’s story is one among many in the 24th SOW, the most decorated wing in the USAF, with 97 of those awards being Purple Hearts, 17 of which were posthumously awarded. AFSOC’s Special Operations Groups (SOGs) permanently assigned overseas, the 352nd SOG at Mildenhall, England, and the 353rd SOG at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, contributed to their part of the fight by augmenting the deployments to the Middle East with aircrew and support personnel throughout the year. They do this while maintaining continuous support to SOF missions in their own theaters. The 352nd SOG completed the first-ever combined unit inspection (CUI), conducted by the AFSOC inspector general, and earned a rating of “Excellent.” Of particular note, the European theater has lacked any organic vertical lift SOF assets for years. The 352nd anticipates the assignment of CV-22 Osprey aircraft to the group in 2013, which will be a tremendous positive change in organic capability available to both Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) and Special Operations Command Africa. The 7th SOS modified its aircraft to perform air refueling and qualified its crews for that mission during 2012 and will be ready to welcome the scheduled arrival of the CV-22, coincident in timing with the SOF Industry Conference in May. The 353rd SOG received two significant awards in 2012. The Secretary of the Air Force awarded the group the Meritorious Unit Award for maintaining a continuous combat presence in Afghanistan and the Philippines between Oct. 1, 2010, and Sept. 10, 2012, while also carrying out Operation Tomodachi, the relief operation following the tsunami in Japan conducted in 2011. The group was the first to open and operate airfields, bringing in the first relief airlift operations for much of the devastated area. With its nine MC-130H/P aircraft, the group accomplishes great things, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines and exercise training throughout the Pacific. Recognizing the amazing reach of the 353rd with its small fleet, the USAF awarded the 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron the Maintenance Effectiveness Award for 2011. Expand the Global SOF Network The numbers and sustainability of AFSOC airmen employed in the mission of advising and assisting foreign air forces has

U.S. Air Force photo by Steven Leija

Left: An MC-130J Commando II and a CV-22 Osprey perform a flyover at the Texas Tech University stadium in Lubbock, Texas, Nov. 9, 2012. Opposite: An AC-130W Stinger II fires its weapon over Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Jan. 10, 2013. The ability of the AC-130W to fly higher and provide more distant support has enabled it to support daytime operations.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom

AFSOC year in review

grown over the past five years since SOCOM altered previous skepticism about this mission. Projected growth of the 6th Special Operations Squadron, the only AFSOC unit with the specific mission of training and employing aviation advisers, from 110 to 300 and finally to 600 people has increased its capability but has set goals that have been difficult to meet. Finding, training, and retaining that number of active-duty airmen and providing them career paths that will allow them to remain in the mission of building partner capacity would require a population of qualified people considerably larger than the desired strength of 600 people. Consider also that the entry-level requirement for aviation advisers calls for already-experienced special operators who are older, and the sustainment of such numbers becomes even more problematic – if that population is on active duty. In 2012, AFSOC made a major change to deal with these realities of long-term commitments of people to the aviation adviser career field by associating the AF Reserve Wing at Duke Field, Fla., the 919th Special Operations Wing, with a primary mission of Aviation, Foreign Internal Defense (AvFID). As explained by Maj. Gen. George F. Williams, AFSOC mobilization assistant to the commader, career reservists assigned to AvFID can develop very long-term language skills, cultural knowledge, and habitual relationships with foreign partner air forces and personnel. As reservists do not move or have to change aircraft or missions over their 20-plus-year career, the vision is that relationships and training of foreign airmen will see the building of relationships with the eventual leaders of their respective services. These relationships can show benefits in providing training and influencing foreign militaries in

opposing common foes such as terrorist networks, and in gaining basing and operations permissions for U.S. forces in time of crisis. Williams further explained that significant additional benefits accrue from AFSOC’s decision to associate a Reserve wing with AvFID by including the base services and support functions. Hence, base airfield operations, air traffic control, air component command and control, air operations management, base civil engineers, security police forces, food services, supply, and even billeting personnel can be part of the AvFID mission, providing expertise in all home base and deployed support functions. With its new association with the 919th Reserve SOW, the 6th SOS also received orders to move from Hurlburt to Duke Field, where it will live and work together with other AvFID units. As the 919th divests itself of legacy aircraft like the MC-130E Combat Talon I, it will receive a new aircraft, the C-145 Skytruck, that will now have AvFID as its primary mission, teaching other air forces about airlift operations in austere and bare-base environments. AFSOC plans to use the C-145s as multirole aircraft in the future as well, perhaps even providing instruction in gunship operations to selected partner nations. Also of note in 2012, AFSOC and the 6th SOS were ordered to cease AvFID operations in helicopters. The last helicopters in AFSOC were therefore retired to the USAF’s boneyard, and the mission of building partner capacity in helicopters transferred completely to the U.S. Army. As a final effort, the 352nd SOG, supported by aviation advisers of the 6th SOS, achieved a milestone in Europe, which has had no organic U.S. SOF helicopters since 2007.


AFSOC year in review

The most deployed wings, groups, and squadrons in the USAF are all in AFSOC; therefore, the most active and dynamic support programs for its people and for their families are also in AFSOC. Gone are the days when such programs garnered only lip service and an occasional spouse open house or spouse flight. The wings, squadrons, AFSOC command group, and even the retiree community prove commitment to the individuals and the families who are doing the mission. It starts at the top and it also starts at the bottom. AFSOC has increased positions at the squadron level for chaplains, psychologists, and counselors to be present and available for those who need support – both serving personnel and family. AFSOC’s three wings highlight their programs by starting with spouse support that no longer depends on the shadow rank of the spouses but now identifies “key spouses” who have volunteered time to organize and work to support their unit’s spouses. The key spouses learn what resources are available at their respective wings’ and bases’ Family Support Centers at Hurlburt and Cannon, and ensure their spouse groups are informed and using what is available in the form of video calls, information about deployed conditions, and immediate communications in case of family emergencies. The spouse organizations are likewise informed and taught how to connect families to counseling available to spouses and children of those deployed.


Base programs are also put to good use, as Hurlburt’s 1st SOW and Cannon’s 27th SOW have held open houses to acquaint the local communities with wing missions, aircraft, and people. Both bases get excellent community support, with community leaders welcoming spouses of deployed members with discounts and with community-sponsored dinners. Spouses have also been invited to spousal flights on respective wing aircraft to see some of the working environment of their uniformed family members. The understanding that, in actuality, families perform the mission is clear in AFSOC at every level. Special mentions should be made of the support given to one of several AFSOC members and their families in 2012 by the Air Commando Association (ACA), a private organization made up of AFSOC retirees and active-duty veterans. When one of the Hurlburt Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) troops was badly wounded in action, the USAF provided transportation to his pregnant wife to meet him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The triple amputee and his wife were surprised a few days later when five of her friends arrived to celebrate the previously planned baby shower on the scheduled day in their room at Walter Reed, courtesy of the ACA. Also, the ACA provided medical treatment for an airman at Cannon

U.S. Air Force photo

Taking Care of People and Families, Preservation of the Force and Families

TOP LEFT: A special operations weather team (SOWT) member collects weather data using specialized equipment. SOWTs can deploy to austere locations, where there is no weather data available, and provide it back to special operations forces. ABOVE: A U.S. Air Force service member is given feedback during an exercise scenario at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Nov. 8, 2012. Special operations forces utilize the range’s rough terrain and unique layout to conduct realistic training.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal

At Exercise Jackal Stone 2012, the group integrated Croatian and Slovakian Mi-17 helicopters that conducted their firstever NVG heliborne assault operation during the exercise. The inter-operation of several NATO countries forces on the ground and in the air support operations, while the 352nd provided the preponderance of effort to create a Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component (CJSOAC) staff, accomplished several goals of the exercise in creating what SOCOM has called the Global SOF Network. When noting AFSOC’s posture and performance in building partner-nation capability, it must be remembered that one of AFSOC’s airmen gave his life performing this mission in 2012. Lt. Col. John D. Loftis was killed Feb. 25, 2012, in Kabul, Afghanistan, by an insider attack. Loftis spoke Pashtu and knew Afghan culture. He devoted himself to helping that country build its future after Taliban rule. His sacrifice is hereby remembered and honored.

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when the desired treatment was denied by TRICARE®. The ACA has also provided transportation support for family members who come to assist their military relatives who are making permanent change of station moves when the family’s military member is wounded or deceased. The ACA is truly staying aware of needs as they arise and reacting in a strong spirit of community with the special operations airmen of today. The Future of AFSOC, Planning AFSOC Force Posture/ Responsive Resourcing Fiel has directed AFSOC’s planning to align with the SOCOM commander’s intent concerning the future posturing of forces to facilitate a Global Special Operations Forces Network comprising of U.S. SOF with partner and allied nations. These plans comply with the “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations,” published in September 2012, which calls for a “globally postured joint force to quickly combine capabilities with itself and mission partners across domains, echelons, geographic boundaries, and organizational affiliations. These networks of forces and partners will form, evolve, dissolve, and reform in different arrangements in time and space with significantly greater fluidity than today’s joint force.” AFSOC plans to station more aircraft and people overseas, apportioned and immediately available to the TSOCs of Europe, the Pacific, and Africa. The 352nd SOG in Europe will be first to receive new aircraft, and Group Commander Col. Christopher Ireland said that Her Majesty’s Government announced approval for the arrival of permanently stationed CV-22s in 2013. Additionally, the 352nd is planning to grow from approximately 750 personnel to more than 1,100. In


addition to the new CV-22 squadron, there will be additional C-130s, increased numbers of ST airmen, and required support personnel. Aircraft, organic to the TSOCs, prove to be a primary enabler for mission performance on a time-critical basis, and Fiel is determined to provide mobility assets that will include vertical-lift capability. Fiel explained that the overseas groups have traditionally been the nucleus of overseas deployments, with barely enough aircraft and people to get things started in a crisis, but with not enough to support large or long-term sustained operations. His intent is that the overseas groups will have enough aircraft to support fully the operations their TSOCs may be tasked to perform, without having to await deployment orders from the Pentagon or airlift priorities to position augmenting stateside forces. AFSOC planners also have produced options of placing the complete spectrum of its inventory of aircraft into the overseas groups. In fact, the offer to do so has gone to U.S. SOCOM and has garnered support from the superior command. Approval to place such aircraft as AC-130 gunships, U-28 manned ISR aircraft, smaller mobility aircraft, such as the C-146A (Dornier 328), and the AvFID C-145s will be problematic for the countries of the possible beddown of the aircraft. Fiel explained that he fully expects stationing of all the aircraft overseas will be approved in the United States, but the gunships may not be approved by the prospective host nations. He said the proposal may be approved eventually, but the overseas groups may not have all of their assets located at the same base, or even in the same country. “All of this will take a while to sort out,” he said. “We don’t have a beddown location for the CV-22 in the Pacific yet, and the rest of it will come even later.”

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nigel Sandridge

AFSOC year in review

AFSOC year in review

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexxis Pons Abascal

opposite: The aircrew of a UH-1N Iroquois prepares for a sharp tactical maneuver over a forest in southern Alabama, Sept. 19, 2012. The UH-1N belongs to the 6th Special Operations Squadron. AFSOC lost the last of its helicopters in 2012. LEFT: U.S. Air Force aircrew members with the 318th Special Operations Squadron prepare to board the last C-145As for the final local flight off the flight line at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., March 28, 2013. The squadron’s C-145A aircraft will continue their mission under the vision and leadership of the 6th Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field, Fla.

Asked about AFSOC’s inventory and acquisitions, Brig. Gen. Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, AFSOC director of Plans, Programs, Requirements, and Assessments, Headquarters, A-5, detailed the numbers of aircraft procured as of the end of 2012. AFSOC has 10 of 10 programmed PC-12s; 10 of 16 programmed C-145s; and 12 of 17 C-146s. Of the programmed MC-130Js, 13 of 57 are delivered; of the programmed 37 AC-130Js, only one is delivered (which will be the developmental prototype). Webb stated also that the budgetary turmoil in Washington and in the Pentagon budget will, no doubt, affect the production numbers in the future of aircraft procurements. It could take up to 10 years to acquire all of the programmed planes, but he also anticipates that the support for AFSOC’s program will hold together, and AFSOC will get the aircraft in the plan. Fiel makes the argument that the program is also extremely cost effective for the Pentagon and for the country. When all of the C-130s in AFSOC are based on the same C-130J airframe, the amount of cargo aircraft needed to support deployment to crisis locations will shrink significantly, as will the time needed to position forces, so he believes the program will be supported to completion. The Future of AFSOC Is a Future of People in Service AFSOC’s planned posture, if fully approved and executed, would mean that almost half of the command’s people and aircraft would be stationed overseas. Also, half of the command that will be stationed in the United States will be placed at Cannon, acknowledged by all as an austere location itself. When questioned about personnel retention,

given that posture of AFSOC assets, Webb admitted that leadership will have to work to keep the people involved in their mission and convince them to stay for long-term careers. Noting that AFSOC people have spent much of their time in pretty austere places and apart from their families, he did not think the planned laydown of bases would be a big problem. He also stated that the probability that this plan will be fully approved by the prospective overseas partner nations is presently unknown. Approval of it all is far from a sure thing, he said, and it will be many years into the future before the potential problem can be fully manifested, giving AFSOC people plenty of time to adjust. In short, he did not see much difficulty ahead. Fiel gave a slightly different view. AFSOC airmen are devoted to their missions. As they are deployed less to combat than in the recent past, he said, that presents the retention problem, if any. Having AFSOC adjust to most of its operations being peacetime training, exercises, and developing integrated operations with partner nations – preparing for future conflict rather than fighting current conflicts – will be the challenge for leadership in the near-term future. Over the past 12 years, the command has been totally engaged in wars and active combat, and most of the people in AFSOC joined up with expectations of that type of life and service in mind. Adjusting to the indirect mission of the long-term building of the Global SOF Network, a training environment, and occasional – not continuous – combat will challenge AFSOC’s airmen to achieve new and different things in the future. There will be some who leave, but the vast majority are devoted to their adjusting missions and will remain so. No problem.


MARSOC Year in Review Still growing, but no longer new 42

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau

A Marine Special Operations Team marsoc year in review member fires an AK-47 during night-fire sustainment training in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 28, 2013. Marine Special Operations Team members are deployed in Helmand province to train and mentor Afghan National Security Forces.

marsoc year in review

By J.R. Wilson

As the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) celebrated its seventh anniversary in February 2013, MARSOC’s fourth commander, Maj. Gen. Mark A. “Droopy” Clark, the first aviator to head the Corps’ special operations forces (SOF), told his operators they are no longer a “new” command.


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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas W. Provost

“We are a young organization. We are still growing, but we are no longer new,” he said. “We are accepted and respected in the special operations community. Our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere over the past 12 months have demonstrated our maturation as a command and have proved our value.” During that period, MARSOC Marines and sailors received 135 valor medals, 112 combat action ribbons, and 25 purple hearts. The command also continued its leadership role with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) special operations task forces (SOTFs), an evolution within the joint force that Marine leaders have seen as proof of MARSOC’s growing capabilities. For most of 2012, the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion (MSOB) commanded SOTF-West: Marines, Army Green Berets, and Navy SEALs responsible for Badghis, Helmand, Nimroz, Farah, Herat, and Ghor provinces – a 100,000-square-mile area incorporating some of Afghanistan’s bloodiest regions. During that time, they became the first SOTF to effectively transition an entire province – Badghis – to the control of the Afghan government. SOTF-West also spearheaded the incursion of more than 14,000 SOF, conventional, U.S., and international forces into Helmand’s upper Gereshk Valley, another extremely violent region that had been relatively untouched by coalition forces. As a result, three new coalition sites were established in what had been an insurgent stronghold, enabling special operators to extend their Village Stability Operations (VSO) mission to train local Afghan defense forces in the area. VSO and advanced operating bases, where special operators embed themselves in villages and bring together local leaders – often age-old enemies – to work on common goals and defenses, are key to preparing Afghanistan for a future without U.S. and coalition forces. Creating a new local structure

A Marine with Individual Training Course (ITC), Marine Special Operations School, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, patrols during Exercise Raider Spirit aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 6, 2010. Exercise Raider Spirit is an event that combines the training the ITC students have completed to that point.

in which even those historically hostile to each other work together then provides a framework for cooperation with Afghan regional and national government efforts, something never before seen in Afghanistan. “One of our core strengths has been to build a highly effective integrated C2 [command and control] capability to exercise networked command and control from the SOTF to the company to the team level across a vast area, including C2 of other SOF component units under its control,” Clark told The Year in Special Operations. “Our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere over the past 18 months have demonstrated our unique capabilities in this area, providing great utility to the SOJTF [special operations joint task force] commander. Not only has this proven a great asset in the current fight in Afghanistan but will certainly prove its value in other expansive areas, such as Africa and the Pacific.” While continuing to focus on ensuring MARSOC forces deploying to Afghanistan and elsewhere are well trained and prepared, work also has continued to enhance the enabling support SOF core teams and companies receive from the command and big Corps. “This has proven instrumental in ensuring a tightly knit, effective combat unit before deploying,” Clark added. “Deploying a unit fully enabled with intelligence, logistics, EOD [explosive ordnance disposal], etc., is one of the distinguishing attributes of MARSOC.


marsoc year in review


Marines with the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, rappel from a CH-47 helicopter onto the deck of a mock cargo ship during visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) training with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment near Camp Pendleton, Calif. VBSS, which consists of maritime vessel boarding and searching, is used to combat smuggling, drug trafficking, terrorism, and piracy.

As they continued to work, train, educate, and fight alongside their sister SOCOM service components and with partner forces across the globe, Clark added that they have been able to learn from each other, sharing ideas to not only make each organization better, but to provide a better commonality in the operational environment. “The environment outside Afghanistan has found MARSOC doing missions focusing on partner-nation training, assisting in counter-narcoterrorism efforts, and providing other subjectmatter expert guidance. MARSOC will continue to look out ahead of the current operational commitments, working with SOCOM and the TSOCs [Theater Special Operations Commands] to anticipate where SOF will be needed, how to best posture SOF to be able to respond quickly to crises, and providing the important aspect of SOF in persistent engagement in the right areas of the globe,” Clark said. “MARSOC will also step up its efforts in developing our amphibious capability and committing to interoperability exercises that leverage our MARSOF/MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] maritime capabilities. Efforts such

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally

“To help with the enabling support, MARSOC established three new battalions as part of its ‘Right Force’ build, increasing our organic logistics capability and ability to deploy fully enabled SOF capable of distributed operations in austere environments. We continued to focus on the right training and equipment to prepare us as an expeditionary responsive force for crises in whatever clime and place we are called upon,” Clark said. In the fall of 2012, MARSOC reorganized its Special Operations Support Group (SOSG) to create those new battalions, focused on the command’s growing combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) requirements. “We established the Marine Special Operations Combat Support Battalion by combining the Intelligence Battalion and Support Company at Camp Lejeune [N.C.] and grew Detachment-West into Marine Special Operations Support Battalion at Camp Pendleton [Calif.]. Additionally, we stood up a brand-new battalion, Marine Special Operations Logistics Battalion, at Camp Lejeune to provide garrison and deployed CSS. These three battalions have all received their commanders and sergeants major,” Clark said. “I think one of our truest gains is the synergy we build between the CSO [critical skills operator] and SOCS/SOCSS [Special Operations Capabilities Specialist/Special Operations Combat Services Specialist] community by way of the sixmonth training prior to a Marine Special Operations Company deploying. Also, with the SOCs now being a part of the organization for five years, we can afford to enable greater partnerships and relationships with the greater MARSOC community. This direct support relationship speaks volumes regarding continuity and trust while deployed.”

Photo by Sgt. Anthony Carter

marsoc year in review

as engaging with the MEFs [Marine Expeditionary Forces] and MEUs to inform them on how best to use SOF with a MAGTF.” The lessons learned from Afghanistan – along with Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercises elsewhere around the globe – are helping military leaders shape MARSOC for the future. “We’re going to become more involved with JCET activities – JCET on steroids, so to speak, building capabilities in other countries and establishing relationships. Our philosophy is ‘MARSOC does windows – but in a special way.’ We’re not locked into a particular role, but are much more expansive into operational environments and Phase One relations. Understanding the environment, I think, will be an advantage for us,” Clark predicted. “In some cases, we’re talking single-digit numbers out there, where something more than 10 may not be preferable. We have to be scalable, so if we can’t bring those additional people, we can tap into those resources back at the company or battalion or other organizational levels. I don’t see us establishing big operating bases out there like we do now, but using a smaller network, working with the geographic COCOMs [GCCs], TCCs [tactical command centers], and chiefs of mission.” With Iraq behind them and a drawdown of forces under way in Afghanistan, Clark, who moved from acting deputy commander of SOCOM to MARSOC commander in August 2012, is far more interested in the year to come than in the one just ended – and with further cementing MARSOC’s position as an essential part of the U.S. military capability. Although no longer defining MARSOC as “new,” the command still spent part of the past year pursuing what has been an

Marines with 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, conduct predeployment training in Savannah, Ga., May 23, 2012. The Marines conducted helocasting drills during the training.

ongoing mission since its creation: educating the rest of the military on what MARSOC is – and what it is not. That included not only briefings within its home arena – the Marine Corps, Navy, and SOCOM – but also to elements within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), allies, and even academia. Marine special operators also participated in about a dozen SOF, joint, and big Corps exercises to demonstrate their current tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and further test and develop future capabilities. “We must make sure we are involved, early on, in as many exercises as possible, helping them shape the planning up front and understand the utility of SOF and what I call Phase Minus-1, which is well in advance of any campaign plan,” Clark said, adding the goal is to help others “realize SOF is good at building on the human terrain, so when other forces come in, they have this SOF force and expertise to tap into to better help them meet their campaign objectives. We’ve been doing that with recent exercises that have been very enlightening and it has opened some new avenues for integration with general-purpose forces.


Marines with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) conduct a shura with local villagers outside Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province, April 8, 2012. Marines with MARSOC’s 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion returned in late 2012 from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, where they commanded Special Operations Task Force-West and oversaw one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest regions.

“The Marine Corps used to have their MEU(SOC) [Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)] forces. With the ongoing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the SOC label came off. But we are trying to find out what kind of relationship SOF can have with the deployed MAGTF, primarily the MEU. A lot of ideas have been raised, but none have really gained traction.” Clark asked Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos to hold a war game in which MARSOC, a Corps MEU, and the Navy could determine, essentially for the first time, how that relationship might evolve in a post-Afghan environment. “Some say, ‘put MARSOC back on the boat.’ Others say, ‘put MARSOC liaisons on the ship and look for areas of cooperation,’” he said. “But the result of the wargame, at a minimum, will at least provide better capability to the GCCs in having a relationship between a deployed MAGTF and SOF. “As MARSOC grows, we will continue to develop our regionally aligned battalions and our littoral capability, with an eye toward maritime employment options. We believe that MARSOC’s role in SOCOM is as part of our nation’s maritime


SOF capability, and this role will provide us multiple opportunities to stay connected to the Marine Corps’ expeditionary operations and future maritime capabilities. MARSOC is developing the capabilities to conduct maritime special operations and to provide SOF support to maritime and amphibious operations.” Part of that will be growing the relationship between MARSOC and Navy Special Warfare (NSW). “MARSOC and NSW are collaborating to produce complementary capabilities for SOF operations in the maritime/ littoral domains,” Clark said. “The Employment Wargame in April 2013 will explore options for closer MAGTF/SOF interoperability and integration while we enable the global SOF network with forward-deployed forces. “As MARSOC expands our maritime employment ideas, we are participating in maritime-related exercises such as Dawn Blitz, Bold Alligator, and Expeditionary Warrior to better test those ideas and fully understand the implications. We’re also very mindful, in working with SOCOM and SOF-specific equipment we will need in the future, [to focus on] what is good enough when there is no open wallet, and what the Corps has that we may be able to use, or something we already have done T&E [test and evaluation] on that the Corps or Army can take on for the acquisition costs.” As the first MARSOC commander with previous SOF experience, Clark is well positioned to understand how the various SOCOM components are unique, but also complementary. He was the first MH-53J Pave Low exchange pilot with the USAF 20th Special Operations Squadron (1992-95), an operations officer with the Combined Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan and Qatar (2001-02) and, in the three years

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally

marsoc year in review

marsoc year in review

before moving to MARSOC, director of operations, chief of staff, and acting deputy director at SOCOM. “I had the opportunity to watch MARSOC from outside the fence in SOCOM and it was impressive to watch this organization grow and attain their reputation with the other components. They did that without reinventing the wheel, but while developing a MARSOC path, as well,” he said. “Having been chief of staff and then acting deputy commander, it was good to see how the SOCOM leadership was thinking. And relationships are very key, so that has been very helpful this past year. Working at different levels at SOCOM also helped me, coming here, interpret how SOCOM would look at things and craft how MARSOC should look at things. And if you get stuck in the sludge, it also helps knowing who to call for help.” Key to his command vision are tying the priorities of the Marine Corps to those of SOCOM, including the “Four Lines of Operation” set out by its commander, Adm. William H. McRaven: 1 – Winning the current fight; 2 – Strengthening the global SOF network; 3 – Preservation of the force and families; and 4 – Responsive resourcing. The admiral’s expansion or “globalization” of the SOF network is designed to support the COCOMs with a responsible and capable special operations force, Clark noted. That includes addressing a lot of other needs the geographic COCOMs have as the United States moves forward with its withdrawal from Afghanistan. But that must be balanced with making sure the force is fully supported with whatever they need in the current fight.


“Of course, ‘need’ does not necessarily equate to what they want. We have other units with requirements, so we don’t want to put everything forward and leave nothing for the rest. We also want to make sure they get the training and predeployment time needed rather than just-in-time resourcing,” he said. “We try to adhere to our unit training phases, where all people being deployed come together before the last few days. And making sure, while deployed, they have connectivity here, which has been important with the changing environment in Afghanistan, helping them adjust as the mission and force lay-down changes to make sure they have what they need to operate and minimize risk to the personnel.” Those efforts do not end with deployment, but continue when units return home, from taking care of the Marines and their families to providing “third location decompression.” “All deployed operators, coming back as a unit, go to a third location in the U.S., about four hours from Quantico, where they go through a series of interviews, get medical reviews – all the things that are part of mind, body, spirit. That lets them address issues and helps us determine if there is something they haven’t realized yet,” Clark explained. “We consider that part of the deployment. So when they show up back home, a much different person gets off the bus than returned from deployment – more rested, more sound and fit, and ready to adjust back to family life. That’s been a big thing we have been promoting based on the successes we have seen.” While praising his predecessors for their accomplishments in creating, standing up, and building MARSOC – not only for combat operations in Southwest Asia immediately after stand-up, but also integrating into SOCOM and taking on global missions for the joint command – Clark said what the SOF Marines have done since 2006 and what MARSOC will be doing from 2013 forward is significantly different. “While the focus has been predominantly on operations in Afghanistan, we have to remind others that SOF is conducting operations across the globe every day; in small numbers, networked. Since our inception, we’ve conducted 153 operational deployments to 18 different countries,” he noted. “The majority of these missions have been focusing on partnernation training, assisting in counter-narcoterrorism efforts, and providing other subject-matter expert guidance. “MARSOC will continue to look out ahead of the current missions to anticipate where SOF will be needed,” Clark said. “That includes staying current in our amphibious capability and committing to interoperability exercises that leverage our MARSOC/MAGTF maritime capabilities. We feel our future forward-deployed regional focus will provide us multiple opportunities to stay connected to the Marine Corps’ expeditionary operations and future maritime capabilities.” The MARSOC effort, even in dealing with its sister SOF components within SOCOM, also reflects a wider lack of knowledge about special operations in general.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally

Marines with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and Afghan commandos conduct a two-day presence patrol in Farah province, Feb. 27, 2012.

Photo courtesy of Crossfit

marsoc year in review

“Many still do not understand MARSOC,” Clark said, adding that also can be seen within the command itself. “As a new organization stood up and growing up in a combat environment, we never really had a chance to figure out what we are other than a very capable force in Afghanistan. But SOF [overall] tends to be misunderstood; most see us as a black force coming in at night and taking care of bad people. And that is part of it, but there also is the indirect side – helping train forces or working with needs within the population, building relationships. “We’re now going on a very aggressive information campaign, providing MARSOC 101 and 102 to other organizations in SOF, but in most cases to the rest of the Corps, so they understand what their special ops deployment has become and where we’re going and looking for avenues where we can work together. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain that balance; the pendulum tends to swing, but we’re trying to maintain a very open, transparent relationship with both SOCOM and the Corps. And that’s important. We’re also informing the theater and geographic COCOMs what we can provide and helping our coalition partners look at areas where we can work together.” More than a decade of war in Southwest Asia has raised SOCOM and its service components out of the shadows and made special operations a more visible key component to U.S. military planning and operations. It is one of the few areas targeted for growth as the rest of the military downsizes, although plans to increase MARSOC by 1,000 Marines as it

Christopher Bannister, a staff sergeant with MARSOC, performs 50 L pull ups in a hospital six days after stepping on an improvised explosive device and undergoing amputation of his leg. This photo captures the essence of people in the MARSOC organization – people with energy, drive, and commitment, who live by the MARSOC motto, Spiritus Invictus, or unconquerable spirit.

moves toward its authorized total force of 12 companies and 48 teams in 2016 are being modified in light of ever-tighter defense budgets. “That’s why I refrain from exact numbers. I can tell you right now we are not going to get the original 1,000 extra; we may get 800-plus. But we are not making an issue of that,” Clark concluded. “I told my staff we need to figure out how we do this without getting that full number – where to establish efficiencies, how to build companies and teams, not just by working harder but smarter. We also must have a plan in place so, if and when we are able to get those extra people, we will know how to and where to use them. “But with that said, SOF cannot do things on its own. We will still need to rely on the enabling capabilities of others, the Marine Corps, and other organizations. Which is where working with the services – especially the Corps – and them understanding what we are doing, and we understanding what they are doing, is important to closing the operations gaps between us down the road.”


navspecwarcom Year in Review A balanced, effective, efficient force in a marathon fight

By scott r. gourley

In an exclusive interview, NAVSPECWARCOM Commander Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus shares his perspective on some of the mobility, intelligence, operational, and other support issues facing the command.


navspecwarcom year in review

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Meranda Keller

U.S. Navy SEALs, partnered with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21, conduct night sling load training with a lightweight tactical all-terrain vehicle. Sling loading helps provide expedient delivery and extraction of equipment in hard-to-access areas for forward-deployed locations.

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navspecwarcom year in review Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus assumed command of NAVSPECWARCOM on June 30, 2011. A career Naval Special Warfare (NSW) SEAL officer with a series of joint special operations duty assignments, Pybus commands NAVSPECWARCOM at a vital and interesting juncture in its history. While the command has never been larger or more central to United States defense strategy, its prominence has also brought the occasional unwanted media spotlight to NSW. Meanwhile, serving personnel are strained by an extraordinary operations tempo that has lasted more than a decade, some of the command’s equipment is aging and needs replacement or improvement, and the command must simultaneously continue operations at a brisk pace in Southwest Asia while also meeting commitments worldwide, including the increasing emphasis on the Asia Pacific region announced by civilian leadership. As with all USSOCOM elements, operational planning is taking place against a backdrop of budgetary uncertainties. In a recent edition of Ethos, the NSW command publication, Pybus reflected on the evolving budget environment, adding, “Regardless of the budgetary decisions that our government leaders ultimately made and will make, we can expect one thing: There will be impacts to what we do. More important is how we are preparing to preserve and protect our force and families and the capabilities we provide amidst a dwindling defense budget and ever-increasing requirements.” Asked for comments on those and other challenges, Pybus generously took the time to respond at length, such that we decided to reproduce his answers here without comment or shading.

of FY 12, with the 60-foot Combatant Craft Medium [CCM] Mk. 1 and 41-foot Combatant Craft Assault [CCA]. The CCM Mk. 1 is currently in source selection and will reach initial operating capability in FY 15. The CCA will provide the transportability, agility, and fleet interoperability we don’t have in the larger CCM Mk. 1. While the RIB inventory will decline in proportion to the stand-up of the CCA and CCM Mk. 1 detachments, it will continue to serve an important SOF [special operations forces] role and remain in the NSW inventory over the long term, just in smaller numbers. The SOCR [Special Operations Craft Riverine] continues to meet validated requirements, and as we consider next-gen riverine craft, we’ll look to the Navy’s Riverine Assault Boat to leverage service-common applications. Our boat inventory also includes Secu rity Force A ssistance [SFA] craft that align with partner-nation [PN] craft and support our training for theater engagement strategies. NAVSCI ATTS [Naval Smal l Craft Instruction and Technical Training School] also employs them in training partner-nation personnel. Improving our craft subsystems is a vital part of our craft modernization efforts, and we will continue to invest in proven subsystems to enhance the capability of combatant craft, as well as leverage service-common efforts. Bottom line: As a result of our planning and programming efforts, we’ll see a gradual increase in combatant craft capacity over the next five years, enabling us to fill our capability gaps and work to sustain the forward theater presence demand.


Can you update us on your undersea mobility platforms? In the near term, we are looking to modernize the aging SEAL Delivery Vehicles [SDVs], procure lower-cost combat submersibles that capitalize on t he com mercia l su bmersi ble industry, and make modifications to current dry deck shelters to accommodate the new combat submersibles. As the SDVs near the end of their service life, we’re facing obsolescent compatibility issues and other limitations. We’re programmed for some technical improvements to increase reliability and operational capability

The Year in Special Operations: With the recent retirement of the Mk. V Special Operations Craft (Mk. V SOC), can you outline the future of your maritime surface mobility platforms? Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus: We have successfully leveraged USSOCOM’s [U.S. Special Operations Command’s] St rateg ic Pla n n i ng P rocess v ia future POMs [Prog ram Objective Memorandums] to replace most of our RIBs [rigid-hull inflatable boats] and the Mk. Vs, which left service at the end


Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus, NAVSPECWARCOM commander.

until the current Mk. VIII Mod 1 SDV can be phased-replaced by the Shallow Water Combat Submersible [SWCS] between FY 16-19. The advancements made in the SDV “refresh” effort will be shared with the SWCS builder to reduce risk for that program. The SWCS is a free-flooding [wet] com bat su bmersi ble desig ned to transport SOF elements into littoral waters and harbors. It is planned to be larger than the current SDV, so internal reconfiguration to the dry deck shelter [DDS]-equipped submarines will be required. SWCS will provide theater commanders with the operational capability to conduct SOF undersea operations in the 2015-2032 time frame. The SWCS is designed to overcome the SDV’s personnel and payload limitations; however, it does not address the thermal protection issue. For that, a dry submersible is required. We’re looking at acquiring a Dry Combat Submersible Medium [DCSM]. NSW INTELLIGENCE Can you talk a bit about efforts to develop NSW intelligence capabilities and the impact of unmanned aerial vehicles to NSW operations? NSW capacity and capabilities in intelligence gathering, data analysis, a nd force-protect ion operat ion s continue to increase and mature in part due to the significant investment by the U.S. Navy in Information Dominance Corps [IDC] personnel, other mission specialists, and resources to support Naval Special Warfare.


Can you talk generally about a post-Afghanistan operational environment? How has/will that drawdown affect operations tempo (OPTEMPO)/personnel tempo (PERSTEMPO)? In February, the president announced that about 34,000 U.S. troops would be leaving Afghanistan by February 2014. At this point, we can expect some number of troops, some likely SOF, to remain through the end of 2014 when the combat mission is set to officially end. How many has yet to be decided, along with whether the U.S. will have an enduring presence there. Regardless, any drawdown of NSW


forces in Afghanistan will simply mean that they will be available to deploy to other regions of the world. NSW operates in 25-plus countries on any given day. We will continue conducting core activities, building alliances, and helping partner nations build capacity to advance security and stability in regions around the world. There is plenty of work to do, so we won’t see a huge decrease in our OPTEMPO/PERSTEMPO. In 2012, we developed an individual PERSTEMPO tracking and threshold policy and were given approval to use the Navy’s Standard Integrated Personnel System to track and report our metrics. Having this tool at our disposal will provide us with the information to better manage and sustain our force for the long run.

U.S. Navy Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James L. Ginther


U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meranda Keller

Navy Criminal Investigative Service [NCIS] has provided counterintelligence [CI] agents to deploy with SEAL teams in support of NSW’s force protection and security needs. Sailors who graduate from the Marine Air-Ground Task Force CI/ HUMINT [human intelligence] course and are awarded the NEC [Navy Enlisted Classification] 3913 are also being assigned to NSW forces to conduct military source operations, thereby giving the commander a better understanding of the environment in which his force is living and working. The combination of experienced NCIS CI special agents and uniformed CI/HUMINT sailors is providing a potent capability to enhance protection of our forces – on the ground and in the littorals. Likewise, NSW forces currently operate small, tactical unmanned aerial systems that provide collection on the specific tactical zone in which the units are operating. These systems help us in developing targets for operations and provide situational awareness of the commander’s zone of responsibility and influence. Because these systems are organic to the SEAL team, the commander can launch them when/where he needs them, garnering maximum benefit from the collection capabilities of these platforms. In addition, Navy METOC [Meteorology and Oceanography] personnel (aerographer’s mates) deploy with the SEAL teams, providing technical support to operations by operating systems and collecting information that bears on current and future operations of the teams. Communications personnel (information systems technicians and electronics technicians) are also critical to enabling the SEAL teams to communicate using a myriad of terrestrial or satellite voice and data capabilities. The total Navy Information Dominance Corps [IDC] contribution to NSW is approximately 1,180 personnel; this is approximately 14 percent of the NSW force and just under 4 percent of the total Information Dominance Corps structure. Assigning IDC personnel to NSW [vice providing the capability through individual augmentation] has resulted in a stronger understanding of, and appreciation for, the capabilities of each of the IDC disciplines. As NSW forces have come to this appreciation, the demand for additional capability has increased. IDC personnel are now included directly in SEAL team operations in Afghanistan, sharing the same risks the operators face, and, occasionally, paying the ultimate sacrifice. Intelligence has enabled NSW operations around the world, and operations have driven the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities further and faster; the symbiotic relationship has served the Navy and the special operations community very well.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William S. Parker

navspecwarcom year in review

this spread, Clockwise from top left: A U.S. Navy SEAL participates in special operations urban combat training. The training exercise familiarizes special operators with urban environments and tactical maneuvering during night and day operations. • An East Coast-based U.S. Navy SEAL practices shooting drills at the Naval Special Warfare Eagle Haven Indoor Shooting Range at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va. • A Naval Special Warfare (NSW) member attached to Special Operations Task Force-Southeast (SOTF-SE) prepares to leave Forward Operating Base Camp Ripley to conduct a clearing operation, Tarin Kowt district, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, July 7, 2012. NSW members partnered with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to conduct the clearing operation in the SOTF-SE area of responsibility.

With that post-Afghanistan environment, how critical is the non-SOF support (medical, aviation, logistics, etc.) to SEALs? I am very appreciative of the support we receive from the Navy. Our success is due, in part, to the work of dedicated sailors, mission specialists skilled in explosive ordnance disposal, intelligence, communications, training, logistics, maintenance, medicine, and other combat support services. We could not do ALL that we do without them. Does NSW have an adequate training infrastructure to support the future operational environment? If not, what elements would you like to see introduced to facilitate training? We are in good shape right now, consistently graduating 200-300 SEAL enlisted, 70 SEAL officer candidates a year. Our numbers for SWCC [Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen] (70 per year) are healthy, too. The schoolhouse leadership meets periodically with SEALs and SWCCs who are receiving the graduates and operators returning from advanced training to get feedback and to determine if anything needs to change. BUD/S [Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training] graduates are assimilating well with the teams; they seem to have the right characteristics for success and they remain teachable. One area we are focused on is in rebuilding our maritime capability – more specifically, our combat swimming capability. This year, we


navspecwarcom year in review

WOMEN IN NSW What about the needs for global cultural engagement? Does that translate to a possible role for women within NSW? The goal of Naval Special Warfare is to provide the premier special operations forces regardless of gender. It’s all about readiness and operational capability for us. Of the nearly 500 female sailors within the NSW community, many are working in operationally relevant jobs closer to the battlefield. Since 2007, NSW squadrons have deployed with female intelligence specialists, yeomen, legal specialists, builders, and information technicians in support of overseas contingency operations. As USSOCOM continues to strengthen its alliances and shape its force for a global presence, it is also increasing its operational employment of females to meet a variety of cultural engagement requirements. In 2012, NSW deployed its first Cultural Engagement Team, providing deployed commanders with a multifaceted female team for a range of missions. The skills, qualities, and characteristics women possess have proven to be a tremendous enabler. NSW will support opportunities for women to serve in roles that will lead to success on the battlefield, within the limits of the law. PRESERVATION OF FORCE AND FAMILY How do you balance operational requirements against preservation of force and family issues? I firmly believe that if you do not take care of the latter, you won’t be able to accomplish the mission of the former.


TOP: Navy SEALs assigned to a West Coast-based SEAL Team debark a hostile vessel during training off the coast of San Diego, Calif. Naval Special Warfare Boat Team (SBT) 12 assisted in the operation by providing small boat insertion and extraction to and from the boarded vessel. ABOVE: Special warfare operators from a West Coast-based SEAL Team move through a simulated town during urban terrain training using Simunition ® rounds. Simunition rounds are paint-tipped training rounds that allow military personnel to conduct safe, realistic live-fire training.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Kirsop

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Raegen

are running two new courses to train our combat swimmer instructors, who will then go back to the teams as resident experts. In general, we have great support from Navy and USSOCOM regarding plans to develop the facilities and ranges required as a result of our significant growth in manning, mission expansion, and capability requirements in the last decade. We’ve outgrown many of the World War II-era buildings we occupy; they simply do not meet our current or future needs. That said, we are sensitive to the very real fiscal realities DoD [the Department of Defense] is facing, so our focus at the center and throughout the community is to find the right balance in the man, train, equip, and deploy equation. We’re also looking to be more effective and efficient where and whenever we can. For instance, we’re paying attention to the training-to-travel ratio for the instructor cadre in shore billets. Any training that can be done locally with the same effectiveness improves our efficiency and also helps ensure our personnel [are] getting that very important time at home with their families. USSOCOM has focused much of its effort on building global SOF partners. Much of that work is done abroad, but one of the initiatives we’re looking at is how the NSW schoolhouse is in a great position to support our part in that larger process by training not only the forces of our allies, which we do now, but to expand that support by helping our partners to further develop their own instructor cadres with CONUS [continental United States]-based training. This “train the trainers” concept would ultimately build capacity to ensure a more ready international security force.

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American Volunteer Group (AVG) pilots, better known as the Flying Tigers, run for their P-40B Tomahawks in a posed photo. The vastly outnumbered AVG had only 79 qualified pilots and 62 operable aircraft on Dec. 2, 1941, but they and their shark-mouthed P-40s became legendary for their achievements against the Japanese over China and Burma.


Classic weapons and equipment, “brilliant mistakes” and “might have beens” of history, personality profiles of the famous and infamous, and regular series on World War II, the Civil War, and other military anniversaries. DMN presents the unusual, unknown, untold, and uncelebrated moments in military history.

navspecwarcom year in review

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Kirsop

Navy SEALs assigned to a West Coast-based SEAL Team and Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) from Naval Special Warfare Boat Team (SBT) 12 make their way to a cargo ship to practice maritime visit, board, search, and seizure operations off the coast of San Diego, Calif.

We will always work hard to meet our operational commitments – that is the reason we exist as a force – but I am also always mindful of my obligation to sustain this force and the care of our families. Adm. [William H.] McRaven [commander, U.S. Special Operations Command] and I are committed to keeping our OPTEMPO at a sustained, predictable level. How do you balance both operational environment and family issues with career development needs? As an operator, as a husband and father, and as a former detailer, this is an area that I can relate well to. I think that we have a very solid career progression plan for both our officers and enlisted that allows for periods in between high operational/high stress tours where they can take advantage of more time with their families and still train, go to school, serve on meaningful staff tours – and simply reset. I don’t consider that “down time” as some people call it; I think it is prep time for the next assignment and continued

career progression. The fight that we are in is a marathon, and I don’t want to exhaust my force in mile six. The career plans we have in place – and that we continually monitor and adjust – will see us through the long run. Have fiscal environment uncertainties affected NSW to date? How is NSW preparing for the future operational environment in light of the continuing uncertainties? Needless to say, we are always mindful of fiscal restraints and limitations. But taking care of the force and families is a high priority and we have tremendous support from the Navy and SOCOM leadership. At this point, taking care of the force and families is a relatively inexpensive area, because we have many of our care providers and resources already i n place who a re prov id i ng ou r warriors and families great support. Predictability and continuity of care are major parts of resiliency, which drives me to keep these key resources in place.


usasoc year in review

USASOC Year in Review By john d. gresham

“Army special operations forces are asked to work deep in enemy territories, in small numbers, without overwhelming firepower, under the most difficult of conditions. The weapons they use are their imaginations, guts and extensive experience.”

Army special operations entered its eighth decade of service to the nation as U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) began 2012. American special operations may be said to have begun in 1942, with the standup of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The first of the Ranger battalions stood up the same year and would “Lead the Way” in every American war since. It was also a year of significant transformation at USASOC, with changes in leadership and organization abounding. The most important of these occurred on July 24, when two living legends of Army special operations forces (SOF) literally passed the flag of USASOC leadership from one to the other. In a ceremony led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, Jr., nominated to become deputy commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), passed his command flag to the commanding general. Odierno then


Members of U.S. Special Forces, along with a local security representative, scan the valley from a rooftop in northern Khas Uruzgan of Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, March 16, 2013.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessi Ann McCormick

– Maj. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr., USA Commander, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Aug. 16, 2012

usasoc year in review

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usasoc year in review


U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Connor Mendez

Rangers from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, practice fast rope insertion and extraction out of an MH-47 from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during 2nd Battalion’s Task Force Training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., March 27, 2013.

passed the flag to Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, completing the transfer of command. Cleveland is the latest in a string of combat-proven leaders to command USASOC, having led Task Force Viking in northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. In addition, on June 14, 2012, Command Sgt. Maj. Parry L. Baer handed over his duties to a new USASOC senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. George A. Bequer, of the Special Forces (SF). In addition, the deputy USASOC commanding general, Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller, was relieved by Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera. Finally, in 2012, USASOC acquired something new in its leadership pool: a foreign political adviser from the U.S. Department of State became part of USASOC. Dennis Hearne, a 27-year diplomatic professional, joined the command team to provide better coordination and advice on diplomatic matters to the command. This strong leadership is helping USASOC grow in size and capability as America enters its second decade of a global war against terrorism and violent extremists.

JFKSWCS experienced command transition in 2012 as well, as Maj. Gen. Bennet S. Sacolick turned over command on Aug. 16 to Maj. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr., former commander of the Army Special Forces Command (Airborne). “For our force to succeed, we must produce special operators who are highly trained in warrior skills, but more importantly properly educated,” Sacolick said of JFKSWCS. “We educate our special operators to work with indigenous people in a culturally attuned manner that allows us to bridge language barriers, open lines of communication, and connect with key political and military leaders in a way that is both immediate and lasting. When we invest in the minds of our soldiers, we’re rewarded with an ever-increasing return. Our mission at [JFKSWCS] is to build a well-educated, characterbased special operator.” JFKSWCS Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Irizarry II continued to serve throughout 2012, while the job of JFKSWCS senior enlisted adviser continued to be held by Command Sgt. Maj. Ledford “JR” Stigall. The pace of work at the JFKSWCS remained high in 2012, and that might be described as “normal,” if anything done there actually is. The schoolhouses were full throughout 2012, conducting a tightly packed schedule of qualifications and assessments, exercises (like Operation Robin Sage) and field exams to make sure the candidates were ready for their new assignments, and an impressive range of supporting courses to fill out the core classroom/field work. One major addition to the Special Forces Qualification Course (the famous “Q Course”) was the inclusion of military free-fall training to the requirements for graduation. The JFKSWCS plans to train more than 350 SF candidates in military freefall parachute jumping in 2013, adding to their existing jump qualifications. U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES COMMAND (SFC) In 2012, SFC also changed commanders when Reeder left to command the JFKSWCS on Aug. 15, and handed over command to Brig. Gen. Christopher K. Haas. Another combat-tested SF leader, Haas commanded 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (SFG), in Southwest Asia, including Iraq in 2003. Supporting Hass in 2012 was SFC’s senior warrant officer, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas D. Frank, and SFC’s senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. William B. Zaiser. 1ST SPECIAL FORCES GROUP 1st SFG got a new commanding officer on June 28, 2012, when Col. Francis Beaudette handed over command to Col. Robert McDowell, who previously was director of training and doctrine at JFKSWCS. The ceremony took place at 1st SFG’s home base on Joint Base Lewis-McCord near Spokane, Wash. Beaudette, whose time in command focused on operations in the Philippines, Korea, and East Asia, is headed for a new position at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. McDowell is a combat veteran from Afghanistan, where he served with Task Force Dagger in the fall of 2001.


usasoc year in review

TOP RIGHT: A Little Bird approaches during a USASOC capabilities exercise, April 25, 2012. The AH-6 and MH-6 Little Birds are aging. BOTTOM RIGHT: Rangers from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, as part of a combined Afghan and coalition security force operating in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, await a CH-47 for extraction.


On July 13, 3rd SFG got a new commander when Col. Mark C. Schwartz relinquished his duties to Col. Patrick M. Roberson in a ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C. “The 3rd Group took some of the toughest missions in Afghanistan,” then-SFC Commander Brig. Gen. Edward M. Reeder said, speaking of the group’s combat deployments while Schwartz was in command. “In Afghanistan, you lived among the Afghan people and fought in the most contested regions of Taliban sanctuary where no other coalition partners would dare to venture and operate. You took the fight to the Taliban … Mark, you were masterful at keeping the Taliban off balance.” 5TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUP

Fort Walton Beach area an excellent home, with a strong business base providing good job opportunities for family members. This move has clearly been a win-win for both the Army and Northwest Florida. 10TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUP

7TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUP 7th SFG spent 2012 carrying out its normal missions while continuing to move into a new garrison and home base at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The move of 7th SFG, triggered by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), was the largest such move dealt with by any unit in USASOC, and their new state-of-the-art facility is already paying dividends. Col. Antonio M. Fletcher and the 2,200-plus soldiers under his command (along with their dependents) are finding the


Col. John Deedrick and his 10th SFG soldiers (“The Originals”) celebrated their 60th anniversary in 2012. This first Special Forces unit was established on Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1952. The commemoration of the very first SF began in mid-June and continued throughout 2012. In addition to a ball held at Fort Carson, Colo., there were a number of public events, including a motorcycle ride, parachute jumping demonstrations, and visits by original members of the 10th SFG. Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Krider, the group’s

DoD photo by U.S. Army Pfc. Pedro Amador

The 5th SFG, known as “The Legion,” had another eventful year in 2012, continuing to be led by Col. Scott E. Brower. But in addition to their combat and operational missions in 2012, 5th SFG continued a long tradition, dating back to their formation more than five decades ago. 5th SFG held a ceremony May 19 on Gabriel Field to mark the loss of “Legionnaires” from their unit. Gabriel Field was named in honor of Spc. 5 James P. Gabriel, who was one of the first Green Berets to be killed in Vietnam, and 57 markers for fallen 5th Group soldiers are placed around the perimeter of the field, each shaded by an oak tree. “Today we take time to remember,” said Brower. “We remember those that have gone before us, but we also take time to reconnect with our big family – our Legion family. We share in the memory of our fallen, but rejoice and share your pride in all the goodness that they have created, much of which is right here, sitting in the stands and standing on this field.”

usasoc year in review

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command South descend during a rotary-wing airborne operation April 16, 2013, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla.

and the foreign internal defense (FID) mission alive within SOCOM and USASOC. In addition, both National Guard SFGs have kept their own skills sharp, often working in conjunction with other Army Reserve and Guard units in training exercises. One example of this came in January, when 19th SFG soldiers hosted troops from the Hawaii National Guard’s 93rd Civil Support Team at Snowmass Village in Colorado. This provided the Hawaii guardsmen a unique opportunity to train and operate in high-altitude snow conditions, something they rarely encounter in their home state. The 20th SFG also got a new commander in 2012, when, on June 1, Col. Randall M. Zeegers handed over his command flag to Col. James D. Craig. Hosting the ceremony was Alabama National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Perry G. Smith. “We don’t select just anybody to command at the brigade level; you must prove that you have the potential to serve at this level by performing well and leading professionally,” Smith said of the challenges of leading a National Guard SFG during the ceremony. 75TH RANGER REGIMENT Col. Mark W. Odom continued to command the regiment during 2012, while Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt turned over his responsibilities to Command Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Bielich II on Jan. 11, 2012. The Regiment remained engaged throughout the year. For many in the Regiment, 2012 was all about a very special anniversary. In 1942, the very first Rangers were recruited and trained, the 1st Ranger Battalion was formed, and the unit committed to combat in North Africa shortly thereafter. This 70-year legacy of service to the country and the world is something every Ranger is proud of, and they are happy to point out to every other soldier in USASOC that they were the very first U.S. Army SOF soldiers. “Rangers lead the way!”

DoD photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea, U.S. Army


senior enlisted adviser said of the formal event, “It was without question the most significant, largest, and classiest military ball I have experienced in my 24 years of service.” 19TH AND 20TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUPS Special Forces Command’s two Army National Guard (ANG) SFGs, the 19th and 20th, spent 2012 supporting a wide variety of cooperative training and combat missions. This often involved performing duties that their active-duty SF brethren would be used to in more peaceful times. The two National Guard SFGs have been critical in keeping the vital Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program

A new generation of leadership arrived in 2012 to take command of ARSOAC, which turned a year old after its christening on March 25, 2011. The names of ARSOAC’s first command team read like a 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) history of the past several decades. Brig. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum (an alumni of Task Force 160 back in the 1980s) stood up the command, and ARSOAC’s first Command Warrant Officer was the legendary Night Stalker Chief Warrant Officer 5 David F. Cooper, holder of the Distinguished Service Cross. But time moves on. On June 13, Mangum turned over command of ARSOAC to Brig. Gen. Clayton M. Hutmacher, another former commander of the 160th SOAR. Mangum then headed down to Fort Rucker, Ala., to take command of the U.S. Army’s Center of Aviation Excellence. Just two weeks later, Cooper retired


usasoc year in review “J.T., [Thompson] you have done what all command teams inspire to do,” Hutmacher said at the ceremony. “You left the formation better than you found it. You have taken the Regiment to the next level and you should drive away justifiably proud of what you have accomplished over the last two years.” Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Chambers continued to act as the Regiment’s senior enlisted adviser, and the 160th overall continues to enjoy excellent support both financially and in terms of end strength. The MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV airframes and systems continue to mature. However, the aging of legacy aircraft, particularly the A/MH-6 “Little Bird” airframes, some of which date back to the 1960s, is becoming a problem, and the aircraft will require replacement sometime in the next few years. In addition, sometime in the next decade there will be a need to recapitalize the MH-60 airframes, which are now more than 20 years old. 95TH CIVIL AFFAIRS BRIGADE (CAB)

DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie, U.S. Air Force

U.S. soldiers with Special Operations Command Europe’s 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Detachment Alpha 0114, train with their Hungarian counterparts in small arms techniques at Szolnok Air Base, Hungary, July 13, 2012. The combined training event was designed to foster interoperability between U.S. and Hungarian forces in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan.

On June 22, friends and family of the 95th CAB gathered to see Col. James C. Brown take command of the unit from Col. James J. Wolff. “You cannot go anywhere in the world that is important to the United States of America and not find an Army special operations soldier. …,” said then-USASOC Commander Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, who hosted the ceremony. “In many cases, it’s going to be a civil affairs soldier or a civil affairs team … helping to connect organizations, official and unofficial, military and non-governmental, to bring relief, aid, and infrastructure. … Or they’re committed downrange in the war fight, actively supporting the combat operations and the stability operations in that great counterinsurgency effort we have in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, or in the Philippines, and of course, until we finished our operations in Iraq, and certainly in OIF … But all that takes leadership. And under Jay Wolff, that leadership has just been extraordinary.” Command Sgt. Maj. Tony Duncan continued to serve as the brigade’s senior enlisted adviser through 2012. The brigade also became one of the first in the U.S. Army to receive a new generation of radios for service in the field. These included the new Harris-built AN/PRC-152 that will replace the AN/ PRC-148 Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio, and the Harris AN/PRC-117G radios that will replace the AN/PSC-5D satellite communications unit. The new equipment echoes the brigade’s growth, as the 91st, 92nd, 96th, 97th, and 98th Civil Affairs battalions grow to an end strength of 1,800 by 2017. 4TH MILITARY INFORMATION SUPPORT OPERATIONS GROUP (MISOG)

from the U.S. Army after a spectacular 27-year career. He handed over his duties as the ARSOAC chief warrant officer to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Robert D. Witzler. Command Sgt. Maj. David L. Leamon continues to serve as the ARSOAC senior enlisted adviser. 160TH SPECIAL OPERATIONS AVIATION REGIMENT (SOAR) On July 20, Col. John W. Thompson turned over command of the 160th SOAR to Col. John R. Evans at a ceremony held at Fort Campbell, Ky.

For decades, the Army’s Psychological Operations (PsyOps) community lived an uncertain existence, being reluctantly accepted in wartime, and normally neglected if not mistreated during peacetime. But the “long war” of the past dozen years finally convinced the national leadership that PsyOps, now redesignated as military intelligence support operations (MISO) is an essential mission in overseas operations, and it has finally been shown some respect and budgetary support. In 2010, the 4th Psychological Operations Group (POG) was reflagged as the 4th Military Information Support Group (MISG) reflecting the DoD-wide shift to the MISO mission.



U.S. Army photo by Dave Chace, SWCS Public Affairs Office

usasoc year in review

part of the SOF expansion plan that came about as a result of the 2006 “Quadrennial Defense Review,” the entire U.S. Army MISO community was consolidated into the Military Information Support Operations Group (Airborne) – or MISOG – on Aug. 4, 2011. On July 13, Nils C. Sorenson handed over his command flag to Col. Robert A. Warburg. Previously, Warburg had served as the chief of staff at the JFKSWCS, along with a brigade command tour in Europe. Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas W. Hedges Jr., handed over his duties to Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Randall on Oct. 10, in a ceremony hosted by Warburg. “Command Sgt. Maj. Hedges worked tirelessly to realize the MISOC vision and most importantly established standards for the force that will endure for many years,” said Warburg. “Command Sgt. Maj. Tom Hedges epitomizes all of the values we hold dear in the military – 32 years of selfless service, unflinching loyalty and integrity, moral and physical courage, always on point – laser-focused on the unit mission. He is classic command sergeant major and teammate.” 528TH SUSTAINMENT BRIGADE There is an old military maxim: “Amateurs study tactics, but professionals study logistics.” Nowhere is this more true than within the small but highly effective unit known as the 528th Sustainment Brigade. Supporting all of USASOC’s units,

Special Forces Qualification Course graduates stand at attention during their course graduation ceremony Aug. 16, 2012, in Fayetteville, N.C.

both stateside and deployed overseas, the 528th is U.S. Army logistics distilled down to its smallest and simplest form, with an efficiency that few other military units anywhere achieve. Col. Thomas J. Rogers commands the brigade, ably supported throughout 2012 by Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby R. Hagy, acting as the brigade’s senior enlisted adviser. THE FUTURE: SILENT QUEST 13-1 AND ARSOF 2022 As America’s massive commitments of forces to Southwest Asia during the long war of the early 21st century draw down, the obvious question for America’s SOF community is, “What do we do now?” It is a question with a great deal of relevance and value in light of the pending cutbacks within DoD, and the continuing budget crisis within the American government


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usasoc year in review as a whole. While they have seen the value and achievements of SOF over the past seven decades, and especially the past dozen years since 9/11, they are not passive about the future. It is important to remember that no successful American Army has ever come home from victorious combat and failed to be cut to the bone, and the present day is no exception to that rule. SOCOM Commander Adm. William H. McRaven proposed his “Global SOF Network” in 2012, designed to remake the U.S. SOF community into a more relevant and sustainable force into the middle of the 21st century. At the core of the Global SOF Network is his goal of using U.S. SOF units to go out around the world and help build new relationships, allied/partner military capacity, and support those nations desiring to make their military/internal security forces more capable. With these basic goals understood, the USASOC leadership initiated their own studies and efforts to begin making the Global SOF Network into working plans and doctrine. For USASOC, this process began within exercise known as Silent Quest 13-1. Silent Quest provided an experimental medium for the various USASOC component commands to begin exercising ideas about what they plan to do in the next decade. The exercise is a synthetic scenario, placed about a decade into the future, allowing the command elements to exercise against a variety of proposed future threats in situations during that period. Col. Ernesto Sirvas, director for USASOC’s Concepts, Experimentation and Analysis or G-9, indicated the various Silent Quest 13-1 scenarios were designed to test the command’s future concepts from all USASOC components, along with other interagency and DoD partners. “Silent Quest 13-1 is the main experimentation effort for this command,” Sirvas said. “It will provide future senior decision-makers with innovative ideas and viable options to better operate in future environments.”

MISOC’s Warburg, also the exercise director for Silent Quest 13-1, explained the direction for this particular Silent Quest. “The Silent Quest exercise series is nested with the Army’s Unified Quest and the USSCOM’s Shadow Warrior project,” he said. “USASOC has taken the first step in USSCOM’s family of subordinate commands by scheduling and executing a major exercise. And certainly what we are doing with 13-1 will not only support USASOC’s Silent Quest 13-2, but will also inform the Army’s next Unified Quest exercise as well as ongoing USSCOM programs [of] the role that special operations forces can provide.” Silent Quest 13-1 is just the first of a series of such exercises, the next of which will commence in the fall of 2013. Therefore, Silent Quest is an ongoing learning opportunity that works within the framework of Army Special Operations Force (ARSOF) 2022’s Campaign of Learning. Derived from the lessons learned in other studies, the resulting ARSOF 2022 document is the commander’s strategic vision for change. “ARSOF 2022 describes precepts and imperatives that will enable ARSOF to thrive in a future operating environment that is characterized by uncertainties,” said Cleveland. THE COST: 2012 Every year since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, USASOC has lost warriors in combat operations. And every Memorial Day since 2002, there has been a gathering at the Memorial Wall adjacent to USASOC Headquarters to mark their sacrifice and add their names onto the stone tablets that marked the losses. 2012 was no exception in this tradition, and on May 25, then-USASOC Commander Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland Jr., hosted the ceremony in the presence of friends and family members of the fallen, to add their names to the Army SOF Roll of Honor.

international sof year in review

International SOF Year in Review By nigel west

In the aftermath of Western intervention in 2011’s Arab Spring and the elimination of Osama bin Laden, both with consequences that have proved long-lasting, special operations forces (SOF) have become the surgical instrument of choice for the governments that possess the capability, but simultaneously espouse the foreign policy strategy known as “soft power.” A widely predicted al Qaeda backlash in retaliation for the raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, failed to materialize, adding weight to the view that a significant corner had been turned in the global war against terrorism. With coalition and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) component deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq – albeit mainly in training roles – being wound down, the focus of operations during 2012 was, somewhat unexpectedly, in East and West Africa. Characteristic of these unpublicized commitments was Creek Sand, the generic codename for a classified U.S. Army Special Forces (SF) operation conducted by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), based at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany. “Creek” is a geographical indication for West Africa and “Sand” is a designation commonly applied to technical intelligence collection. AFRICOM’s strategy, largely dependent on U.S. SF, was to forge links in the region through the supply of training cadres and participation in joint exercises to develop local elite units. The result has been a series of bonding initiatives, such as the African Lion exercise in Morocco, the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and a presence at Cotonou in Benin, Douala in Cameroon, and Thiès, Senegal, on the west coast, where Exercise Western Accord was completed in July. Similarly, Saharan Express involved 12 countries, including Spain, Britain, Cape Verde, France, The Gambia, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and the United States. The French, of course, as the former colonial power, retain considerable influence in the area, and the Brigade des Forces Spéciales Terre (BFST), usually garrisoned in Pau, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has been engaged both in Operations Licorne (peacekeeping in Ivory Coast) and Héracles at Forward Operating Base Gwan in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province. Obangame Express, designed as an antipiracy exercise in the Gulf of Guinea, was led by the guided-missile frigate USS Simpson (FFG 56), and encompassed Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Spain. AFRICOM’s

objective was, and remains, the establishment of multilateral relationships that will enable local SOF to mount, or at least support, short counterinsurgency campaigns without the need for the long-term logistical investment associated with permanent bases and force protection requirements. This emphasis on the continent’s west coast was followed by Exercise Cutlass Express in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden as a demonstration of maritime power and regional cooperation intended to challenge the Somali pirates, and by Southern Accord in Botswana. Improved maritime surveillance and direct intervention, often by coordinated special operations forces from several jurisdictions, has had a dramatic impact on the number of recorded incidents. Although in two operations, the French were unable to free hostages, elements of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) SEAL Special Mission Unit based in Djibouti dropped by parachute near Adado, close to the border with Ethiopia, to free a pair of hostages, Jessica Buchanan and a Dane, Poul Hagen Thisted, who had been kidnapped three months earlier from Galkayo in Galmudug while working for a Danish mine-clearance charity. Both were rescued successfully and evacuated by helicopter to Camp Lemonnier; nine captors were killed. Almost simultaneously, the British Special Boat Service, operating helicopters from the RFA Fort Victoria, flagship of Combined Task Force 151, seized a dhow and 13 suspected pirates after shots were fired across the target’s bows. For two weeks in May, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which was later relieved by the RFA Wave Ruler, also accommodated U.S. Navy SH-60 Seahawks, effectively transforming the support vessel into a SOF command center for maritime combat operations. During 2011 there were 151 attacks on ships, an increase on the statistics available for the previous year, yet in the

An Albanian special operations soldier surveys the area around an Afghan Border Police checkpoint overlooking a mountain pass near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the Spin Boldak District of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 1, 2013. The checkpoint was built to block an insurgent infiltration route.


DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann,U.S. Army

international sof year in review


international sof year in review


A Senegalese special operations forces member runs up a staircase to clear the second floor of a building during urban operations training July 13, 2012, in Thiès, Senegal. The training was part of Exercise Western Accord 2012, a U.S. Africa Commandsponsored multilateral field exercise and humanitarian mission in Senegal designed to increase interoperability between the United States and several West African partner nations.

AFRICOM’s strategy was to confront designated target organizations by the employment of local military surrogates who can be enhanced by the insertion of U.S. special operations forces in pursuit of intelligence priorities. The list was headed by Somali pirates, who were the subject of surveillance flights conducted from Camp Simba, and Yemeni insurgents, who were within range of armed MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones based at Camp Lemonnier and Mahe.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jessica DeRose

whole of 2012, there were only 25 successful hijacks. By February 2012, the European Union Naval Force reported that around 1,000 pirates had been captured and prosecuted in 21 different countries. In July 2012, the European Union introduced EUCAP Nestor, a European Union Naval Force mission to secure the trade routes in the western Indian Ocean between the Seychelles and the Gulf of Aden. A month later Kenyan troops advanced into Somalia as part of an African Union mission to deny the pirates Somali ports as safe havens. Not entirely coincidentally, the pirate threat diminished, with a single ship attacked in the year’s third quarter, compared to 36 in the same period of the previous year. One dimension of Creek Sand is support of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), formally identified as a prohibited terrorist organization on Aug. 22, 2008. Late in the year, AFRICOM began providing tactical intelligence, paying aircraft fuel costs, and delivering a military planning team consisting of 100 personnel from the U.S. 10th Special Forces Group (SFG) to Uganda, Southern Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – all members of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. In the business, the “operational preparation of the environment” is simply known as “atmospherics,” laying the foundations, often electronic, of future commitments. This development is consistent with previous U.S. funding of an estimated 5,000 UPDF troops and 4,000 Burundian troops in Somalia operating against al Shabaab, the regional al Qaeda affiliate. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) paramilitary support is channeled through the Kampala Combined Intelligence Fusion Center, a liaison unit in the Ugandan Ministry of Defense, which runs air missions codenamed Tusker Sand from Entebbe International Airport, where two converted Hawker Beechcraft Super King Air B200s have been based. Additionally, 20 Swiss-built, single-engine Pilatus PC-12/47s were the military version of which is designated the U-28A, and a Pilatus PC-6 based at Nouakchott, Mauritania. These civilian contractor-owned planes are ELINT (electronic intelligence) collection platforms equipped with electro-optic imaging cameras that have a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) capability designed to capture infrared images of personnel and hardware concealed under a dense forest canopy. They are fitted with precision geolocation sensors, sophisticated low-light detectors, hyperspectral imagers, and synthetic aperture radar, and also carry more conventional signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection hardware that monitors local radio, cellphone, and satphone communications traffic. Creek Sand operations are coordinated by the Joint Special Operations Air Detachment from the airport at Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, which manages aerial missions in the region flown from Arba Minch and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia; Camp Simba at the Manda Bay naval base on the Kenyan coast; Mahe in the Seychelles; Camp Lemonnier at Djibouti; and Nzara in South Sudan. There is a difference of opinion regarding U.S. objectives, with the State Department asserting that Boko Haram and al Shabaab do not espouse global ambitions and therefore represent a limited threat to international stability. The State Department is also wary of Pentagon “mission creep” and the negative political impact of increased reliance on drone strikes.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda

One of the significant internal debates within United States and international SOF circles during 2012 centered not on tactics or strategy but on policy regarding public disclosure, with a growing number of recent retirees taking up pens to reveal their participation in previously classified operations. Others are alleged to have provided restricted information to video game manufacturers anxious to insert some verisimilitude into their products. Most controversial of all was the account given in September 2012 by Matt Bissonnette – a former SEAL who adopted the pseudonym Mark Owen – of his role in the Abbottabad takedown, as revealed in No Easy Day. The book’s release prompted Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM), to issue a circular, “The Cost of Disclosure,” in which he insisted, “We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions. … I am disappointed, embarrassed and concerned. … Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against Enemy Number 1; and generally selling other aspects of NSW [Naval Special Warfare] training and operations.” Pybus asserted that “the security of our force and families is also put at risk by the release of sensitive information” and protested that unauthorized revelations “expose us to unnecessary danger.” This issue is all too familiar to the British SOF, who have accepted severe restrictions, contractually enforceable, on what can be mentioned in individual memoirs. All

To build proficiency for firing on the move, Marines and Gambian soldiers move from the 25-yard firing line to the 15-yard firing line during combat marksmanship training for Exercise Western Accord 2012. Basic combat marksmanship focuses on techniques and maneuvers effective in urban environments and close-quarters battle. Exercise Western Accord 2012 was a multilateral training exercise with West African nations to increase understanding and interoperability, prevent conflict by enabling Africans to provide for their security and stability, strengthen relationships with partner nations, and promote and support U.S. national security priorities. Participating nations included the United States, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and France.

such attempts have to be submitted for clearance by the Ministry of Defense. It will probably be years before details come to light of one major 22 SAS operation undertaken in Afghanistan in June 2012 following the abduction of a group of aid workers by the Taliban in the northeast of the country, near the Tajikistan border. The victims, all employed by Medair, a Swiss charity, included 28-year-old aid agency worker Helen Johnston, Moragwa Oirere, from Kenya, and two Afghan women. As soon as a ransom video had been delivered to Kabul, accompanied by a demand for £6 million and the release of a Taliban prisoner, intelligence analysts isolated the communications traffic to caves in the notorious insurgent stronghold in Koh-e-Laran known as


international sof year in review

the Valley of the Ants. Accordingly, a team of 70 British and U.S. SOF personnel were deployed to a forward operating base in Badakhshan province, with a fleet of Black Hawk helicopters and Apache gunships. Simultaneously, Predator drones were flown over the area to maintain visual and electronic surveillance of the site in the Shahr-e-Bozorg District. Successful ELINT interceptions of Taliban conversations indicated that the hostages were likely the victims of an imminent “show of intent,” an assessment that led to Prime Minister David Cameron hastening a rescue operation. The joint teams were flown to a nearby valley to enable them to make a 3-kilometer nighttime approach through thick forest to the caves in silence, and they achieved complete surprise. In a late evening assault in two waves, the troops entered the cave complex and killed 11 insurgents in a fierce firefight before the four hostages were freed unharmed and evacuated by an RAF helicopter. As NATO and ISAF troops withdraw from Southwest Asia, Western strategy has evolved into the development of a highly


mobile quick-reaction capability, as demonstrated in early October 2012 by Cougar 12, an exercise in which the newly created multinational Rapid Force Task Group (RFTG) sailed to the Mediterranean to cooperate with the French Navy’s Task Force 473, led by the Charles de Gaulle carrier battle group. The British contribution to the amphibious assault RFTG centered on 45 Commando, Royal Marines, carried aboard the flagship HMS Bulwark, supported by HMS Illustrious, HMS Northumberland, HMS Montrose, and RFA Mounts Bay, equipped with a total of 14 helicopters. A Trafalgar-class nuclear hunter-killer submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles supplied an underwater dimension. The RFTG’s establishment in 2011 was in anticipation of future commitments, especially in West Africa, where the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) failed to deter al Qaeda affiliates in Niger and Mali from taking advantage of a local power vacuum and a sudden influx of weapons made available by the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli. The

DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley Hyatt, U.S. Air Force

U.S. sailors and Guatemalan navy special forces perform a “hip tow” maneuver March 18, 2013, in Santo Tomás de Castilla, Guatemala, during Southern Partnership Station (SPS) 2013. SPS is conducted in the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility, designed to strengthen civil and maritime capabilities with regional partner nations in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

DoD photo by 1st Lt. Dominic Pitrone, U.S. Marine Corps

international sof year in review

fragility of the situation became clear when heavily armed, disaffected Tuareg took control of northern Mali, a rebellion that led to a military coup in March and an immediate suspension of U.S. support for the government. French SOF units, stationed in Chad and Cameroon, but with combat experience in Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso, were swiftly deployed to counter what was perceived by intelligence analysts as a regional threat to the Sahel from a relatively new faction, designated as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The current regional instability stems from recent events in Libya, exacerbated by militancy in southern Algeria emboldened by recent atrocities. Among them was the abduction of Algerian diplomats in Gao, an incident attributed to the “Tawhid and Jihad” group. Algerian security forces have identified 100 terrorist leaders to be captured or eliminated. With coordination enhanced by the annual Flintlock exercises conducted from the airport at Zewela in Libya, French, Spanish, Italian, and British SOF have encouraged their Algerian counterparts to cultivate the Faradi, al-Zaghaymat, and Sassou tribes, whose area of influence extends across the porous international borders in the area. Across the globe, SOF units trained by Western mentors have been in action, and the partnership in the Philippines paid dividends Feb. 2, 2012, when a Jemaah Islamiyah meeting in Patiul, in the southern Sulu province, received a direct hit from precision, air-launched ordnance. Three senior terrorist commanders – Malaysia’s most notorious bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan); Umbra Jumdail, alias Dr. Abu Pula, known to be a leader of the

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Middleton, right, a marksmanship instructor with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) Africa, coaches a member of the Djiboutian National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN) during a combat marksmanship training event Aug. 30, 2012, in Djibouti City, Djibouti. GIGN, a French armed forces special operations unit, and U.S. Marines and sailors assigned to SPMAGTF Africa trained on close-quarters combat, medical care, and sniper skills. The Task Force was composed of 120 Marine Corps and Navy reservists whose mission was to conduct Department of State-sponsored security cooperation missions in support of U.S. Africa Command and Marine Corps Forces Africa.

Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf group; and the Singaporean Abdullah Ali, who used the nom de guerre Muawiyah – were all eliminated at night, along with a dozen other insurgents. This operation, code-named Nemesis, was probably planned by the U.S. JSOC intelligence cell at the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga and executed after a homing device had been planted in the property. Reportedly, the stand-off air-to-ground weapons were delivered by a pair of obsolete Philippine Air Force OV-10 Broncos. Not all such interventions were as successful, and in March, the SBS failed to safely recover British engineer Christopher McManus and an Italian, Franco Lamolinara,



international sof year in review being held captive in northern Nigeria. Both men, employed the need to insert clandestine reconnaissance patrols, if by a Central Bank building contractor in Birnin Kebbi, had not direct intervention. These intensely political decisions been abducted from their compound in May 2011 by Boko are controversial and high risk, and, for Turkey, fraught with the danger of inadvertently promoting the interests Haram, a Nigeria-based group that seeks to overthrow that of an independent Kurdistan. country’s current government and establish Islamic law in Whereas there may be some inevitably overt, highits place. Two videos, containing the ransom demands, were profile operations conducted by U.S. and other internadelivered, and a sophisticated rescue plan was coordinated tional special operations forces, the growing investment is from the British High Commission. After the kidnappers undisguised, and JSOC’s Votel has anticipated an annual 5 had been traced by SIGINT, two troops plus their logistical support from the SBS’ A Squadron, with an armed Hawker percent increase in manpower, which has already peaked at 60,000. Indeed, Adm. Eric T. Olson, then-chief of SOCOM Beechcraft intelligence and surveillance AT-6 circling overhead, moved to rescue McManns and Lamolinara. However, before his replacement by Adm. William H. McRaven in August 2011, mentioned 51 countries of concern, and they were unable to enter the target building, on the town’s outskirts, until the pair had been murdered by their captors, testified to the House Armed Services Committee that 85 percent of SOCOM was engaged in the 20 countries of two of whom were also shot dead as the house was stormed. U.S. Central Command’s area, consisting of Afghanistan, A month later, the SBS led an assault on a construction site in Kabul that had been seized by the Taliban the previous Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, day. From their vantage point on the half-built structure, the Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Taliban fighters were able to fire on the rest of the city, with Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the UAE, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. SOCOM spokesman Col. Tim Nye acknowledged the British, American, German, and Japanese embassies within range. Usually based at Kandahar, the SBS happened that SOCOM personnel were active in nearly 70 countries across the globe, and other open-source research reveals to be in the city, and working with Afghan soldiers, were that SOCOM participated in joint training projects during able to reoccupy the building while gunfire from circling the year, apart from those already mentioned, in Belize, American Black Hawk helicopters picked off targets on the Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, building. Germany, Indonesia, Jordan, Norway, Panama, Poland, Naturally, not all SOF deployments become known, and Romania, South Korea, and Thailand. Put simply, “the army details of the commitments accepted by JSOC, commanded that trains hard, fights easy.” since June 2011 by Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, are largely classified, although it is common knowledge that the 3rd Special Forces Group has personnel in at least 10 countries in the Middle East. This is doubtless a reflection of the contingency planning required in anticipation of the likely consequences of an escalating civil war in Syria and the implications for • Designed by combatives expert/ Jordan and Turkey. Special operations knifemaker Fred Perrin forces in both countries changed their • Flat-ground VG-10 stainless steel blade posture, but not their doctrine, in prepa• Non-reflective black ceramic coating ration for greater regional instability, an • Molded nylon handle with Kraton® panels exodus of refugees, and the likely need • Index-finger choil/integral guard to defend safe havens for armed militias • Molded polymer sheath seeking to mount cross-border raids. • Weighs only 3.7 oz (105g), 6.2 oz (176g) Turkey’s Maroon Berets, who are primarily with sheath defensive and benefit from NATO collaboration, fulfill a domestic security and counterterrorism role directed against Kurdish terrorism. In contrast, Jordan’s 37th King Abdullah II Royal Special Forces Brigade and the 28th Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah II Rangers Brigade, the country’s two main SOF units, act as a key regional hub, having benefited from a long relationship with the 22 SAS, to run training programs for their counterparts from Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen. As condi820 Spyderco Way tions for the Assad regime in Damascus Golden, CO 80403 303.279.8383 deteriorate, pressure will have built on 800.525.7770 Amman and Ankara to prepare for various alternative scenarios, spanning a demand from existing partners to accommodate covert training and logistics facilities to




Worldwide SOF:

Evolving to Meet Emerging Threats By David C. Isby

Germany’s Kommando Spezialkräfte operations in Afghanistan have been limited by a lack of SOFcapable helicopters.


In recent years, special operations forces (SOF) in many countries have moved from being a peripheral element of national security to being a central one. In today’s world, SOF units are bulwarks against terrorists, guerrillas, and narcotraffickers. SOF now matter more and are being tasked with more challenging missions. As a result, even combat-experienced forces are now looking at new organizations, equipment, and tactics. Of late, the most significant impact on worldwide SOF has been the power of the U.S. special operations model. The model of U.S. SOF has influenced counterparts worldwide, even those with their own traditions and combat-proven capabilities. This reflects the participation of SOF in the U.S.-led coalition efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, as well as the global interaction and training by their American counterparts. This has happened in parallel to the rise of an integrated headquarters for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) SOF. Worldwide, NATO and coalition SOF continue to demonstrate their capabilities – in Libya in 2011 and Mali in 2013 – even without the U.S. participation that is part of their operations in Afghanistan. Inf luenced by these changes, or their own reaction to a changing security environment, more countries have established joint SOF organizations. A range of non-kinetic missions requires investment and training; in a world dominated by a 24-hour news cycle, SOF kinetic action will have to be finely tuned. Specialized equipment, such as upgraded helicopters, reliable, long-range communications, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have revolutionized SOF capabilities. But other changes in the world are presenting challenges. Countries experiencing cuts in defense spending and force structures will find it attractive to rely on SOF to compensate, but this may not prove feasible.

Bundeswehr photo

SOCOM: GLOBAL PARTNER AND MODEL The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been both a partner and a participant in these worldwide changes. SOCOM’s capabilities and successes over the past decade have been the result of much investment and hard-earned experience, a model of organization and the use of technology even to the most battlehardened SOF worldwide. Despite the looming U.S. budget crisis, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta identified U.S. SOF as among the top priorities for investment. In a Feb. 6, 2013, speech at Georgetown University, Adm. William H. McRaven, the current SOCOM commander, was not bragging when he said, “Today’s special operations forces are the finest the world has ever seen.” In the United States, SOF has carried much of the burden of both kinetic operations against terrorism and the training and interaction with friendly armed forces that have marked U.S. global security engagement since 2001. In 2010, Adm. Eric T. Olson, then the commander of SOCOM, stated that his command was working in 77 countries, including six considered “at risk.” The number increased to 79 by 2012. The United States has made an effort to reach out to foreign SOF. For the United States, there has been an increasing perception that encouraging highly capable foreign SOF communities meets U.S. policy interests in three broad areas: being able to defeat mutual threats; being capable of participating with the United States in coalition warfighting and antiterrorist campaigns; and being an effective participant in training, planning, and operations alongside U.S./multilateral/bilateral alliance structures. McRaven has emphasized the international outreach of his command to foreign SOF communities. “We’re trying to teach other nations how to deal with their own problems so they don’t grow violent extremists,” he said.


Afghan special forces await NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s visit to Camp Morehead, Afghanistan, April 12, 2012.

The strengthening of the U.S. Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), organic to each regional combatant command (CCMD), has allowed for building on-the-ground relationships with the leadership of friendly SOF communities based on knowledge of their unique situations and conditions. This includes U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the last CCMD to establish a TSOC, with relations with SOF in Mexico (where naval SOF is being developed with U.S. assistance) and other neighbors being presented as an important part of its mission. The U.S. Special Operations Liaison Officer program now provides links with 13 partner SOF communities. In spring 2012, SOCOM’s international SOF week in Tampa, Fla., brought together representatives from 96 countries, with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as an after-dinner speaker highlighting the gatherings’ importance. All this is part of McRaven’s “Global SOF Initiative” program, designed to build relationships, capability, and capacity within U.S. partner nations and allies in the coming years of austere budgets and declining resources.

In Afghanistan, at its height, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had 2,200 NATO SOF personnel alone, including those from Canada, Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, plus others from nations including New Zealand, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the United Arab Emirates (trained by the ROK). Some of these were from SOF communities with decades of experience, while others were only able to deploy because they had received U.S. training and aid money. On Jan. 1, 2013, a unitary SOF Joint Task Force (JTF) headquarters for Afghanistan achieved its full operational capability under U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas. Since the United States has exited combat operations in Iraq and is planning to exit conventional combat in Afghanistan, how SOF will carry on its missions there and counterterrorism throughout the world is critically important. In any case, working with or through coalition partners has proven to always provide valuable capabilities and capacity for future operations across the operational spectrum of roles and missions. To ensure that effective coalition SOF efforts are repeatable and institutionalized, the NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) was established at Mons, Belgium, in 2010. For a generation, NATO standards have provided a framework for air, land, and sea interoperability; they are now being applied to special operations. The establishment of NSHQ reflected decisions made at the 2006 Riga Summit to set up the NATO Special Operations Forces Transformation Initiative (NSTI). These were motivated by combat lessons from Afghanistan and years of frustration in real-world operational situations. These included both trying to use SOF in NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia as well as trying to provide a contingency capability for security for the 2008 Athens Olympics. Since 2009, coordinating and


CHANGING FORCES While the dramatic kinetic action of direct action (DA) missions dominates press coverage of SOF, in reality, special reconnaissance (SR) has been, and remains, a primary mission worldwide. There is often no substitute for a pair of trained SOF eyes on the ground to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), along with precision terminal guidance of air strikes and artillery. This was how U.S. SOF units rolled up the Taliban and al Qaeda in just 49 days in Afghanistan in late 2001, and it is still an extremely effective tactic. The proliferation of UAVs has changed how SOF carry out this mission in many countries. In Israel, UAVs and SOF have been integrated in a new “Depth Corps,” along with other sensors and long-range weapons systems, to create a capability to fuse and analyze diverse ISR data. Reliable, real-time broadband communications to tie them all together ensure that Israel’s combat-tested SOF – Sayeret Matkal (Army), Shaldag (Air Force), and Flotilla (Shayetet) 13 (Navy) – will be better operationally integrated. This new

ISAF photo by Maitre Christian Valverde, French Navy


developing operational and equipment standards, NSHQ has established a baseline of training and capabilities for SOF deploying for NATO operations. Furthermore, NSHQ functions as an operational headquarters when directed by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Just three years after its establishment, NSHQ had grown to include 26 NATO and three non-NATO countries. The United States is using NSHQ as a model for regional security coordination centers, which will institutionalize its outreach to other SOF communities around the globe. This is especially true at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), covering Central and South America. These can help make permanent the relationships built at U.S. SOF conferences, either long established, like the annual Pacific Command (PACOM) SOF meeting in Hawaii, or new, like the East Africa SOF 2013 meeting.

NATO photo

A Russian special operations assault team conducts a boarding exercise on the Italian navy ship San Marco’s flight deck Feb. 26, 2013, during counterpiracy operations.

corps is commanded by recalled Maj. Gen. (Reserve) Shay Avital, a former commander of Sayeret Matkal. Israel has increasingly emphasized the importance of its SOF during the “war between the wars,” when conventional land and air forces are constrained. In addition, Israel’s electronic attack capability – possibly including the highly publicized Stuxnet worm used in Iran – is integrated with their SOF as a non-kinetic but still powerful capability. Operational integration of diverse SOF has taken place in many countries over the past few decades, especially among top-tier nations. France’s COS (Commandement des Opérations Spéciales – Special Operations Command) is 20 years old in 2013. Canada’s Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), operational since 2006, integrates aircraft and counter-NBC assets along with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. Poland’s Special Forces Command (DWS, Dowództwo Wojsk Specjalnych), created in 2007, is investing in organization and training as well as equipment. “Poland is among the European leaders as far as its special forces are concerned,” Gen. Boguslaw Pacek, an adviser to the defense minister, was quoted in the Polish press. Despite the setback of the death of DWS’ Commander Maj. Gen. Włodzimierz Potasiński in the 2010 Smoleńsk plane crash, Poland aims at an expansion of SOF and integration with NATO capabilities. The significance of meeting NATO standards is evident from its announced objective to become by 2014 a “framework nation,” the level of qualification in SOF currently achieved by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Canada (most of which also have joint special operations commands). This means that Polish SOF officers will be able to lead NATO SOF through Combined Joint Forces Special Operations Component Command (CJFSOCC). But Poland’s plans to deploy a squadron of SOF helicopters and at least two transport aircraft have been limited by resource shortfalls. Poland has nevertheless been helping Croatia bring its SOF force (Bojna za Specijalna Djelovanja, or BSD) up to NATO standards. In addition, the Armed Forces of Ukraine plan to form special operations forces as a separate arm of service by 2017. Other SOF forces, even when their resources are being cut, have realized that specialist aircraft and aircrew are vital to SOF capabilities. Lack of resources undercut German antiterrorist deployments, including those of the Border Police’s GSG 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9), contributing to the decision to call off a potential rescue attempt on a hijacked ship off Somalia in 2009. Germany’s lack of SOF-capable helicopters has also limited its KSK (Kommando Spezialkräfte, special operations command, organized in 1996) in operations in Afghanistan. Its requirement for new SOF helicopters will not be met until at least 2015-16. As well as ongoing combat operations in the Caucasus and against Somali pirate hostage-takers, Russia’s SOF continues to exercise with the special warfare forces of SOCOM, as well as those from former Soviet nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Russia has moved to return organizational control of its seven Spetsnaz brigades from

the Ground Forces to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). In addition, Russia is investing in specialized SOF air support capabilities, including some 20 modified Mi-8AMTSh “Hip” helicopters, and some Il-76 “Candid” transports with a night vision goggle flight capability. Russia aims to eventually establish a joint-service special operations command as an operational headquarters. High-ranking officers of the general staff and the GRU had pushed for such a command to be established since 2008, although Anatoly Serdyukov, the previous defense minister, was reluctant to go ahead. Since October 2012, the current defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, has moved to create this command and increase joint SOF training above that already taking place in recent years. The new command will have operational control of one or two Spetsnaz brigades. One of the powerful motivating factors for creating joint structures for Russian SOF has been the mission of security for the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Russian press has identified the challenge of bringing together the following entities for this task: “Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU [Spetsnaz]); the Interior Ministry’s police special-purpose detachments; the border guards’ ‘operational support sections’; the Internal Troops’ TsSN (Spetsnaz); the FSB’s TsSN, with its Alfa and Vympel [units]; and even the Foreign Intelligence Service’s own Spetsnaz.” India’s defense ministry has also been looking at the potential for a joint SOF command, though the army, which wants to retain full control of parachute and commando units for battlefield missions, has resisted this move. Meanwhile, the Indian Navy’s Marcos (Marine Commandos) reportedly modeled themselves after the U.S. Navy’s SEALs. The Indian Air Force’s Garud unit is trained for direct attack of enemy airbases, and India is also investing in the mobility equipment SOF requires, such as C-130J transports and the


Israeli Defense Forces photo by Ziv Koren

Shayetet 13, the Israeli Defense Forces’ elite naval commando unit, engages in sea-to-land incursions, counterterrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence gathering, and maritime hostage rescue. Having participated in all of Israel’s major wars and countless operations, the unit is highly secretive.

amphibious warfare ship, INS Jalashwa, though they have not yet procured specialized aircraft, manned or unmanned, to support SOF missions. China has been building up its SOF since the 1990s, with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) emphasizing forces that could be used to overcome Taiwan’s defenses in a conventional conflict, and with internal security forces that have counterterrorism missions. PLA SOF stress heliborne and amphibious mobility. Chinese writings have also pointed out that “small-sized,” “agile,” and “versatile” capabilities have become the basic orientation of PLA development. Neighbor North Korea’s SOF, like its ballistic missiles and long-range artillery, are a pillar of its ability to strike deep, beyond the Demilitarized Zone. The importance of SOF to North Korea was underlined on March 4, 2013, when Gen. Kim Yong Chol, chief of the Reconnaissance Bureau, gave a rare public speech about “ever more powerful and real” threats. Afghanistan has made progress in re-creating a SOF capability that dates back to the 1960s. In 2012, in addition to working with ISAF SOF, an Afghan National Army (ANA) SOF platoon was operating independently in Khost. Four platoons were then available for operations nationwide. The Joint Special Unit (JSU), formed in 2009, includes both army and police personnel and has operated in 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces, integrated with ISAF SOF. It is, however, dependent on the United States for helicopter mobility. The JSU has made a priority of avoiding collateral damage. CHALLENGES The economic crisis and the winding down of commitments in Afghanistan have motivated large-scale cuts in defense spending. While SOF have been preserved from the

worst of the first-round cuts in countries such as Britain and France, as well as the United States, they will not escape the more painful impact likely to be seen in the near future. SOF cannot operate without other forces, both operationally and as part of the larger force structure, from which SOF units and capabilities are assembled. Cuts in force structure will mean that SOF will be asked to do more but will have fewer resources to turn to for support. In addition, the lowquantity, high-cost equipment associated with SOF, such as specialized helicopters and their highly trained crews, communications, and sensors, is increasingly difficult to afford. SOF is expensive, in terms of training as well as equipment, and expecting results without investment is unrealistic. However, compared to other investments – NATO estimates a 110-man SOF company could be equipped for 13 million euros – the return in terms of capabilities across the spectrum of conflict is likely to remain compelling. “Special operations today is a networked force that cannot be effective without these strong linkages to other organizations and other national special operations forces,” McRaven said in 2012. As a rear admiral commanding U.S. SOF in Europe, he demonstrated this notion by being willing to put American SOF units under coalition commanders in Afghanistan. The United States has, during his career, influenced worldwide SOF while becoming a global force itself, aiming to encourage partners able to carry out missions as part of coalitions. For NATO, the NSHQ is a way to ensure that the alliance-wide standards and shared understanding that enabled the coalition air campaigns against Kosovo and Libya and which have been honed in Afghanistan are applied to SOF communities worldwide. Other major powers – Russia, China, and India among them – will continue to invest in SOF and their capabilities. The innovations seen in the United States and NATO over the past decades, such as the creation of joint SOF commands and the recognition of the need for specialized air and naval mobility assets, may be followed by these countries for their own reasons. Even outside U.S. and NATO influence, the importance of increasing SOF capabilities is being recognized.



Ground Vehicles The early months of 2013 find the greater U.S. special operations forces (SOF) community facing a number of recent and pending actions surrounding its ground vehicle platforms. In terms of recent acquisition actions, one of the most noteworthy events was the mid-January selection of a vehicle platform for the Guardian A ngel A ir-deployable Rescue Vehicle (GAARV) program. Although not currently slated for fielding within U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the GAARV will provide Air Force “Guardian Angel” rescue personnel with the types of specialized mobility capabilities normally associated with SOF elements. The orig i nal Februar y 2012 GA A RV announcement highlighted the need for “up to 61” GAARV platforms, with the envisioned asset described as an “air-deployable, surface rescue platform capable of maneuvering over adverse terrain in order to search for and recover isolated personnel (IP) and/or equipment, while also providing the capability of transporting the rescue team and the IP from an area of high threat to a defendable location for recovery by aircraft or self recovery to the final destination.” In late January 2013, HDT Global announced that its Expeditionary Systems Group had been awarded the GAARV contract for the production of HDT Storm™ Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicles. Describing Storm as “an ultra-lightweight, air-deployable tactical vehicle that offers Guardian Angel rescue teams the necessary equipment to search for and recover personnel and equipment in austere geographic locations,” the announcement highlighted the platform for providing “unparalleled speed, payload, range and durability,” while meeting


the internal transportability requirements of M/HC-130P/N/J, C-130/C-130J, KC-130J, and C-17 fixed-wing aircraft, as well as CH-47 and CH-53 helicopters. The platform “can also be deployed through low velocity aerial delivery or Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) methods.” With a curb weight of 4,320 pounds and a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 8,050 pounds, the Storm design is capable of carrying up to three patient litters in a rollover protection system (ROP), without modifications, while still maintaining 360 degree field of fire for weapons. “The HDT Storm gives the Guardian Angel Teams the capability to perform their mission, particularly when facing terrain impassable using other vehicles,” explained Robin Stefanovich, Business Development for Vehicles and Robotics, HDT Expeditionary Systems Group. “Although extremely lightweight, this vehicle has the necessary power and performance to deliver personnel and equipment to their desired destination, away from an area of high threat to a defendable location.” While Storm might have peripheral applications in some SOF scenarios, a more direct vehicle application effort can be seen in the Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) 1.1 program. As described in early 2012, GMV 1.1 was envisioned as “a Non-Development Item (NDI) vehicle with Special Operations Forces (SOF) peculiar modifications. This vehicle will be a highly mobile, C/MH-47 transportable HDT Global’s “Storm” Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicle won the contract for the U.S. Air Force’s Guardian Angel Air-deployable Rescue Vehicle (GAARV).

Photo courtesy of HDT Global

by Scott R. Gourley


General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems photo

platform with associated manuals, spare parts, mechanical/ operator training, and a government furnished C4ISR suite.” The announcement acknowledged USSOCOM had an approved capability production document that required 1,297 GMV 1.1 vehicles to achieve full operational capability. The envisioned acquisition approach called for interested vendors to provide “a product sample” vehicle as part of their proposals, with that vehicle able to demonstrate a mature design that, “with minor engineering effort,” would be capable of meeting the production requirement. A draft request for proposals in early April 2012 was followed by the April 12, 2012, release of a solicitation that was subsequently amended and clarified on multiple occasions through early June. The solicitation resulted in responses focused on at least six different mobility platform designs, including solutions offered by companies/teams led by: AM General; General Dynamics Land Systems; General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems; Navistar; Northrop Grumman; and Oshkosh. AM General representatives, for example, characterized their GMV 1.1 offering as “the next generation vehicle … which takes the original GMV 1.0 to the next level of performance, mobility and transportation. With its lighter


weight, increased GVW [gross vehicle weight], six articulated weapon mounts, greater stowage capacity, and faster top-end and dash speeds, the [AM General] GMV 1.1 sets a new standard for a CH/MH-47 internally-transportable rapid-response vehicle.” Reflecting in part its December 2011 acquisition of Force Protection, General Dynamics Land Systems highlighted the “Spectre” vehicle for meeting “the diverse and challenging missions that special operations demand, including transportability, mobility, modularity, and technology.” Company releases pointed to “extensive testing over a two-year period to validate the vehicle’s design and

U.S. Army photograph by Sgt. Todd Robinson

ABOVE: General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems’ “Flyer” is a leading contender in the GMV 1.1 program. RIGHT: Pvt. Edwin S. Ruffner, an armor crewman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, discusses the capability of the Christini 450cc all-wheel-drive (AWD) motorcycle during Network Integration Evaluation 13.1 to Lt. Col. Phil Deans of Great Britain at Doña Ana, N.M., on Nov. 14, 2012. The Christini AWD motorcycle is one of several mobility platforms used by SOCOM.

Northrop Grumman photo Navistar photo by Randal Crow,

ABOVE: Northrop Grumman has partnered with BAE Systems and Pratt & Miller Engineering to produce the MAV-L offering for the GMV 1.1 program. The MAV-L is another example of industry leaders joining forces to establish innovative technology. RIGHT: Navistar Defense’s GMV 1.1 contender, the Special Operations Tactical Vehicle (SOTV), reflects the company’s past work on the Non-Standard Tactical Truck (NSTT), designed to resemble the ubiquitous Toyota HiLux.

performance,” with the vehicle “pass[ing] user trials at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and the Nevada Automotive Test Center, and [demonstrating] its systems reliability during summer trials in the United Arab Emirates.” General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems teamed with Flyer Defense, LLC, to offer a variant of the “Flyer” Advanced Light Strike Vehicle to meet USSOCOM’s GMV 1.1 requirements. Navistar Defense dubbed its GMV 1.1 offering the Special Operations Tactical Vehicle (SOTV). Unique in that it is believed to have been the only “closed top” candidate submitted to meet the user requirements, the SOTV reflects the company’s past work on the USSOCOM Non-Standard Tactical Truck (NSTT), a specially built vehicle designed to resemble the Toyota HiLux platforms that are a ubiquitous presence in many parts of the world. In reality, the

platform enhancements in the NSTT equate to a vehicle that is approximately 10 percent larger than an actual HiLux. Northrop Grumman, together with team members BAE Systems and Pratt & Miller Engineering, developed a new platform for the GMV 1.1 program. Called Medium Assault Vehicle-Light (MAV-L), the design was characterized as “a clean sheet approach” to meet the spectrum of special operations mission requirements. Oshkosh Defense® is believed to have responded to the government’s GMV 1.1 requirement with a variant of its


Special Purpose All-Terrain Vehicle (S-ATV). When publicly unveiled in the fall of 2012, company representatives pointed to a design “based on emerging worldwide requirements for forces performing unconventional and reconnaissance missions,” adding, “The S-ATV utilizes Oshkosh’s battleproven off-road technologies and expertise to nimbly travel across rugged, remote and urban terrains at high speeds. The vehicle is available in multiple weight and protection configurations.” Although many specifics remain to be announced as of this writing, the GMV 1.1 source selection process apparently resulted in a late January 2013 bid protest filed with the


U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) by one of the participating teams. The current projected due date for the official GAO response to that protest is May 8, 2013. While any pending GMV decision would certainly represent the next step forward in the acquisition of a significant quantity of special operations vehicle platforms, specific elements within USSOCOM continue to solicit small quantities of specialized vehicles to meet their unique mission profiles. A recent example of this type of “small quantity” procurement effort can be seen in a late February 2013 pre-solicitation announcement for a small number of V-22 Internally Transportable Vehicles (ITVs). According to the

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau

U.S. special operations forces members travel in a two-seater Kawasaki Lightweight Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle (LTATV) 2 while on operations in Farah province, Afghanistan, 2012. LTATVs feature a side-by-side seating arrangement and a storage area to the rear. Note the M240 machine gun fitted on a swing-mount on the passenger side.

announcement, the non-developmental item vehicles will be “a highly mobile, V-22 transportable platform with associated manuals, operator training, and sustainment support to include personnel, spares, and consumables,” with a minimum basic quantity requirement for just two vehicles, followed by the ability to purchase eight additional vehicles. U.S. special operations mobility platforms also include a significant number of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. USSOCOM ATV inventories include several different platforms like the Kawasaki Teryx® 750 and the Polaris MV850. The Kawasaki Teryx 750 side-by-side Light Tactical ATV (LTATV), for example, began entering selected USSOCOM element inventories in the 2008-2009 time frame and has been followed more recently by the Polaris MV850 “saddle seat.” In the latter case, in a late-July 2012 Polaris conference call highlighting second quarter company financial performance, Polaris executives pointed to the initial shipments of the company’s MV850 ATV to USSOCOM customers. The executives added that they also saw strong service interest in the company’s Military RZR (MRZR), which would be available beginning in the third quarter of 2012. According to Mike Jackson, founder of, the recent purchase of the MV850s by USSOCOM serves to highlight the command’s continued interest in lighter, more mobile platforms. Jackson explained that “supports all types of ATVs, side-by-sides, and special operations vehicles used by USSOCOM. And that’s the thing that really makes us unique. As a distributor I really don’t care which vehicle platform they use, because my real goal is sustainment. So whether they are buying a Toyota HiLux, Kawasaki, Arctic Cat, Can-Am, or Polaris it doesn’t matter to me, because we supply parts for all of them.” Along with the ATVs, Jackson pointed to motorcycles like the Christini 2WD and KTM 450 also being sourced by USSOCOM. Some of the existing USSOCOM ATV platforms are being modified for expanded utility. Early February 2013, for example, saw the issue of two modification solicitations on behalf of Naval Special Warfare Development Group. The first called for modification of an “existing side-byside 6X6 all-terrain vehicle to accommodate high pressure oxygen storage bottles for Exothermic Torching operations.” The second called for the modification of existing platforms “to mount a high pressure air compressor package that consists of a single gasoline engine powered air compressor and high-pressure on-board air storage bottles.” While declining to comment on the modif ication efforts, Jackson did acknowledge that his ATV sustainment business was built upon his own background in special operations. Describing most of the sustainment support efforts as “needs-based fulfillment,” he

explained, “Normally what happens is that if the user has a great supplier for something then they don’t contact me. But if they’re not able to get good, responsive support at a good price, that’s usually when we get involved.” From h i s p er s p ec t ive, Ja ck son a l so acknowledged, “A whisper of an upcoming procurement for two-seat and four-seat side-bysides to replace the Kawasaki Teryx. It’s been out there basically unchanged since around 2007 … and that vehicle is basically embedded in all of USSOCOM right now – MARSOC [Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command] has got it; Special Forces teams have all got it; with the Chris Haines package it is basically the LTATV – and that’s the vehicle we think they may be looking at replacing [See “Naval Special Warfare ATV Training” in the 2012-2013 edition of The Year in Special Operations.]” He pointed to significant industry interest and activity as further evidence of a likely procurement, offering, “Polaris is already advertising their ‘MRZR’; that’s their new model that’s already on [the] GSA [General Services Administration schedule]. I know that John Deere also came out with a new vehicle that they are showing to the military this year, as well as Arctic Cat with its four-seater and two-seater ‘Wildcats.’” Along with overall fleet sustainment, Jackson has also been involved in a small number of recent development efforts directed toward new vehicle capabilities. “This year, for the first time, we are working on a vehicle for Can-Am through the RP Advanced Mobile Systems platform for the ‘Strike Maverick,’” he said. “It’s the newest vehicle being developed for the SOCOM family: Its 101-horsepower engine is the largest in its class and the specially developed platform meets many of the requirements expected right out of the box.” In parallel with their work on StrikeMaverick™, and RP Advanced Mobility Systems have also cooperated to develop a new command and control (C2) platform on the Can-Am “Commander” platform. Jackson said that the C2 prototypes “have updated electronics systems that allow for radio usage even while the vehicle is shut down.” Looking toward future operations under a “re-balanced” global defense strategy, Jackson sees a continuing need for ATVs in USSOCOM inventories. “One of the things I think the guys learned in Afghanistan is that there were a lot of places they would like to go but the HMMWV was too wide, too long, or just too big when they tried to navigate the ravines,” he said. “And now that everybody is starting to focus back on their earlier AOs [areas of operation], you are going to start seeing a lot of mission-specific organizations looking at the specialized geography and mobility challenges in their regions.” Jackson and his associates are hardly alone in the development of prototype platforms in





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U.S. Army photograph by Sgt. Todd Robinson

Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Marines use an ATV during a joint operation alongside Afghan commandos in Farah province, Afghanistan.

anticipation of potential user requirements. As examples, several of the GMV 1.1 candidates noted above represent the culmination of those efforts. Another industry product slated for public unveiling in late April 2013 is a new internally transportable “gun truck” design developed by Dillon Aero [see “SOF Miniguns at War” on page 98]. A n outgrow th of the company’s modification of surplus Land Rovers to highlight turret and gun capabilities, the new design will reportedly feature a fold-down protective cage/weapon mount that will allow the platform to be internally transportable by CH-47 aircraft and be operational within 60 seconds of leaving the ramp. Finally, along with the platforms themselves, Jackson emphasized that one of the most important elements of special operations mobility comes from early and adequate training of operators on the platforms they will receive. “We are seeing a push by commands for additional driver’s training,” he noted, adding that “both military vehicle

operations and off-duty motorcycle training are being pushed as ‘force protection’ issues. “From a military standpoint, training these guys how to operate an ATV and a side-by-side safely is critical,” he said. “We are pushing to actually get it into the training course during Phase II of the Special Forces Qualification Course for the Green Berets. That’s because all of the Green Berets are going to operate these vehicles at some point in their career. For the Rangers and SEALs, most of them will, but every Green Beret that deploys is going to have these platforms assigned to his motor pool. So we are basically saying, ‘You do weapons training. You do air operations. You do mission planning. In a five-day course – which would add another week to the ‘Q Course’ – you could literally train the soldier on every vehicle that he is going to be exposed to in theater.’ Give them those hours of familiarization on those vehicles so that they understand the vehicle’s capabilities and, when he lands in theater, he has that head start.”



M45A1: A New Colt .45 for the 21st Century By John D. Gresham Few combat firearms are more personal than pistols. Much of this connection centers on the fact that successful marksmanship with a pistol is a matter of personal skill, practice, and hand/eye coordination. For more than a century, the pistol of choice for members of the U.S. military was the Colt M1911 .45-caliber semi-automatic. Originally designed by the incomparable John Browning, the M1911 “rail gun” and its .45-caliber ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round have been the standard for hitting power and reliability over 11 decades. Even though the M1911 was replaced in U.S. military service by the Beretta M9 9 mm pistol in the 1980s, many units and communities within the U.S. armed forces continued to use the M1911 for specialized purposes. Much of this desire to stay with the M1911 had nothing to do with nostalgia, but rather with the vastly superior hitting power of the .45-caliber ACP round. Also designed by Browning, this round had several times the mass of a 9 mm round and could, quite literally, “stop a charging Moro warrior dead in his tracks.” The most notable of those services holding out on giving up the M1911 was the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), which always loved the pistol for its incredible stopping power and maneuverability in close quarters combat situations. To this end, the USMC actually began to remanufacture M1911s at the Marine Corps Weapons Training Battalion’s Precision Weapons Section (PWS), located at Quantico, Va. There, Marine gunsmiths would disassemble selected M1911s down to the frames for examination and precision alignment. The weapons were then reassembled with new grips and ambidextrous thumb safeties, a new trigger assembly, high-visibility sights, precision barrels, and finally, improved magazines by Wilson Combat®. Known as the “MEU(SOC) .45,” they were mainly reserved for use by Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable), or MEU(SOC)s. The result was a virtually new weapon with improved accuracy, softer recoil (like a 9 mm Glock), and the classic firepower of the .45 ACP round.


The remanufactured pistols became treasured throughout the Marine Corps, especially since only a handful were ever seen outside of the USMC, and generally as presentation weapons given to senior officers and officials. So eventually the Marine Corps began to consider a new procurement of .45-caliber pistols, and bought a number of Interim M1911 Close Quarter Battle Pistols from Kimber while it considered its options. In the early years of the 21st century, USMC units were fighting across the globe in environments from the mountains of Afghanistan to the Philippines and Africa, relearning combat lessons from the 20th century that had been long forgotten. This included the need for compact, reliable, and maneuverable firearms, particularly in closequarters combat situations. In addition, Marines began to see the nature of their opponents change, with body armor and pre-combat pain medication usage becoming common in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The Beretta M9 and the 9 mm pistol round were felt to be inadequate for these kinds of emerging threats. The requirement for a new pistol became more pronounced, especially when the new Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) battalions were created, and the Close Quarter Battle Pistol (CQBP) program was started, with a number of submissions from various firearms manufacturers. The actual CQBP requirement itself was long and involved, initially calling for a level of parts interoperability with the original M1911 pistol. However, as the procurement moved along, features like a seven-round magazine and overall system reliability began to take hold in the minds of the USMC evaluators. On July 20, 2012, the USMC Systems Command announced that the winner of the new CQBP pistol contract was Colt Defense LLC of Hartford, Conn., the original manufacturer of Browning’s classic M1911 more than a century ago. The new CQBP pistol, designated M45A1, looks and operates like the same M1911 pistol used in World War I by Sgt. Alvin York and World War II by Sgt. Audie Murphy.


The new CQBP, designated M45A1, looks and operates much like the

Colt photos

M1911 pistol used in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

However, the M45A1 is a highly evolved version of the classic Colt .45. The key new feature of the M45A1 is a dual recoil spring system (adapted from the Colt 10 mm pistol line) that spreads out the recoil force of the big .45 ACP rounds over a greater period of time. In effect, by lowering the peak force of the recoil pulse, the apparent recoil force upon the user is greatly reduced, which increases accuracy overall. For anyone who has ever fired one of the older M1911 pistols and has felt “beaten up” by the weapon, the M45A1 should prove a much more pleasant pistol to use, in addition to reducing wear and tear on the pistol itself. In addition, the new weapon also has a number of detail upgrades that should greatly enhance pistol marksmanship by users of the M45A1. These include: • Novak™ “three dot” Tritium night sights, and a Wilson Combat seven-round magazine; • 5-inch National Match™ barrel, lightweight enhanced hammer, beveled magazine well, and a lowered and flared ejection port; • G10 grips, an ambidextrous safety, a solid aluminum trigger (with a 5-pound pull), lanyard loop, and improved cocking grip separations; • Mil Standard 1913 “Picatinny Rail” on the under side of the weapon for mounting flashlights, laser sights, and other accessories; and

• Cerakote™ Firearms Coating finish in desert tan on the slide and frame to prevent corrosion and wear. The initial order for 4,036 M45A1s (at $1,875 per unit) is actually an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract procurement with an initial value of $22.6 million. Early reports from those who have fired the new weapons are universally good, with reports of vastly improved reliability over the Beretta M9, and impressive “out-of-the-box” accuracy and smoothness. And while the USMC will always have a special place in its heart for the M1911 and its derivatives, the M45A1 may well be the pistol that makes Marine marksmen fall in love all over again. It is, first and last, a combat pistol with more than a century of combat experience packed into its design. For those who wear the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, you have something to look forward to when you get to fire this weapon for the first time.


DoD photo by Sgt. Joseph Tolliver

An MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flown by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), carries U.S. special operations forces and Guyana Defense Force soldiers during a joint training exercise (Fused Response 2012). Note the Miniguns in each door. The Night Stalkers were among the original users of the 7.62 mm Minigun.


The Evolution of the

M134D Minigun by Scott R. Gourley One iconic weapon system with deep historical ties to special operations forces (SOF) is the multi-barreled “Gatling gun.” Originally applied on fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft platforms, the “Miniguns” have evolved and expanded to a variety of naval surface and ground vehicle platforms within the SOF community. The primary Minigun weapon system employed in SOF air, naval, and ground applications today is the 7.62 mm M134D weapon system family manufactured by Dillon Aero, in Scottsdale, Ariz. “John Gatling came up with the Gatling g un back in the 1860s,” explained Chris Dillon, vice president at Dillon Aero. “That design was successful in its time, but then died around the turn of the [20th] century when the machine gun came out. But sometime after the machine gun came out – before or right around World War I – somebody actually took an early generation electric motor and put it on a Gatling gun. They tried it, thought it was great, didn’t know how to feed it, so put it away.” “A fter World War II, when the speeds of aircraft started to exceed 450 to 500 miles an hour, people rea l i zed t hat ex i st i ng weapon s didn’t produce enough concentrated

f ire to put a dense enough shot group into a chunk of airspace in a timely fashion,” he added. “So the government contracted with General Electric to create what was eventually called the M61 [Vulcan] Gatling gun. That is a 20 mm cannon that is in every F-16, F-18, and F-15 flying today. “After the success of the M61, they generated lots of different designs: 30 mm guns, 25 mm guns, and during the Vietnam War, with government money, they produced the original GAU-2A and GAU-2B [7.62 mm] versions of the weapon system,” Dillon continued. “That was originally done with U.S. government money, and they produced some 10,000 guns throughout the war.” “Sometime around 1975 they basically stopped producing any support spares for the weapon system,” Dillon stated. “That was fine, because the Army had a massive amount of inventory, which they managed to burn through over the next 10 years or so, so that essentially by 1985 there was very little spares support left in the inventory. Rapidly, units that were using the weapons found themselves unable to maintain them, so that by about the 1990s there were really only two units left using the weapon system: TF [Task Force] 160 [which evolved into the 160th Special


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Photo courtesy of Dillon Aero

A Dillon M134D on board a Canadian CH-146 Griffon helicopter over Afghanistan.

Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), the “Night Stalkers”] and some of the Navy’s Special Boat Units.” According to Dillon, the company began working with the weapon system in the ’89-’90 time frame, “completely unaware of what the military was doing with it.” Dillon Aero’s efforts began with the acquisition of a tractor-trailer load of Miniguns and spares from what he described as “a friendly foreign user.” “So we started shooting them. And what we found in shooting them was that they didn’t work worth a darn. We tried and tried and tried to get them to shoot continuously and successfully without failures. But what we did not know at the time was that the surplus we had bought was actually worn out stuff,” he said. “That turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” he said, “because when we got fed up with these things, we came to the conclusion that we were either going to box them up and forget about it or we were going to fix it. We chose to fix it. And in the process of solving all the problems that we discovered with the guns, we ended up fixing innate problems the gun had in its design. And knowledge of that effort eventually leaked its way back to TF 160.” Dillon continued, “At this time – about ’94-’95 – the 160th was acquiring spares that TACOM [U.S. Army Tankautomotive and Armaments Command] was soliciting from industry. So you had these small production runs and some of

it went to small ‘mom and pop shops’ that had a really hard time producing the parts to the [blueprints]. What happened was that the Army unintentionally began procuring spares that basically didn’t work. And those spares were getting into the inventory system and mixed with the existing spares that were good – essentially polluting the spares pool. The result was that guys ‘at Regiment’ [the 160th SOAR] would be putting spares in the gun and it wouldn’t work. Then they would pull another spare out, put it in the gun, and it would work. Nobody was sure what was going on but they knew they had an unreliable system now: a system that was essential to their work yet was unreliable. “They were on the verge of removing the weapon system from the inventory completely,” he acknowledged. “And if Regiment had dropped it, it would have been done for history. But it was just a complete fluke of timing that we happened to be doing what we were doing when they were coming to this conclusion. And somebody heard through the grapevine about what we were doing here in Arizona. Then one day we got a phone call saying they had heard about what we were doing and inviting us to Fort Campbell [Ky.] to show them our products.” Dillon and his father quickly arrived with a delinker – a component that separates cartridges from ammunition “belts” and feeds them into the gun housing – and some other parts that were soon being test fired on Fort Campbell ranges. “Over the course of the next year or so, we started getting orders for delinkers from the 160th, and that produced a need and a cause for us to start improving every other component in the system where we saw issues: bolt design; housing design; barrel design; et cetera. I think the contracts started coming in ’97-’98 and then by about 2000, 2001, 2002, every



AC power sources; and the current DC power configuration. “With all the design changes and modifications and improvements, we ended up with the M134D, which has a steel housing and steel rotor at the core of the weapon system.” However, with the 160th SOAR as its primary customer base, continuing emphasis was placed on weight reduction. “They’re an aviation outfit, so for them, weight is premium,” Dillon said. “Everything they do revolves around how heavy the aircraft is, how much fuel they have, and how many passengers and weapons they can carry. So we saw an opportunity to significantly reduce the weight of the Minigun by altering design and materials.” Early weight-saving investigations included the development of a titanium housing and a titanium rotor, which lowered the weapon weight for a new M134D-T (titanium) design from 62 pounds to 41 pounds.

“The titanium housing was great,” he added, “except that after about 500,000 rounds fired – which, in machine gun language is a very large number – a portion of it would start to wear out. Again, 500,000 rounds is a massive lifespan. Most machine guns have a life of about 40,000 rounds before you change them out. But we decided that we could save a whole lot of money and only gain 1 pound back by changing the housing back to steel. And you went from the decremented life of 500,000 rounds back up to the normal life of 1.5 million rounds. “That process eventually resulted in the M134D-H, which is a hybrid version of the weapon that we have now,” he said, adding that the hybrid version is “on every 160th platform.” “And it’s not all Minigun stuff,” he noted. “The Minigun requires a bunch of other stuff. It requires specialized mounts. It requires specialized ammunition-handling systems. And you have to get proficient at making that stuff or the gun doesn’t go very far … So we put a considerable amount of effort in figuring out how to make good mounts – initially for aircraft and then boats and then vehicles.” Other growth areas include ammunition-handling systems and efficient magazine designs. “These different knowledge bases started coming together to build a

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jayme Pastoric

year we were introducing new products for the Minigun. I calculated it out once: From 1997 to 2001, I think we were doing something like 25 to 30 products a year for it.” In the fall of 2001, the company was working on a new bolt design that provided significantly increased performance and improved service life. Dillon observed that the attacks of 9/11 provided the company’s customer base with an urgent need to get the new bolt design certified and fielded. “By 2002, we had basically improved every component on the weapon system, and we thought, ‘What the heck. Let’s just make new guns.’ So we made a batch of guns just because we wanted to make a batch of guns, and they got purchased very quickly by the government. In fact, Regiment bought some of the first batch of guns, and we did not know that they had been actively looking this entire time for a replacement for the Minigun to be the regiment’s standardized weapon system. Meanwhile, TACOM bought several of the guns, going through their approvals process, which took about a year, and then certifying it as the latest version of the minigun: M134D.” Dillon observed that the weapon has been through many iterations in its development life, including: 6,000 round (per minute) rate of fire; 2,000 and 4,000 round selectable rate of fire;

A Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman (SWCC) mans his GAU-17 Minigun during live-fire patrol training along the Salt River in northern Kentucky, Aug. 25, 2007. Miniguns now serve on board a wide variety of SOF platforms.

Photo by Tech. Sgt. Carmen A. Cheney, USAF

Special Forces ODA Team 1236 prepares to roll out for a medical engagement in Khakrez, Afghanistan. The MRAP vehicle is armed with a remote weapons system mounting a Minigun.

bigger picture and allow us to do greater stuff,” he stated. “We have now gone so far as to make weapons mounts for every combat deployed helicopter in the world – with the exception of some stuff done by the Chinese.” “For quite a while the M134D was almost the exclusive property of ‘the aviation side of the house,’” he recalled. “Then the Navy had some on some of their small specialized boats. That was about ’03, ’04, ’05. Then about ’05 some of the Special [Forces] Groups started to procure some weapon systems for uses on Humvees, working in conjunction with Navy Crane [Naval Surface Warfare Center-Crane].” Dillon related a combat vignette relating to early ground applications of the M134D by an Army Special Forces Group in Iraq. “When they first got the guns in Iraq, the group started rolling out on their usual routines,” he said. “Prior to this they had been getting into engagements every single day. But then the Miniguns showed up. The engagements started but the enemy suddenly got hammered. Very quickly the engagements stopped, and the users were picking up radio chatter from the enemy calling, ‘What the hell was that? There’s a new weapon. Get out.’ This went on a few times and suddenly that group was not getting engaged anymore. Everybody else was, but not them. Guys rolling out ahead of them were hit. They rolled out and nothing happened. Guys rolled out behind them and got hit. “Well, the group was there to fight,” he continued. “So they started putting it together – along with reports of captured pictures of HMMWVs with something that looked like a

Minigun on top of it and guidance ‘not to [mess] with this guy.’ So they started trying to use coverings to hide the fact that they had Miniguns and get back into the fight. And it was all because the enemy quickly figured out that this thing was much more effective than average weapon systems.” As an aside he added, “Meanwhile, some of the ‘Regular’ Army units who saw that happening started taking PVC pipe, painting it black, and zip-tying six sections around their barrels. Because they didn’t want to get shot at anymore. They were getting sick of it. And the Minigun has that kind of psychological effect.” Based on those sorts of battlefield experiences, Dillon said that the weapon “has found its way to a lot of different ground platforms and continues to do so. I won’t say this is a categorical statement – but it is a ‘near categorical’ statement – that it is starting to look like every new vehicle program that is being put out for solicitation has Minigun as one of the requirements.” Along with the weapons themselves, the company also manufactures turret systems that are being rolled into some of the solicitations. A walk through the company’s facilities provides a glimpse at the scope of potential applications for the M134D and other company developments. Passing through a hangar containing a half-dozen fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft platforms, Dillon walked toward a nearby building. “A few years back we ended up buying this vehicle down here because we were doing a little bit of vehicle work, which


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U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael R. Noggle

A crew member mans his M134D-H as an MH-47G Chinook from the 160th SOAR arrives at Simmons Army Airfield, Fayetteville, N.C., with participants from the 2012 U.S. Army Special Operations Command Capabilities Exercise, April 23, 2012.

then turned into a bunch of vehicle work, which then took over a whole section of the building,” he said. Parked in front of the building was a Land Rover that the company purchased as a stock U.N. excess platform and has since been modified as a “gun truck” with a cage, turret system, and other alterations. “That’s actually the very first design we came up with, and we’ve gotten such positive response that we’ve stuck with it,” he explained. “The turret system that you see on the top is what we’re calling the MMC – Multi Mission Capable – turret system. It’s got a Minigun magazine on top. A lot of effort went into designing that ground applications magazine, too. And if you pull that magazine out you can drop a ‘sub-tray’ into it and put a .50-cal up there. You can pull that sub-tray out and put Mk. 19 cans or 7.62 mm up there. So it’s the same mount system that handles all the weapon systems.” Inside the building was a demo “heavy SUV” Convoy Escort Vehicle that Dillon has equipped with a roof hatch and stowed Minigun that can be deployed in less than 3 seconds.

The fabrication shop also featured a surplus Land Rover being modified to easily drive on and off a CH/MH-47 series helicopter. “Everybody has had a hard time consistently hitting the height bogie,” he said. “But when this is all said and done, it will be a ‘gunned up, roll off, and be ready to fight within 60 seconds’ vehicle that will have everything from the gun truck on it but will be able to drop down to less than 68 inches – significantly below the height requirements.” Initial unveiling of the new design is slated for a late-April industry gathering in Washington, D.C. While continuing to develop and refine a spectrum of products, the M134D remains at the heart of many designs. “It has a completely unique sound to it so that there is no question when someone is on the battlefield with that gun,” Dillon observed. “It has an effect on target that, apparently, if you are engaged by it, you never forget. And the upshot from all of that is that the more of those things that you have, the less likely guys are going to be to mess with you.”


operation hawkeye

OPERATION HAWKEYE: Shooting Hoops to Help the Families of Fallen Heroes By Dwight Jon Zimmerman

“Since they lost somebody that they love, I think they need all the support that they can get.” – Teenager Will Thomas On Aug. 6, 2011, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) suffered the worst loss in its history when a CH-47 Chinook, call sign “Extortion 17,” flown by an Army Reserve and National Guard crew and containing Army personnel, Navy SEALs and Naval Special Warfare support personnel, Air Force Special Operations Command personnel, Afghan National Army commandos, a civilian Afghan interpreter, and a military working dog, was shot down by RPG fire in the Tangi Valley of Wardak province, Afghanistan. All 38 aboard the helicopter were killed in the shootdown. The helicopter was carrying a quick reaction force, part of a response to reinforce troops under fire. Will Thomas was a 12-year-old boy playing basketball with his father, Bill, in the McLean, Va., driveway of their home when he heard the news. When he told his father he felt bad about it, his father replied, “So what are you going to do about it?” After some discussion, Will proposed to honor the fallen by shooting 17,000 baskets over the coming Labor Day weekend. His father pledged to donate a penny for each basket to the charity identified for the fallen. Then, only days before taking up his shooting challenge, Will learned of an extraordinary coincidence: The widow of one of the SEALs killed in the mission, Lt. Cmdr. Jonas B. Kelsall, had grown up in Will’s hometown of McLean. This was the origin of Operation Hawkeye, in which young Will shoots baskets in exchange for donations to the families of those killed in action. The name “Hawkeye” is in honor of Hawkeye, a Labrador retriever who


became known nationwide as the immensely loyal pet of Jon T. Tumilson of Iowa, another Navy SEAL killed in the Aug. 6 action. The name is also a nod to Will’s shooting marksmanship and the protagonist of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Initially, Thomas’ shooting goal was 17,000 baskets, and he surpassed it. He made 20,317 midrange baskets in a 50-hour shooting span over that Labor Day weekend in 2011, raising $50,000 for the families of the Navy SEALs lost on Aug. 6. His 2012 challenge, Rise and Fire, honored all the special operations forces (SOF) aboard the aircraft and called for Will to make 2,600 long-range three-point baskets; he sank 3,317 in 34 hours of shooting, raising tens of thousands more for SOF. Most recently, on Feb. 17, 2013, Will honored fallen U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle with a 17-hour challenge, making 2,017 three-point baskets in 15 hours and raising more than $19,000 for Kyle’s family through the Chris Kyle Memorial Trust. Will harnesses a strong work ethic and the latest in social media to advance his mission. Operation Hawkeye has a robust Facebook platform ( as well as a stand-alone website (www.ophawkeyecom). Both these platforms contain information about the mission, related video and other media coverage, a library featuring works by mission team experts, a mail platform through which to express support for SOF families, gear offerings, a memorial to the fallen, and information on how to donate and offer other forms of support for the cause. The Facebook page features

operation hawkeye

ABOVE: Will Thomas makes his 17,000th basket on Labor Day weekend 2011, fulfilling his promise to make 17,000 baskets in honor of the heroes of “Extortion 17.” LEFT: Will Thomas has been shooting baskets to raise money

Photos courtesy of Operation Hawkeye

for the families of those killed in action since Labor Day weekend 2011.

postings on mission developments, highlights ways to honor the fallen and/or support their families and related causes, and generally informs others about the nature of SOF service. As of this writing, the mission’s Facebook page followers number more than 28,000 and counting. Operation Hawkeye is not a nonprofit charity, but financial donations are tax deductible and are distributed to appropriate

charitable organizations such as the Navy SEAL Foundation, Brandon Webb’s Red Circle Foundation, America’s Mighty Warriors, the USSOCOM Care Coalition, and others. In 2012, the SEAL Legacy Foundation awarded Will Thomas the SEAL Unsung Hero Award at a ceremony that also honored businessman and philanthropist T. Boone Pickens. Operation Hawkeye also engages key elements of the nation’s basketball community, ranging from youth and high school athletes and coaches to NBA teams and professionals, as well as organizations such as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Thomas’ strong work ethic has resulted in partnerships with companies such as Nike. He created a youth-focused paracord bracelet initiative and will soon launch a national free throw challenge through which individuals and teams across the United States can join with him to raise awareness and funds for SOF. Contributors can also purchase an Operation Hawkeye patch for $5, and all proceeds go to support the SEAL families. The three-color PVC patch with Velcro® back features the Operation Hawkeye logo – a stylized image of a boy shooting a basket, inspired by Will’s profile. Additional information can be seen at Will’s father said, “The end-goal is really nothing more – or less – than to show members of the SOF community that we care about them and are grateful for their service and sacrifice, and all are encouraged to express that sentiment in a manner that suits them best.”


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TESTED, PROVEN, CHOSEN. Aug. 6, 2011, Honor Roll (Listed in alphabetical order)

Air Force Special Operations Command • Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown • Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell • Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe U.S. Army • Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett • Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter • Spc. Spencer C. Duncan • Staff Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger • Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols Naval Special Warfare Command • Petty Officer 1st Class Darrik C. Benson • Chief Petty Officer Brian R. Bill • Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher G. Campbell • Petty Officer 1st Class Jared W. Day • Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara • Chief Petty Officer John W. Faas • Chief Petty Officer Kevin A. Houston • Lt. Cmdr. Jonas B. Kelsall • Master Chief Petty Officer Louis J. Langlais • Chief Petty Officer Matthew D. Mason • Chief Petty Officer Stephen M. Mills • Chief Petty Officer Nicholas H. Null • Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse D. Pittman • Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas A. Ratzlaff • Chief Petty Officer Robert J. Reeves • Chief Petty Officer Heath M. Robinson • Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas P. Spehar • Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Strange • Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson • Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron C. Vaughn • Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig M. Vickers • Petty Officer 1st Class Jason R. Workman • Military Working Dog “Bart”

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A Rich Legacy: The Origins of Air Force Special Operations Command By Robert F. Dorr


A “Carpetbagger” crew with their modified B-24D Liberator behind them, easily recognizable by its high-gloss black anti-searchlight paint scheme. The big Liberators had their nose guns, ball turrets, and other equipment removed to save weight and open up space. OSS Jedburgh teams and other agents parachuting into occupied areas dropped through the “Joe Hole” left by the deleted ball turret.

ig h over Na z i- o c c upie d France, an all-black B-24 Liberator plowed through the night. Homing on a beacon from resistance fighters on the ground, the Liberator approached its intended drop zone. The crew intended to sneak in and sneak out, but all eyes were alert for muzzle f lashes that would reveal they’d been spotted. At exactly the right moment, the Liberator disgorged its cargo – not bombs but human beings, Allied secret agents being deposited surrepti-

tiously behind the lines. Not long ago, the Secretary of the Air Force told airmen in special operations units that they “represent a rich legacy of service to our nation.” Special operations airmen fight like no one else, depositing special operations teams in the enemy’s backyard, aiming gunfire from orbiting gunships, using aviation as a tool to disrupt an enemy’s command, control, and communications. Today, their tools are digital, their techniques polished, and their mission after Afghanistan an accepted part of the nation’s work. But the “rich legacy” began amid manual typewriters, vacuum tubes, and sputtering piston engines. The first true special operations sortie took place Dec. 24, 1942, when two C-47 Skytrain transports dropped paratroopers behind German lines to blow up the El Djem Bridge in Tunisia. Pilot of the first Skytrain was Lt. Col. Philip G. “Flip” Cochran, a fighter pilot who’d strafed the bridge and knew it well. As German troops closed in on them, the paratroopers set off their charges, then trekked 110 miles across the desert to friendly lines. Only eight made it; the rest were either killed or captured, but the bridge went down. Cochran was soon to reappear in the world of unorthodox air action. In mid-1943, the Army Air Forces (AAF) were ordered to develop a behind-the-lines capability to support the clandestine warfare efforts of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In October 1943, the 5th Bombardment Wing in North Africa launched a mission in what may have been the first special operations airplane: a modified B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. As they settled into their work, these men became flaky and irreverent compared to the spit-and-polish traditional military. When the lone B-17 made an unscheduled stop at a North Africa base, GIs were surprised to see a motley gaggle of folk in non-regulation attire with no insignia of rank emerge from the bomber. Those who began the special operations tradition had no need for formality. They knew each other. That was enough.

National Archives photo

“Carpetbaggers” In November 1943, although it had no bombers to spare, the AAF yanked the 492nd Bombardment Group from daylight missions, moved the group to a new base at Harrington, England, and gave it a new job. Col. Clifford J. Heflin’s unit became known as the “Carpetbaggers.” Heflin’s airmen dropped agents such as three-man OSS “Jedburgh” teams and resupplied resistance forces. The


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492nd was directed not by the military chain of command but by the OSS. With nose guns removed and a new coat of gloss black paint, B-24 Liberators with names like Baby Bug II and Tiger’s Revenge f lew 2,809 sorties to drop agents and supplies. Although their war was in Europe, the Carpetbaggers sent one B-24 to Myitkyina, Burma, to explore the possibility of supporting clandestine operations there. The 492nd also carried out radio countermeasures and leaf let-dropping missions, always in secrecy and usually in B-24s that flew alone. A related OSS operation, called the Halyard Mission, extracted downed American airmen being protected by partisans in Yugoslavia. Between June and August 1944, OSS agents in AAF C-47s landed behind enemy lines

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: A hazy photo showing several Carpetbagger Liberators on their airfield in England. • A Carpetbagger B-24D drops agents during a night exercise. • Bundles of supplies and equipment were dropped from the B-24Ds’ bomb bays. • Agents prepare to be flown into occupied France by a Carpetbagger crew in World War II.

and recovered 432 Americans and 80 Allied combatants. Air Commandos If the Carpetbaggers were one leg of what became today’s special operations forces, the Air Commandos of Southeast Asia were their heart. In the book Apollo’s Warriors, Col. Michael E. Haas compares the arrival of the 1st Air Commando Group in the ChinaBurma-India theater (CBI) with “a

brick exploding through a plateglass window.” Independent, untidy, at times arrogant, and commanded by a mere colonel who answered only to Washington – Cochran – the Air Commandos became the personal air force of Maj. Gen. Orde C. Wingate, the unorthodox British commander in the CBI. Their tools were the P-51A Mustang fighter, B-25 Mitchell bombers packing a 75 mm cannon in the nose, the Stinson L-5 liaison aircraft, the Waco CG-4A glider, and, of course, the trusty C-47. The Air Commandos, known originally as “Project 9,” were conceived as a one-of-a-kind outfit to fight only during the 1944 dry season. Their job was to support Wingate’s “Chindit” longrange raiding parties, named after a legendary winged stone lion. With 523



AAF also operated an 85-foot rescue boat powered by two Merlin aircraft engines, with a 14-member crew and a range of 1,000 miles. History’s most horrendous war gave AAF special operations pioneers opportunities to test tactics and techniques they would use well into the 21st century, including close air support for clandestine operations, a “quick snatch” device that enabled a C-47 to snatch up a glider (and, later, a person), a primitive night vision device (the size of a footlocker), short takeoff and landing methods (with aircraft flaps that resembled barn doors), and other innovations. Upstarts who would have failed a white-glove inspection were the norm among Carpetbaggers and Air Commandos. “We wouldn’t have shined on the parade ground,” said Col. Fleming Johnson, an Air Commando veteran, in an interview. “We weren’t good at snapping salutes or saying, ‘sir.’ And regular Army officers didn’t understand that we were different.” In fact, Cochran, Alison, Johnson, and company were more than different: They were the point of the spear.

Secretary of Defense, a Department of Defense, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Air Force. Not created, however, was an Air Force special operations component. The Air Commando units folded in 1948. When the United States helped the Philippines fight against the Huk insurgency in the late 1940s, Lt. Col. Edward G. Lansdale had to begin from scratch to throw together an unconventional fighting force of C-47s, P-51s, T-6 armed trainers, and other aircraft. Lansdale refined an important technique that would evolve over the years – delivering loudspeaker and leaflet messages by air. Lansdale later said that he received greater cooperation from the CIA than from the Air Force. W hen North Korea overran its southern neighbor on June 25, 1950, there was no special operations component in the U.S. Air Force. Many examples of unorthodox warfare sprang up with little direction or coordination, among them a mission in which Air Force crews flew a CIA-owned YH-19 helicopter far behind the lines to salvage a crashed enemy MiG-15 fighter for intelligence analysis. The CIA used numerous aircraft – including the ubiquitous C-47 and an all-black B-29 Superfortress – to deploy intelligence teams and supplies through short- and long-range low-level penetration into both North and South Korea, and to drop agents across the border in what was then called Red China. C-47 Missions

Postwar Years World War II taught many lessons. They led to the creation in 1947 of a

During Korean fighting, much secret work was carried out by the Air Force’s tiny “Special Air Missions Detachment,”

U.S. Army photo via Robert F. Dorr

LEFT: Lt. Col. Philip G. “Flip” Cochran and Lt. Col. John R. Alison, commander and deputy commander, respectively, of the 1st Air Commando Group. RIGHT: This Sikorsky R-4 Hoverfly, seen at Lalaghat, India, in March 1944, piloted by Lt. Carter Harman, flew history’s first helicopter combat rescue mission. Air Commando leader Cochran said, “Just imagine what it would be like if we had a couple hundred of them.”

U.S. Air Force photo

men and 348 aircraft, Cochran and air ace Lt. Col. (later Maj. Gen.) John R. Alison wreaked havoc on Japanese forces, giving the Allies an edge in a campaign that had stagnated for two years. On March 5, 1944, they launched Operation Thursday, using C-47s and CG-4A gliders to haul Chindits behind Japanese lines. More than 100 C-47s, each pulling two gliders, carried 2,500 troops 260 miles to a drop zone scouted by Cochran in a P-51A and dubbed “Broadway.” Contrary to all wisdom, much of the flying was done in darkness with no lights or radios, and the C-47 pilots used almost two-thirds of their fuel on the outbound leg. Some returned to base with less than 40 gallons. In 24 hours, troops secured a landing field, making the gliders unnecessary. The Japanese never again saw success in the region. Instead of going away when the season ended, the group expanded to become the First Air Commando Group. Learning of a new aerial gadget being tested in the United States, the commandos tested their political leverage in Washington by requesting four Sikorsky YR-4B helicopters. The boxy R-4 was challenged by the high, hot conditions of Burma, but the commandos pulled off history’s first combat helicopter rescue. Before V.J. Day, AAF boss Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold authorized two additional Air Commando Groups. The 2nd joined the 1st in the CBI while the 3rd fought in the Philippines. In those islands, the Army Air Forces became a navy of sorts, operating boats, including a 63-foot rescue boat similar to the real Navy’s PT boats. The

National Archives photo

C-47s dropped agents and supplies in clandestine missions throughout the Korean War.

also called Unit 4, headed by a young captain, Harry C. “Heinie” Aderholt. The detachment was part of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron, the “Kyushu Gypsies.” Equipped with C-47s, now often called Gooney Birds, Aderholt’s detachment dropped spies, saboteurs, and partisans behind enemy lines by parachute in risky night missions as part of Operation Aviary. “The agents, called ‘Rabbits,’ were given virtually no training,” remembered historian Haas in an interview. “For many, their first parachute jump was the one they made into North Korea.” The key to success was accuracy in dropping an agent. Most were men chosen for their brawn, bravery, and passionate hatred for the North Koreans. One C-47 sortie dropped half a dozen men 100 miles behind the front, to blow up a bridge. On another night, a lone partisan parachuted into North Korea to monitor troop movements. The agents were equipped with crude radios and little else, but one American officer claimed that 70 percent were successful. Some agents were young women from Seoul’s prewar glitterati of actresses and models, hand-picked for espionage by Francesca Rhee, the wife of South Korean president Syngman Rhee. The young women parachuted behind the lines, ingratiated themselves with North Korean officers, gathered intelligence, and escaped southward to report. One of the women brought back details of a planned Chinese attack on the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, information that made possible a victory on the battlefield. Haas recalled, “One C-47 pilot told me: ‘We had the most beautiful babes in the world and we were kicking them out the door in 30-below-zero weather in the middle of the night.’” In the book Air Commando One, a biography of Aderholt, author Warren A. Trest gives a sense of the pressureboiler tempo: “During the brutal battles raging up and down the Korean peninsula in 1950-51, Aderholt’s detachment of C-47 Gooney Birds flew a punishing schedule of special airlift missions in support of the ground campaign.

These included parachute drops into the thick of combat and perilous lowlevel night penetrations as far north as Manchuria to airdrop Korean partisans and secret agents behind enemy lines. These intrepid men and women became a vital source of human intelligence during this critical phase of the war.” The C-47 detachment sometimes seemed to be fighting the brass as much as the enemy. When Aderholt asked for exhaust shields and camouf lage paint to make his C-47s less visible at night, it took months for the Air Force to cough up the money. The detachment received significant backing from the CIA, which had a role in its behind-the-lines drops. The C-47s carried out other missions. Some, equipped with the SCR-300 infantry radio and a trailing coaxial cable antenna, orbited near the front lines and relayed field reports from agents. Two C-47s were equipped with loudspeakers for aerial psychological warfare broadcasts, and also dropped psychological warfare leaflets. On at least one occasion, a C-47 used racks intended to parachute supplies to drop two napalm bombs in a surprise morning raid on a North Korean headquarters. Flying repeatedly into Chinese and North Korean gunfire, the detachment lost just one C-47 in combat, plus one that was damaged so badly it had to be written off.

The Korean War saw many other kinds of special operations, including Air Force troops using crash boats to insert ground agents into North Korea. More Korean Ops Very late in the Korean era (in January 1952), the Air Force created the 580th, 581st, and 582nd Air Resupply and Communication Wings (ARCWs) for unconventional warfare. The 580th served at Wheelus Field, Libya; the 581st was at Clark Field, Philippines; and the 582nd at Molesworth, England. In great secrecy, they operated B-29s, C-47s, SA-16 Albatrosses, and helicopters, and took their orders from Air Force officers in an unmarked building on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C. On Jan. 15, 1953, a B-29 crew known as Stardust 40, led by 581st ARCW commander Col. John K. Arnold, Jr., was shot down during a leaflet drop in a coordinated effort by MiG-15s and ground searchlight crews. Its nine survivors became the last American POWs released after the Korean War in 1955. So secret were the ARCWs that when a 581st H-19 helicopter piloted by 1st Lt. Robert Sullivan rescued the top U.S. air ace, Capt. Joe McConnell, after his F-86 Sabre went down in the Yellow Sea, the Air Force re-enacted the rescue at a freshwater lake in Japan to create a much-published photo that gave the impression McConnell had been picked


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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elisandro T. Diaz

A wall of water is thrown up by an 11-meter RHIB from Special Boat Team 20 during a tactical maneuver in a training exercise with service members from Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru at the Stennis Space Center as part of PANAMAX 2011.



IN DEPTH Regular photo galleries and photo essays showcase the finest military photography from yesterday and today. Whether telling a particular story or just sampling the latest, most impressive work of young photojournalists in the military, DMN regularly features the best and most striking images from a broad range of sources.

U.S. Air Force photos

Top left: A crewman looks down from the cockpit window of an Air Force AC-47 “Spooky” gunship during the Vietnam War. Many AC-47s had Spooky nose art. top right: U.S. Air Force Maj. Bernard F. Fisher and Maj. D.W. “Jump” Myers in Vietnam, March 10, 1966. The photo was taken in front of Fisher’s Douglas A-1E Skyraider (U.S. Navy BuNo 132649) after Fisher’s rescue of Myers from the A Shau Valley Special Forces camp airfield. Myers’ aircraft had been hit over the camp and caught fire. Too low to bail out, Myers crash-landed his aircraft on the small airstrip at the Special Forces camp and ran to cover alongside the runway. Knowing that his wingman would be captured or killed before a rescue helicopter could arrive, Fisher landed his A-1E on the heavily damaged runway. As other Skyraiders provided cover, Myers jumped into Fisher’s aircraft and they escaped amid heavy small arms fire. For these heroic actions, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Fisher the Medal of Honor on Jan. 19, 1967.

up by the Air Rescue Service rather than the clandestine unit. The well-equipped ARCWs performed many missions that verge on the unbelievable. For example, an SA-16 Albatross operating from a base in Turkey made a daring night landing in the Caspian Sea, surrounded by Soviet territory, to retrieve a high-ranking defector and his family. In the late 1950s, with Korea behind, the Air Force dismantled the ARCWs and turned the special operations mission over to Air National Guard units in California, Maryland, Rhode Island, and West Virginia, all equipped with black-painted SA-16 seaplanes. Former Guardsmen from two other states, Arkansas and Alabama, flew B-26 Invaders during the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, a paramilitary attempt to oust Fidel Castro that failed. During this era, with CIA funds, the Air Force developed the Helio U-10 Courier light aircraft (known initially as the L-28), which was capable of landing and taking off in as little as 50 feet.

Southeast Asia When Air Force members began operating in Laos and Vietnam at the start of the 1960s, the U-10 was just what they needed to reach remote villages that lacked an airstrip. But the Air Force lacked much more. Once again, because of a lull between wars, it had no organized special operations units. Air Force members who worked directly for the CIA flew the first U-10s and T-28 fighter-bombers. For years, the war in Laos, which included airmen known as Ravens secretly flying forward air control missions, was directed not by some brass-hat general but by the American ambassador in Vietnam. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a fresh breath of support to the Army’s Special Forces, the Green Berets. In April, eager to revive the World War II tradition, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Curtis E. LeMay authorized the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (code-named Jungle Jim), which eventually took T-28s and B-26s to Vietnam in the Farm Gate program.

The Air Force resurrected the term Air Commandos and gave the men a distinctive uniform, which included an Australia-New Zealand campaign hat, blue flying scarf, starched fatigues, and combat boots. As their presence grew in Southeast Asia, this new breed of Air Commandos were anything but military in appearance, however: They packed .45 automatics or Swedish K submachine guns, wore whatever they pleased, spoke smidgens or more of the local language, and seemed more comfortable in a village than in the company of traditional airmen with their sleek and un-Commando-like fast jets. If there was a symbol of the Air Commandos in Southeast Asia, it was the clattering A-1E Skyraider, a prop plane in a jet war. Few aircraft evoked such a mix of affection and frustration. Pilots rued the way the Skyraider’s four 20-millimeter cannons overheated, melted down, and sometimes set the wing on fire. One pilot complained that the big radial engine leaked so much oil, he might slip and fall on the flight line and break his neck before the Viet Cong could ever get a shot at him. The Air Commandos eventually fielded two squadrons of these aging warplanes. In the bullet-raked A Shau Valley of South Vietnam on March 10, 1966, Maj. Bernard F. Fisher landed his A-1E under enemy fire to rescue a downed airman, a heroic action that earned him the Medal of Honor. Four more special operations airmen received





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the nation’s highest award during the Vietnam era. In 1966, the Air Force reached its peak strength for special operations forces with a total of 10,000 people, 550 aircraft, and 19 squadrons. The service introduced AC-47, AC-119, and AC-130 gunships, the only warplanes in the world that engage a target while flying in a pylon turn. In 1967, the term “special operations” replaced “Air Commando,” not to the pleasure of all, and in 1970, special operations airmen participated in the raid of the Son Tay prisoner of war (POW) camp.

AFSOC photo

Post-Vietnam The Air Force emerged from Vietnam, as from previous wars, with considerable special operations expertise but with no permanent special operations force. As late as 1980, the service still had no system for identifying special operations skill codes in its personnel records, making it difficult to locate airmen with appropriate talents when they were needed. The tendency to approach special operations on an ad hoc basis highlighted numerous deficiencies during the failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in April 1980, and again in Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. Something resembling a permanent home on military organization charts emerged from the Desert One debacle in Iran when, in December 1982, the Air Force assigned responsibility for Air Force special operations to the Military A irlift Command (M AC). MAC activated the 23rd Air Force at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. This new numbered air force was charged with the worldwide missions of special operations, combat rescue, weather reconnaissance and aerial sampling, security support for intercontinental ba l l i st ic m i ssi le sit es, t ra i n i ng of USA F hel icopter a nd HC-130 crewmen, pararescue training, and medical evacuation. It was something of a misfit. Special operators considered themselves truly different, not just from others in MAC but from others in their service branch. Congress had long recognized the need for a distinct, joint-services command for unconventional warfare. In April 1987, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was established at MacDill Air Force

Base, Fla., and Army Gen. James J. Lindsay assumed command. Four months later, 23rd Air Force moved to Hurlburt Field, Fla., but remained part of M AC, still not qu ite the arrangement the service needed. The command arrangement made many uncomfortable in December 1989 when the largest paratroop drop since World War II kicked off Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama. By now, special operations forces were well equipped. Their inventory included AC-130A/H gunships, EC-130 Volant Solo psychological operations aircraft, HC-130P/N Combat Shadow tankers, MC-130E Combat Talons, and MH-53J Pave Low and MH-60G Pave Hawk hel icopters. Specia l tactics combat controllers and medics provided important support to combat units during this operation. A Combat Talon crew ferried captured Panama President Manuel Noriega to prison in the United States. In a speech, F. Whitten Peters, who was an Air Force Secretary in the 1990s, described how the new era called for a permanent special operations establishment and for lawyers: “Two years before I became the Secretary of the Air Force, I was the senior Department of Defense lawyer who worked the special operations portfolio. That meant that there was a certain rhythm to my life. Every Friday at about 4 p.m., Col. Jeff Ellis of the Army or Col. Johnny Wachop of the Air

Navy Lt. Devon Jones, left, runs toward the AFSOC Pave Low there to rescue him during Operation Desert Storm. The 20th Special Operations Squadron conducted what was the first combat search and rescue since the Vietnam War.

Force would stroll into my office with simple questions like: ‘We want to take down a terrorist on a Greek cruise ship in international waters tomorrow morning – any legal issues we need to know about?’ Or, ‘What can we do with a boatload of illegal Chinese migrants on a sinking ship just off Boston?’ Or, ‘You know we are working at the Olympics in Atlanta. Any problem with us making arrests?’” Peters later said, “The formation of AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] was inevitable.” In an overdue change on May 22, 1990, then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Larry D. Welch reorganized 23rd Air Force into Air Force Special Operations Command. AFSOC’s first commander was Maj. Gen. Thomas E. Eggers. Some said this should have happened in 1947, or 1953, or 1972, not in 1990, but at least it happened. The new command comprised three wings – the 1st, 39th, and 353rd Special Operations Wings, plus smaller units and Reserve groups. This was the unconventional warfare force that performed so well in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and in subsequent conflicts, with the motto, “Anytime, anywhere.”



Special Operations Forces and the Liberation of Iraq Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase 1: March 19 to May 1, 2003 By John D. Gresham Special operations forces (SOF) have been at the forefront of post-Cold War military operations, a trend that has only become more important as the 20th century turned into the 21st. The liberation of Afghanistan during the initial phase of Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan (OEF-A) was the capstone to a half-century of training and development by SOF units, taking the country from Taliban control in just 49 days. OEF-A provided the national leaders and military planners of what became Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) with great confidence in SOF capabilities and leadership. Unlike Operation Desert Storm in 1991, SOF units were part of OIF operational planning from the start, being assigned key responsibilities upon which the entire war effort would depend. Furthermore, when the American diplomatic effort to build the allied coalition faltered early in 2003, it was SOF units that wound up filling in the “holes” left in the OIF plan by problems finding coalition partners and bases in friendly host nations. Getting Ready For SOF units that would serve in the initial stage of OIF, 2002 was spent disengaging from their existing fights in the war on terrorism, returning stateside, refitting, and moving into training to support the planned liberation of Iraq. For units like the 5th


Special Forces Group (SFG), which had conducted the 49-day liberation of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, this meant handing over their responsibilities in Central Asia to other SOF units like the 20th SFG of the Army National Guard (ANG). In fact, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) had to stretch itself to the limit to cover existing contingencies in places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Colombia as well as serve the needs of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and European Command (EUCOM) in OIF. These needs would be significant, as the SOF component commander of CENTCOM (SOCCENT), then-Brig. Gen. Gary L. Harrell, had planned the biggest set of linked SOF operations in military history. These would include: • Western Iraq – The single most important strategic priority SOF mission of OIF was to ensure that not one ballistic or cruise missile was launched from Iraq onto allied and friendly host nations in the region. Therefore, SOF units would be tasked with locating and destroying missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), along with supporting infrastructure in western Iraq. • Littoral Areas – One of the vital early goals of the OIF campaign plan was to clear mines and obstacles in the northern Persian Gulf and Shatt al-Arab waterway to the port city of Umm

SOF in OIF Australian soldiers from the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando), conduct a night patrol on a remote range. The soldiers were a critical part of the Special Forces Task Group

Australian Ministry of Defense photo

deployed to the Middle East.

Qasr. This would allow for the rapid resupply of southern Iraq, especially the second city of Basra. There also was a requirement to seize a number of oil production platforms in the northern Persian Gulf, both to preserve Iraq’s oil industry and avoid a possible ecological disaster. • Southern Iraq – The allied invasion force based in Kuwait would require a number of SOF services in their drive to Baghdad. These would range from deep reconnaissance to seizure of critical transportation, oil production, and infrastructure targets. There also would be a need for personnel skilled in Iraqi culture and society to do initial surveys and help get basic services back to areas that had suffered the worst of Saddam Hussein’s abuses. • Northern Iraq – Also planned as an invasion route to Baghdad, northern Iraq was home to the Kurdish and Peshmerga populations, which had also suffered Baath Party oppression. In addition to supporting operations by units of the III Corps on their drive to Baghdad, SOF units would have to help the indigenous populations of the region in their own militia operations, while protecting the vital oilfields and production facilities near Kirkuk. • Baghdad – The true “center of gravity” for OIF, there would be a great need for SOF units and services in and around the Baghdad metroplex, along with the centers of Baathist power such as Ramadi and Tikrit once allied forces entered the city. For OIF, Harrell had the services of every SOCOM component command, along with something new: Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) commanders being allowed to command conventional force units. Announced by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in January 2003, this fundamental change was the result of the stunning events of OEF-A, where a few hundred SOF personnel, backed by the conventional war machine of the United States, took down the Taliban government in less than two months. As it turned out, this change would be one of the decisive reasons for the OIF victory. Throughout late 2002 and early 2003, SOCOM Commander Air Force Gen. Charles Holland and his Army, Navy, and


Air Force component commanders trained and packaged SOF units for delivery to CENTCOM. The largest of these, whole Special Forces (SF) battalions, were trained for tasks in wide areas of operations like western or southern Iraq. Smaller units, like detachments of SOF aviation helicopters, gunships, and tanker/transports also made their way toward Southwest Asia and Europe to be ready for the war, which came in mid-March. The Wild, Wild West From the beginning, the most strategically important SOF task was to prevent Iraqi missiles armed with WMDs from being launched from western Iraq into Israel and other nations. This vital role, and command of all the SOF forces south of the Iraqi/Kurdish “Green Line,” fell to thenCol. John F. Mulholland Jr., commanding officer of the 5th Special Forces Group (SFG). In the fall of 2001, Mulholland had brilliantly commanded the Northern SOF element of OEF-A, mostly formed from his own unit. By early 2003, Mulholland had assembled an amazing array of military muscle to accomplish the counter Theater Ballistic Missile (TBM)/WMD mission in western Iraq. Mulholland’s basic scheme of operations broke the region into four sectors, each patrolled by a company/squadronsized SOF element mounted on long-range desert patrol vehicles. These were drawn from the 1st Battalion of his own 5th SFG (1/5th SFG), along with the British and Australian Special Air Service (SAS). Supporting these ground forces was a multinational array of SOF aviation, including helicopters, gunships, and tanker/transports from U.S. Air Force


Special Operations Command (AFSOC), and SOF helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), Royal Air Force (RAF), and Royal Australian Air Force. To round things out, and taking advantage of Rumsfeld’s decree from January, Mulholland had at his disposal a number of conventional force units. These included two squadrons of Air National Guard F-16s and another of A-10s. For force protection, there were elements of the Florida National Guard, Patriot missile batteries, and even a battery of the new High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). Beg i n n i ng on t he mor n i ng of Ma rch 20, 2003, Mulholland’s mounted SOF teams flooded into western Iraq, quickly overrunning the entire area. Within days, the teams had every suspected TBM/ WMD launch/storage site under observation and were beginning to roll back the Iraq security forces. Armed with new Javelin antitank missiles and “cab rank” close air support (CAS) from “Mulholland’s Air Force,” the mounted SOF teams seemed to vaporize any Iraqi unit unfortunate enough to be in their path. So successful were these screening operations that Mulholland directed the teams to begin occupying some of the fixed military installations such as airfields and even small towns. By the end of major combat, not one TBM had been fired from western Iraq, and his forces were ready to turn over control of the region to conventional force units moving up from Kuwait. The Southern Battle To support the drive by the units of V Corps, I MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force), and British 1st Armored Division up

Photo courtesy USASOC

5th Special Forces Group ground mobility vehicles preparing to enter Iraq.

Photo courtesy USASOC

ABOVE: 3rd Special Forces Group GMVs at Debecka Pass in northern Iraq. RIGHT: U.S. Air Force pararescuemen from the 304th Rescue Squadron are hoisted up to an HH-60G Pave Hawk at Tallil Air Base, Iraq,

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo

during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

from Kuwait toward Baghdad, Mulholland set up three SOF Task Forces (TFs) based at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait. Drawn from 5th SFG and stateside AFSOC units, these powerful SOF units had practiced their tasks since the previous fall, and were some of the best-trained troops to go into combat during OIF. They broke down as follows: • TF-52 – Composed of the reinforced 2/5th SFG, TF-52 was assigned missions in direct support of the conventional force drive up through south central Iraq to Baghdad. • TF-53 – Made up of elements from the 3/5th SFG, TF-53 was the SOCCENT “reserve” SOF force that would stand by to dash into Baghdad when allied forces reached the Iraqi capital. • Air Force Special Operations Detachment-South (AFSOD-S) – Composed of aircraft and crews from the 16th Special Operations Wing, AFSOD-S provided helicopter and tanker/transport services for TF-52 and TF-53, along with the maritime elements of SOCCENT. Virtually all the teams of TF-52 and -53 were mounted during their operations and armed to the teeth. While some of the teams conducted traditional “discretionary” missions where stealth was the desired result, most were armed with a range of heavy weapons to stand and fight while calling in CAS and artillery to destroy the offending Iraqi units. This was “SOF with an attitude,” taking to heart all the lessons OEF-A had taught in 2001 and 2002.

As planned, the SOF campaign to support the conventional force drive up from Kuwait was to have been a discreet, behindthe-lines affair, with infiltrations beginning several days prior to crossing into Iraq. However, the attempted decapitation strike on Saddam Hussein early on the morning of March 20 changed the entire face of SOF operations in southern Iraq. Deciding to cut short the SOF infiltration and cancel entirely the planned air campaign, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks ordered a “rolling start” by his ground forces into southern Iraq, with SOF forces infiltrating by best means to their planned mission areas. Fortunately, TF-52 was able to quickly adapt, with brilliant results. TF-52’s deep reconnaissance missions were able to get into position and begin calling in CAS to tear up Iraqi Army and Republican Guard units days before the conventional forces were able to bring them to battle. Critical transportation and oil production infrastructure fell rapidly to SF teams, some so efficiently that the units of V Corps and I MEF never knew that SOF units had been there. There even was a highly successful unconventional warfare (UW) operation to take population centers with insurgent forces. Most important,



LEFT: Polish special operations forces (GROM) take a defensive stance during boarding operations in the port of Umm Qasr. The GROM participated in coalition naval forces’ efforts to clear southern Iraqi waterways of mines and rogue vessels to make way for the arrival of humanitarian relief shipments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

however, were direct support operations to the conventional forces to identify enemy positions for bombing strikes, as well as beginning the difficult job of winning the “hearts and minds” of the beleaguered Shiite Iraqis of the region. They also supported the well-publicized rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, along with the recovery of remains from other victims of the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company. TF-53 had its own job to do, somewhat earlier than had been planned. The rapid movement north toward Baghdad meant that TF-53 had to be ready to go into the Iraqi capital when the time came. To get their units near the objective, TF-53 seized an airfield and delivered a number of SF teams to an area less than 50 miles south of Baghdad. The rest of TF-53 was airlifted or moved via road to be ready when V Corps broke into Baghdad in early April. Then TF-53 swarmed into the city, providing critical intelligence to V Corps and I MEF that helped them rapidly take the entire metroplex. They also captured high-ranking Iraqi leadership personalities, located critical targets and facilities, and began to work with the civilian population to bring the city back to life. Securing the Littorals Though not well-reported, the maritime SOF campaign in the Iraqi littorals was a large and difficult undertaking, involving a wide variety of units from several nations. Beginning on the second night of the war (March 20-21), U.S. Navy SEa-Air-Land (SEAL) and Special Boat Teams, supported by AFSOD-S, Royal Marine commandos, and Polish SOF troops from their GROM (Polish for “thunder”) unit, went into action. The SEALs and GROM commandos took down a number of oil platforms in the northern Persian Gulf, while the Royal Marines took the Al Faw Peninsula. The maritime SOF forces then began to work with mine hunting/ sweeping forces to clear the waterway to Umm Qasr, getting the docks open for cargo in just a matter of days. A brilliant campaign, OIF SOF operations in the littorals will be a model for future operations for years to come. The Northern Campaign The Northern SOF campaign of OIF has its origins in the failed parliamentary vote by Turkey to allow the United


States and its coalition allies to use its territory for operations against Iraq. This was the last in a series of failed diplomatic efforts to gain additional basing in countries adjacent to Iraq prior to initiating OIF. The consequences of this vote were potentially devastating to the OIF war plan, as it meant that the 1st Armored Cavalry Division and 4th MID (the heavy elements of III Corps) would not be able to attack Iraq from the north. Their heavy equipment had to be moved by ship to Kuwait, where they eventually joined the units of V Corps and I MEF. Meanwhile, something would have to be done to protect the Kurdish/ Peshmerga populations and oil production facilities north of the Green Line from the 11 Iraqi divisions north of Tikrit. That something fell onto the shoulders of then-Col. Charles T. Cleveland. Cleveland was the commanding officer of the 10th SFG, which had the responsibility for supplying SOF personnel and services to EUCOM (whose area of responsibility includes Turkey and all of NATO). Since the end of Desert Storm in 1991, this has also included dealing with the Kurdish problem in northern Iraq, as 10th SFG has the specific language skills needed for the area and indigenous populations. This had included a planned supporting role to III Corps units that had been scheduled to attack into Iraq from Turkey. However, when the Turkish Parliament decided to unilaterally change Franks’ OIF war plan, Cleveland suddenly had his responsibilities increased. These would include: • defend the Kurdish populations north of the Green Line, along with the oil production areas near Kirkuk; • demonstrate enough presence to fix the 11 regular Iraqi Army divisions north of Tikrit, so that they would not be able to support the defense of Baghdad against V Corps and I MEF; • not allow the Kurdish and Peshmerga insurgents such great operational latitude and success that they would cause Turkish military forces to intervene into northern Iraq; • support a planned attack on an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist camp suspected of manufacturing WMDs; and • attempt, when and where possible, to conduct offensive UW operations against Iraqi forces, with an emphasis on searching for WMDs and high-value leadership targets (HVLTs). If this sounds like a lot for an SF colonel to do, where previously a three-star lieutenant general corps commander and his staff would have operated, you would be correct. However, the conduct of the Afghanistan campaign and

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson

OPPOSITE PAGE: Members of Delta Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines, seen in a Chinook over the Al Faw Peninsula.

Photo by Jim Gibson


Rumsfeld’s January 2003 announcement had changed the rules for SOF operations, and Cleveland’s Joint Special Operations Task Force-North (JSOTF-N) would be one of the primary beneficiaries. This would be important, since all Cleveland had initially assigned was two lightly armed 10th SFG battalions mounted on Land Rovers. Seeing that JSOTF-N was going to need some muscle and mass, SOCOM arranged for the 3/3rd SFG to be airlifted into northern Iraq. The 3/3rd had originally been scheduled to hunt SCUDs for Mulholland in western Iraq, was heavily armed, and mounted on heavy Desert /Ground Mobility Vehicles (D/GMVs). Added to the 3/3rd was the famous 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Italy, which dropped into northern Iraq, along with M1A1 Abrams tanks from the 1st Armored Division in Germany flown in by C-17 Globemasters. JSOTF-N was also assigned an AFSOC detachment of helicopters and tanker/transports, along with the services of two Navy carrier battle groups and a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Mediterranean Sea. Cleveland’s forces could also count on the support of B-1 and B-52 heavy bombers out of RAF Fairford, making JSOTF-N a very capable force. While it took a few days to get all these forces into northern Iraq, by late March, JSOTF-N was ready to go on the offensive. Leading bands of Kurdish and Peshmerga insurgent fighters, Cleveland’s forces turned the Iraqi positions on the Green Line and swept east toward Kirkuk. There were a number of sharp battles, won by a combination of airpower, maneuver, and the new Javelin missiles in the hands of the SF teams. By the time Baghdad had fallen,

Kirkuk (and the oilfields), Mosul, and the other northern population centers were in allied hands. Most of the 11 Iraqi divisions, having tasted the high-tech firepower the SOF units could deliver, surrendered or retreated toward Tikrit. In just over a month of operations, JSOTF-N had conducted one of the greatest UW campaigns in the history of warfare. OIF SOF in Retrospect While the counterinsurgency fight against al Qaeda and the supporters of Saddam Hussein would continue for years, the initial OIF SOF campaign could be considered a classic of military operational art. The largest SOF campaign in the history of warfare (the reported number of more than 10,000 SOCOM personnel was understated), OIF Phase 1 was in many ways more complex than either Operation Overlord or Vietnam. Much like OEF-A, OIF SOF operations quickly became the key enabling actions of the war, allowing the conventional forces of V Corps, I MEF, and the British to complete major combat operations in just six frenetic weeks of fighting. In this time, SOF units won their own victories, liberating more than half the landmass of Iraq on their own. By any standard of military achievement, the soldiers, sailors, and airmen provided by SOCOM for OIF were extraordinary warriors with an indefatigable drive for success. Furthermore, their use of advanced “brilliant” weapons systems, networked communications, specialized mobility platforms, and transformed command relationships illuminated the way toward the forces of the next decade and beyond.



Task Force Ranger 20th Anniversary: The Battle of Mogadishu, Oct. 3, 1993 by Mike Markowitz

Background Divided between British and Italian colonial empires in the 19th century, Somalia was never really conquered. Highly individualistic, with a tradition of feuding clans, Somalis make fearsome warriors. Gaining independence in 1960, Somalia became a Marxist dictatorship, strategically located at the mouth of the Red Sea – and quickly became a target of Cold War competition between the Soviets and the West. Eventually, civil war erupted in 1991 as the central government collapsed and the army disbanded. Rise of the Warlords


A “technical” in Mogadishu at the time of the UNOSOM II mission, circa 1993.

Farrah Aidid and Ali Mahdi Muhammad battled for control of the seaside capital of Mogadishu. The failed UNOSOM I was followed in December 1992 by Unified Task Force (UNITAF), an American-led intervention with troops from many other nations. As the “strongest tribe” in the city, UN peacekeepers had some success in securing delivery of humanitarian relief, but civil war festered. In March 1993, UN Security Council Resolution 814 authorized continuation of the peacekeeping force as UNOSOM II, with an expanded mission: Disarm the warlords, restore law and order, and reestablish a Somali government. With 22,000 international troops and 8,000 civilian staff, UNOSOM II looked strong on paper. Commanded by a Turkish three-star general, with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Montgomery

Photo courtesy of CT Snow

In traditional Somali society, authority resided with clan elders, who maintained traditions and resolved conflicts. As that traditional society disintegrated, power shifted to younger “warlords” – ambitious men, often with Western or Soviet education, military training, and “modern” managerial skills. The proliferation of cheap automatic weapons meant that a child with an AK-47 now had as much killing power as a whole village of traditional warriors. In 1993, Somali fighters in Mogadishu were skilled warriors with years of combat experience. A favored weapon of the warlords was the “technical” – a pickup truck mounting a heavy machine gun or recoilless rifle. As famine stalked the land, Somalia broke up into a patchwork of warlord enclaves. International pressure to “do something” grew intense. Failed states make diplomats – especially United Nations officials – nervous, because they know how contagious anarchy can be on a continent of fragile nations. By one estimate, as much as 80 percent of the famine relief supplies shipped into Somalia was being stolen by armed gangs. In July 1992, the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I) sent in a handful of peacekeepers. They proved ineffectual, as the warlords Gen. Mohamed

Chalk 3, Super Six Six. Sgt. Keni Thomas is at left.

as his deputy, UNOSOM II included elements of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division, a Pakistani brigade, and a Malaysian regiment.

Photo courtesy of Keni Thomas

Task Force Ranger to Somalia On Aug. 22, 1993, Task Force (TF) Ranger deployed to Somalia in response to Aidid’s attacks against UNOSOM II forces. The mission was to locate and capture Aidid, who had gone underground after AC-130 air strikes and UN attacks. TF Ranger was commanded by Army Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison, who had served much of his career in special operations. Although TF Ranger was formally outside the UNOSOM II chain of command, it coordinated operations closely with the peacekeepers. Based in a hangar at Mogadishu airport, TF Ranger was an elite strike force consisting of: • B Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment • C Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D) • 16 helicopters and personnel of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), including MH-60 Black Hawks and AH-6/MH-6 Little Birds • Navy SEALs of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) • Air Force pararescuemen and combat controllers of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron Going After Aidid By becoming an enemy of the United Nations, and especially of the United States, Aidid’s prestige among Somalis soared. When U.S. authorities posted a $25,000 bounty for Aidid’s

arrest on June 17, however, the trivial amount was viewed as a mortal insult, requiring a forceful response. During the long summer, the conflict became an intricate dance of roadblocks and roadblock clearing, escalating to night raids and ambushes. On Sept. 25, at around 0200 hours, Aidid’s militia, the Somali National Alliance (SNA), used RPG-7s – unguided weapons with a 200-meter effective range – to down a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, killing three Americans. It was an ominous development. TF Ranger successfully apprehended some of Aidid’s lieutenants on early raids, but the wily Somali eluded all attempts to track him down. To develop an effective human intelligence network in a place like Somalia takes years, even decades, but the American leadership wanted results right away. And the fact that the U.S. forces had been denied AC-130 gunships, armor, and artillery support did not help. Black Hawks Downed The afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 3, TF Ranger received intelligence that some of Aidid’s top leaders were scheduled to meet in a building near the Olympic Hotel. A team was rapidly assembled to mount a daylight helicopter assault on the target, with a follow-up ground convoy to reinforce the assault force and extract any prisoners. The code name for the operation was “Gothic Serpent.” In total, there were 19 helicopters, 12 vehicles, and 160 men being sent into the city. The Delta Force operators would “kick in the doors” to secure the building, while Rangers would deploy around the perimeter to prevent any escape or interference. “The only thing different about the mission going in was that it was in a particularly dangerous part of town. We’d already been told that,” said Ranger Sgt. Keni Thomas in



ABOVE: The only photo released of the battlefield on the day of the battle, with TF Ranger personnel shown taking cover alongside buildings near the crash site. RIGHT, TOP: AH-6 Little Birds Barber 5-2, 5-3 and 5-4 launch during the Battle of Mogadishu, Oct. 3, 1993. RIGHT,


U.S. Army image

stabilize the perimeter, but the Super Six Eight was itself hit by an RPG and barely made it back to the airport. As the rest of the Rangers began to arrive on foot, so too did more armed Somalis. “The level of fire got really intense,” Thomas said, “coming from every direction at that point, and people started getting hit. We were jammed into a one- or two-block area with a lot of fire coming from all directions.

U.S. Army photo

a 2002 interview for this publication with the late Barbara Hall. Thomas was part of “Chalk 3,” the Ranger squad aboard Black Hawk Super Six Six. Initially, the raid went well. But while fast-roping from a helicopter, one Ranger, Pfc. Todd Blackburn, fell 70 feet and was severely injured. By 1615 hours, the clan leaders and 21 other detainees were safely cuffed and loaded onto the trucks of the ground convoy, but crowds of angry, armed Somalis were gathering around the area. In the afternoons, Somali men like to chew khat leaves, “an amphetaminelike stimulant” that produces euphoria. The combination of khat, young men, and automatic weapons made for a perfect storm. Then, at 1620 hours, Black Hawk Super Six One was hit by at least one RPG and crashed in the street northeast of the target area, killing the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Clifton Wolcott, and co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Donovan Briley. Very suddenly, the initiative had shifted, and Garrison ordered the raid forces to focus on rescuing survivors from the downed Black Hawk. The neighborhood around the crash site would become the center of the subsequent battle, with Rangers, Delta operators, and others trying to hold back attacks by swarms of Aidid’s militia and angry “civilians.” “It was weird watching this slow, spinning turn,” Thomas said, “and the Black Hawk crashed off in the neighborhood, as if you were standing in your own neighborhood and watched him go over the trees somewhere.” The f irst troops dispatched to the crash site were Rangers and other personnel who moved toward the site on foot. They quickly took heavy fire, and began to suffer casualties. Eventually, a handful, under Lt. Tom DiTomasso, reached the site and began to set up a perimeter and care for the wounded personnel. They also supported a daring rescue by a “Little Bird” crew that braved the gunfire to land and pick up two wounded men. Black Hawk Super Six Eight also arrived with the combat search and rescue team, who roped in and helped

DoD photo

BOTTOM: A U.S. Army map of the area of the Battle of Mogadishu.


LEFT: An aerial view of Mogadishu after the battle. The dense urban terrain of the city made for a chaotic fight for the members of Task Force (TF) Ranger. RIGHT: An abandoned Mogadishu street known as the “Green Line.” Foliage has grown up along the sidewalk on both sides of the street. The street was the dividing line between North and South Mogadishu and the warring clans. Members of the clans tore down the roadblocks along the

DoD photos

line in a show of unity.

“There were a lot of alleys, and there’s no way to plan for something like that – that’s where your basic skills, your preparation came into play,” Thomas said. “I tell this to everyone: The reason we didn’t lose more people that day was because of how well trained we were and the increased level of training that we did every day in the sand dunes. We fired so many live rounds, and we fired every weapon system available – 203s and pistols and shotguns. Firing became second nature; we just got very good at what we did. It came down to our basic infantry skills, you know? We just were so good at it that even in the face of the numbers we were up against, the training got us through.” Meanwhile, the ground convoy attempting to reach the Super Six One crash site got lost – there were no good maps of the sprawling chaotic city, and 1993 was the era before widespread use of GPS. Troops on board began taking casualties in a running gun battle with SNA snipers. At about 1700 hours, a “quick reaction force” convoy was launched to link up with the lost convoy, fighting its way through the streets of Mogadishu. But by 1745, the lost convoy returned to base, with 99 Rangers and other personnel still trapped in between the target and the Super Six One crash site. At 1640 hours, a second Black Hawk, Super Six Four, was hit by RPG fire, crashing some distance south of the target. Pilot Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Durant and three of his flight crew were severely injured, and a mob of Somalis quickly surrounded the crash site. Two Delta snipers, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart, volunteered to fast-rope down to the ground to protect the injured men at the crash site, where they held off the mob until they ran out of ammunition and were killed at about 1740 hours. Durant was captured by the militia forces, survived 11 days of captivity, and was eventually released to the Red Cross. The Rangers pulled back and established a defensive perimeter inside buildings as night began to fall. After

nightfall, a rescue convoy of 10th Mountain troops, backed by Pakistani tanks and Malaysian armored vehicles, was assembled. It took hours to put together, and the trapped soldiers in the city were forced to fight all night, supported by AH-6 Little Bird strikes at “danger-close” ranges, along with drops of ammunition and medical supplies. “If you poked your head out, shots would hit,” Thomas said. “And they would fire RPGs at us every now and then. But the helicopters made runs all night and kept everybody away from us. They could see people moving on our positions, and flew tirelessly – keeping us alive.” By 0200, the multinational convoy reached the trapped Rangers to extract them to the Pakistani base at the Mogadishu stadium. Some of the Rangers and operators were forced to run the “Mogadishu Mile” to the stadium, after which silence fell over the battered city. Aftermath and Costs During the operation, 18 TF Ranger soldiers were killed, and 84 wounded. One Malaysian and one Pakistani were killed, and a number wounded. An estimated 2,000 to 4,000 SNA militiamen participated in fighting; at least 500 Somalis were killed (some estimates are much higher), with more than 700 wounded. On Oct. 7, President Bill Clinton announced his intention to withdraw all U.S. forces from Somalia by March 1994. But in the meantime, heavy units including the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) carrier battle group and two Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) would deploy to provide enhanced presence and “force protection.” Today, we probably know more about the Oct. 3 Battle of Mogadishu than any other small-unit engagement of the late 20th century, thanks to the brilliant journalism of Mark Bowden, whose 1999 book, Black Hawk Down , was adapted into a successful 2001 film by Ridley Scott. Remarkably, Bowden was able to capture at least a part



ABOVE: Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary I. Gordon, who were killed on Oct. 3, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, while serving as sniper team member and leader, respectively, with U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s Task Force Ranger, were posthumously awarded Medals of Honor. Shughart’s widow, Stephanie (pictured left), and Gordon’s widow, Carmen (pictured with their 3-year-old daughter, Brittany), accepted their husbands’ awards from President Bill Clinton. RIGHT: Former Somalian hostage Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Durant is transported across the Ramstein Air Base flight line on a stretcher. An ambulance waited to transport Durant to Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center for a one-night stay while en route to the United States

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for medical treatment.

of the Somali side of the story, as well as the experiences of the Americans. Somali critics panned the film for its “brutal and dehumanizing” depiction of their people, but war was brutal and dehumanizing long before Hollywood ever shot a frame. Reportedly, when the film was shown in Somalia, young men cheered whenever an American was shot. Additional depth and detail is provided in the firsthand accounts by the men of TF Ranger in the book The Battle of Mogadishu (2004), edited by Matt Eversmann and Dan Schilling. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t, at some point in the day, think about being in that battle,” Thomas said. “And it just makes me more grateful for the men that were to my left and my right. You know, we basically fought to bring each other home, to get each other back. And that’s the thing that sticks with me now. I’m grateful to the guys – and especially the ones that I am still friends with – that we are still here.”

Soldiers do not make policy. Whether the policies are wise or foolish, the duty of soldiers is to carry out the missions assigned. TF Ranger did this with all the professionalism and courage Americans have come to expect from their military. The tragic paradox of Somalia is that a series of interventions intended to do good and relieve suffering usually only made things worse, while incurring painful losses. Diplomats and officials are bound by a professional code that demands all people must be organized into nations that behave according to the norms of international relations. For the past two decades, Somalis have been having none of it, defying the “international community” to come and make them. If Somalia’s terrible problems are ever solved, it is a fair bet that outsiders will not be the ones to solve them.


operation PRIME CHANCE

USSOCOM’S FIRST TEST OF FIRE: Operations Prime Chance and Praying Mantis By Dwight Jon Zimmerman

“In my view, to be successful in the northern Gulf we must establish intensive patrol operations to prevent the Iranians from laying mines.” – Rear Adm. Harold J. Bernsen, commander, Middle East Force, in an Aug. 6, 1987, memo to Gen. George B. Crist, USMC, commander, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) By 1987, two of the most powerful nations in the Persian Gulf had been slugging it out for seven years in the costly stalemate known as the Iran-Iraq War. The escalation of attacks on neutral merchant shipping by both sides, referred to as the “Tanker War,” caused the United States to initiate Operation Earnest Will in July 1987. Initially designed to protect Kuwaiti tankers re-flagged as American ships, Earnest Will would also be the first combat test of the new U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), formed just three months earlier on April 16, 1987. Created in response to congressional action in the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and the Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987, USSOCOM united all of the services’ special operations components under a dedicated command equal to that of the other services. It was an independence long advocated by special operations forces (SOF), and in Operations Prime Chance and Praying Mantis, part of Earnest Will, they would make an important first step in validating that decision. To the uninitiated, the Persian Gulf appears to be an open, if somewhat narrow, body of water. The reality, so far as commercial oil tankers and blue-water navies are concerned, is that the Gulf more resembles a narrow valley in a long canyon dotted with numerous looming promontories. The


combination of shallow depth with numerous islands, shoals, and oil platforms restricts deep-draft traffic to a few wellcharted passages. With Iran bordering the entire eastern side of the Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz to Iraq, the result is a shooting gallery-style gauntlet more than 600 miles long from which Iran could stage attacks. As such, Rear Adm. Harold J. Bernsen, commander of Middle East Force at the time, quickly discovered that as a combat environment, the Persian Gulf gives the advantage to unconventional warfare tactics. So while Earnest Will, the escort of tankers by conventional warships, would be the high-profile – which is to say, highly publicized – side of the mission, the actual work interdicting Iranian attacks would be conducted covertly in Operation Prime Chance – making it, fittingly, the secret debut of USSOCOM. Prime Chance’s primary adversary was Iran’s littoral fleet of small boats, mostly Swedish-built Boghammers and Boston whaler-type craft, used by the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) to attack commercial shipping or lay mines, and Iranian oil platforms used as observation posts. The Pasdaran’s favored tactic for attacking ships was to swarm around a target and shoot at the vessel’s bridge and superstructure with 107 mm rockets, RPG-7 rocketpropelled grenade launchers, and machine guns. The intent

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operation PRIME CHANCE

ABOVE: A U.S. Navy Special Boat Unit Mark III patrol boat pulls alongside a raft from the Iranian mine-laying ship Iran Ajr. LEFT: The crane aboard the barge Hercules prepares to lift a Mark III patrol boat into the water for a patrol. The 65-foot aluminum patrol boats worked in pairs to monitor small boat activity in the Gulf. A specially equipped 160th SOAR UH-60

DoD photo by Senior Chief Photographer’s Mate Terry Mitchell

Black Hawk helicopter is parked on the helicopter pad.

was not so much to sink as to inflict as much damage as possible on the ship and crew. Prime Chance was a joint special operations and conventional force operation utilizing personnel from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) – the 160th SOAR, or “Night Stalkers” – SEALs, Special Boat Units, Marines, and the Navy. Prime Chance began with missions launched from Bernsen’s flagship, the command ship USS La Salle (AGF 3), and frigates USS Jarrett (FFG 33) and Klakring

(FFG 42). Additional missions were planned to be staged from two large oil platform construction barges – the Hercules and the Wimbrown VII – located in Bahrain that were being converted into mobile sea bases (MSBs). Once operational, they would then be deployed in international waters near Iran’s Farsi Island in the northern Gulf. The conversion of the barges, and especially their deployed location, sparked a bureaucratic firestorm among traditionalists in the Pentagon opposed to the mobile sea base concept. Joint Chiefs of Staff critics of the plan claimed the MSBs would be irresistible targets dangerously vulnerable to air attack. With memories of the 1983 truck bomb attack on Marines in Beirut, Lebanon, still fresh, some went so far as to call the barges “Beirut Barracks.” Every operational aspect of the barges – from arms and ordnance storage and types, numbers, and placement of patrol craft and helicopters to pilot flight certifications, Navy health inspections of the barges’ food service areas, and more – was examined and argued by the Joint Chiefs. Bernsen countered that Iranian air capability against the barges was a non-issue – Iran had only 20 operable F-4 Phantoms and few Harpoons. U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. George B. Crist, USMC, threw in an additional challenge: “Would you rather risk losing two oil barges or a billion-dollar ship?” This was a stinging


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One of the 160th UH-60s on the flight deck of the barge Hercules as a Mark III patrol boat passes by during operations supporting Navy efforts to provide security for U.S.-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf. The UH-60s were equipped with FLIR and a few other modifications, including a coat of

reference to the Feb. 28, 1987, missile attack “by mistake” of Iraqi fighters on the frigate USS Stark (FFG 31) that killed 37 sailors, and a reminder that the northern Gulf was dangerous to high-value assets as well. On Sept. 17, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., inspected the Hercules. While acknowledging the risk, Crowe decided using the barges as MSBs in the northern Gulf was the best way to go. With that, opposition ended. The Mk. III patrol boats conducted presence patrols, escorted convoys, and carried out intelligence missions beginning Sept. 9. The 160th conducted nocturnal search-and-destroy missions using night-flight capable MH-6 (command and control) and AH-6 (attack) Little Bird helicopters equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and night vision goggles. Night Stalker pilots flew Little Birds an average of 30 feet above the sea. Even though he advocated Prime Chance, Bernsen harbored some doubts about the Little Birds’ stealth capability, worried that Iranian ships would be able to identify and target them. The Night Stalker commander, Lt. Col. Bob Codney, set up an exercise to allay those concerns. On a moonless night, a pair of Little Birds was launched on a “patrol.” A half-hour later they reappeared – directly in front of the La Salle’s bridge. The first thing Bernsen or anyone else in the bridge knew of their presence was when they received the radio message: “Bang. You’re dead.” Bernsen was sold. From that point on, the call sign for the Night Stalkers in the Gulf was “Seabats.”


The two most notable missions conducted in Prime Chance were the attack on the Iran Ajr, an amphibious landing craft converted into a minelayer, and the so-called “Battle of Farsi Island.” On the night of Sept. 21-22, 1987, three Little Birds from the Jarrett flown by Bob “Flapper” Fladry and co-pilot Tom Leedom; Paul DeMilia and co-pilot Brian Collins; and Steve Chilton and co-pilot Terry Pena, all chief warrant officers, were flying patrol about 12 miles from the La Salle. It had been a boring patrol, with only marker buoys and dhows being spotted. With fuel starting to run low, the pilots were about to return to their ship when Fladry, in the command and control Little Bird, spotted the shape of a ship, the Iran Ajr. With DeMilia and Chilton breaking into a holding pattern a mile away, Fladry flew toward the ship. Fladry radioed in a contact report of a ship, work lights on and exhibiting no hostile action. Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Blankenship, captain of the Jarrett, had just ordered the flight to return to the ship when over the radio an alarmed Fladry stated, “They just turned all their lights off!” This immediately raised everyone’s suspicions. Flying in a holding pattern 200 meters astern of the ship, Fladry went on to report deck activity in which crew members appeared to be “pushing shopping carts on deck” and into the water. Bernsen immediately identified the shopping carts as mines and ordered the helicopters to ready their guns while he got on the Satcom to Washington, D.C., to request permission to attack. After a third mine had been pushed

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gray paint that earned them the nickname “Grayhawks.”

operation PRIME CHANCE

Two members of a Navy special warfare unit practice firing rifles from the deck of the barge Hercules during Operation Prime Chance. One sailor (foreground) is firing a .50-caliber sniping rifle, the other an M600 7.62 mm sniping rifle. Operation Prime Chance was an early test for the newly

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formed USSOCOM.

overboard, Bernsen gave permission to “use whatever force is necessary” to stop the mine-laying. Chilton flew into attack position perpendicular to the Iran Ajr’s hull, with DeMilia right behind. For 10 minutes, Chilton and DeMilia raked the minelayer with rocket and minigun fire. With the Iran Ajr dead in the water and burning from several small fires, the surviving members of the Iranian crew abandoned ship. A SEAL team boarded the Iran Ajr at dawn. A search of the vessel discovered nine mines still on its deck, as well as a logbook detailing the number and location of the mines that had been laid and other intelligence. Five Iranians had been killed and 26 captured, later to be repatriated. After they had gathered all the intelligence they could, the SEALs scuttled the Iran Ajr. In September, the Hercules was operational and towed into position in international waters a few miles away from Farsi Island. Navy SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Paul Evancoe was the officer in charge of the mixed contingent, which, in addition to the SEALs, Night Stalkers, and U.S. Marines, included about 30 foreign nationals, part of the lease contract terms specified by the barge’s owner. The Night Stalker pilots stationed on the Hercules included Fladry, Leedom, DeMilia, Collins, Pena, and Chief Warrant Officer Bob Witter. On the night of Oct. 8, they were escorting a reconnaissance mission along a section of the island’s coast by Special Boat Unit craft. At a specified time, they were to rendezvous at the Middle Shoals Buoy with a surface group from the Hercules containing a Seafox and two patrol boats. But when they arrived at the waypoint, they were surprised by three Iranian patrol ships that took the Little Birds under fire. The helicopters returned fire, sinking the vessels. American SOF craft arrived and rescued six Iranian survivors, two who later died of wounds. A short time later, radar screens detected what appeared to be as many as 40 small Iranian vessels heading toward the Hercules. The Americans prepared their defenses, but as the USS Thach (FFG 43) sped toward the Iranian vessels on an intercept course and six armed Little Birds orbited overhead, the contacts reversed course. The Hercules did not come under attack. Some later speculation suggested that the attack was possibly a false radar read, though other sources claim the vessels had been visually identified. The next major action involving American and Iranian forces occurred on Oct. 19, 1987, in Operation Nimble Archer. During the spring and summer, Iran, which had seized Iraq’s strategic Al Faw Peninsula, had been deploying Silkworm anti-ship missiles there, posing a serious threat to the ships harbored in and around the port of Kuwait City, approximately 60 miles southwest. In early September, Iran had fired two Silkworms, the first of which harmlessly landed in Gulf waters and the second

hitting an uninhabited beach about two miles south of an oil loading terminal. On Oct. 15, however, the tanker Sungari was heavily damaged by a Silkworm attack, and on Oct. 16, another tanker, the Sea Isle City, was also hit. In response, the American military command decided that instead of hitting the Silkworm sites on the peninsula, its forces would attack farther south in Iran’s Rashadat oil field located across the Gulf from Bahrain and Qatar. Two inactive oil platforms were being used there to stage attacks by Pasdaran forces and as ship traffic observation posts. On Oct. 17, six U.S. Navy warships approached the platforms. Cmdr. G.J. O’Donnell, captain of the frigate USS Thach, which had assisted in the Oct. 8 action, radioed the two platforms, warning them of the warships’ intentions and advising personnel aboard to leave, which the Iranians did. Once the Iranians were clear, four destroyers – USS Hoel (DDG 13), Leftwich (DD 984), John Young (DD 973), and Kidd (DDG 993) – commenced firing. One platform caught fire, but the other platform, even though it was hit by almost 1,000 rounds, remained standing. A SEAL team boarded the platform and, after gathering a variety of intelligence, destroyed it with explosives. But the Iranian government refused to back down. On Oct. 22, it launched a Silkworm attack on Kuwait’s Sea Island oil terminal, which handled a third of the country’s oil exports. It also ramped up its anti-shipping campaign, staging 27 attacks in November and December that sank one merchant ship and rendered two others CTL (constructive total loss). The increased attacks continued into 1988. When the Wimbrown VII became operational in December, original plans called for it to be stationed at the opposite end of a 100-mile area of operations off Farsi Island. That was changed, and the smaller barge was deployed 10 miles north of the Hercules in order to provide mutual support and help relieve the barge’s overstretched pilots and crews. In February 1988, Rear Adm. Anthony Less relieved Bernsen as Middle East Force commander. The following month, Less assumed a more aggressive role regarding Iranian shipping attacks. Navy captains operating in the Gulf were frustrated that their rules of engagement prevented them from protecting neutral non-American-flagged vessels, forcing them to remain spectators when those ships came under attack. Though he upheld U.S. policy, Less instructed his captains to “explore the gray area” between shooting and


operation PRIME CHANCE

The captured Iranian minelayer Iran Ajr with a U.S. Navy landing craft alongside. U.S. Navy SEALs boarded and captured the ship during Operation

remaining spectators. His instructions, which specifically targeted Iranian actions, ran the risk of escalating the conflict by causing Iran to no longer regard the United States as a neutral party. On April 14, 1988, the U.S. frigate Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) was severely damaged by a mine that almost tore the ship in half. Heroic action by her damage control crew saved the ship. Upon receiving the news, the American high command began discussing retaliation. The State Department, wishing to avoid escalation, stated that any response needed to be “proportionate.” Crowe proposed that retaliation be the destruction of an Iranian warship. And in an unusual move, he went so far as to identify the ship, the frigate Sabalan, as its captain had ordered the cold-blooded machine-gunning of survivors of sunken tankers. Crist recommended the destruction of oil platforms that were also used as Pasdaran observation posts. Less recommended a combined air and Tomahawk missile attack on Iran’s Bandar Abbas naval base on the Strait of Hormuz. President Ronald Reagan sided with Crist, and two Iranian platforms in the Sirri and Sassan oil fields located in the lower half of the Gulf off the coasts of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were identified as the targets. The stage was now set for Operation Praying Mantis, the largest major surface action conducted by the U.S. Navy since World War II. Less organized the attacking force into three surface action groups (SAGs). SAG Bravo, commanded by Capt.


James B. Perkins and containing the USS Merrill (DD 976), Lynde McCormick (DDG 8), and Trenton (LPD 14) with its Marine Air-Ground Task Force, was assigned the Sassan platform. SAG Charlie, commanded by Capt. James F. Chandler and containing the Wainwright (CG 28), Simpson (FFG 56), and Bagley (FF 1069), which carried a SEAL team, was assigned the Siri platform. SAG Delta, commanded by Capt. Donald A. Dryer and containing Jack Williams (FFG 24), O’Brien (DD 975), and Joseph Strauss (DDG 16), was assigned security patrol duties near the Strait of Hormuz. Additional support in the form of air cover was provided by the Enterprise (CVN 65) on station in the Gulf of Oman, and Saudi-based airborne warning and control system AWACS and tanker aircraft. Operation Praying Mantis commenced on April 18, 1988. At 6 a.m., Perkins broadcast warnings in English, Arabic, and Farsi to the Iranians on the Sassan platform, telling them to abandon it. About 30 Iranians complied, but some remained and fired upon the SAG with a 23 mm cannon. The Merrill returned fire, destroying the cannon, and causing the remaining Iranians to evacuate in a rubber raft. At the same time, Iranian F-4 Phantoms approached, but turned away without engaging SAG Bravo. A contingent of Marines was then air lifted to the platform. After a gathering of intelligence material, explosive charges were set, and the platform was so severely damaged it was rendered useless.

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Prime Chance after it had been attacked by 160th helicopters. The SEALs found mines and vital intelligence aboard the Iran Ajr.

operation PRIME CHANCE

Marines inspect a ZU-23 23 mm automatic anti-aircraft gun on the Iranian Sassan oil platform. Marines attacked, occupied, then destroyed the platform as part of Operation Praying Mantis, which was launched after the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) struck a mine on

DoD photo by Cpl. John Hyp

April 14, 1988.

At about the same time, SAG Charlie was conducting similar action on the Siri platform once all the Iranians had abandoned it. At 10:48, an approaching Iranian frigate, Joshan, was identified. The Joshan ignored three warnings issued from the Wainwright, and launched a Harpoon missile that narrowly missed the cruiser. SAG Charlie returned fire with SM-1 and Harpoon missiles, heav ily damag ing the Joshan. The burn ing frigate was then sunk with gunfire. As this was going on, the Wainwright engaged an Iranian F-4, damaging it and forcing the fighter to retire. This was followed by a chain of events throughout the Persian Gulf. A force of Pasdaran small craft attacked a number of targets in the Mubarek oil fields in the southern Gulf, hitting several ships. These small craft came under fire from A-6 Intruders from the Enterprise that sank one of the Iranian vessels. The Iranian frigate Sahand, sister ship to the Sabalan, attempted to engage Enterprise aircraft, but found itself on the receiving end of bomb and Harpoon missile strikes that quickly sank it. The Sabalan almost followed her. That afternoon it attempted to shoot down an A-6, and the

Intruder dropped a bomb down the frigate’s smoke stack. Dead in the water with its engines destroyed, it was saved from being sunk when a follow-up air strike was called back. All told, Iranian losses were three oil platforms heavily damaged, six surface vessels sunk, one heavily damaged, and an unknown number of casualties. American losses were one AH-1T attack helicopter and its two-man crew. Iranian attacks on merchant shipping dramatically fell after that. Operation Earnest Will would continue until Sept. 26, 1988. When it concluded, it was judged a success. The only major negative was the shoot-down of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes (CG 49) in which all passengers and crew perished. In the political and diplomatic arena, America’s strategic goals of protecting Kuwaiti – and later other, neutral – shipping, standing up to Iran without escalating the conflict, keeping the Soviet Union out of the Gulf, and proving its worth as a friend of the Arab world had been largely achieved. For special operations forces, USSOCOM had proved its worth with its successful completion of a variety of missions. Much work remained ahead, but an important first step had been taken.


operation urgent fury

URGENT FURY: U.S. Special Operations Forces, Grenada 1983 by Mike Markowitz

Located 1,530 miles southeast of Miami, Fla., the island of Grenada was sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1498 on his third voyage. It changed hands repeatedly between the English and French during the colonial era, becoming a profitable source of sugar grown on plantations worked by African slaves. Only 133 square miles in size, Grenada had a population of almost 100,000 in 1983. It was the world’s second-largest producer of nutmeg, and exported workers to the United States, Canada, and other Caribbean islands. And in 1982, the politics of the island were, to put it mildly, complex. Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, the first prime minister, was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by Maurice Bishop on March 13, 1979. His “People’s Revolutionary Government” ruled by decree, and quickly formed close ties with Cuba and the Soviet bloc, much to the displeasure of the Reagan administration in Washington, D.C. An economic handicap for Grenada was the inadequate runway at Pearls Airport: too short for big jets. The lucrative tourist trade went to islands with better airline connections. When the United States and Western nations refused to fund a new 9,000-footlong runway at Point Salines on Grenada’s southwest tip, Cuba sent construction workers and earthmoving equipment to complete the project. In Washington, military planners worried that Point Salines could become a base for Cuban planes delivering weapons to guerrillas throughout the region, or even for Russian combat aircraft. Another concern was St. George’s University School of Medicine, where some 600 American students were enrolled on two campuses in 1983. In Washington, officials worried that the students


could become hostages in a crisis, like the Americans who had been held in Iran from November 1979 to January 1981. Then, on Oct. 14, 1983, Bishop’s deputy, Bernard Coard, and Gen. Hudson Austin, both hard-line Marxists, led a bloody coup against Bishop, who was executed along with his associates. Events now rapidly spiraled out of control. Fidel Castro, who considered Bishop a close friend, was outraged. He ordered the Cubans on the island to defend their positions if attacked, but refused to intervene or send reinforcements. Some of Grenada’s island neighbors felt differently, particularly Barbados (120 miles away) and Dominica (220 miles away), as President Ronald Reagan stated in an address to the nation on Oct. 27, 1983: “Last weekend, I was awakened in the early morning hours and told that six members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, joined by Jamaica and Barbados, had sent an urgent request that we join them in a military operation to restore order and democracy to Grenada.”

operation urgent fury

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The Plan On Oct. 17, an interagency group met at the State Department to consider options for a “noncombatant evacuation operation” (NEO) in Grenada. By Oct. 20, a White House “crisis pre-planning group” decided that the situation was serious enough to convene the National Security Council’s “Special Situation Group” chaired by Vice President George H.W. Bush. There was no contingency plan on the shelf, no up-to-date intelligence, not even a good map of the island. The best map available was based on a 1936 British Admiralty navigation chart! To reduce the risk of leaks, everything connected with the operation was classified top secret – but these “special category” restrictions would cripple subsequent planning. Since the Caribbean was then in the area of responsibility of the U.S. Atlantic Command, Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf III, commanding 2nd Fleet, was given overall command of the force designated Joint Task Force (JTF) 120. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., sent Maj. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., to serve as ground operations adviser to Metcalf. On Oct. 18, the USS Independence (CV 62) carrier battle group and the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit had left port bound for the Mediterranean, where another Lebanon

Rangers from C Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, during Operation Urgent Fury, Oct. 25, 1983.

crisis was brewing. When they were diverted to support the Grenada invasion on Oct. 21, the news leaked, eliminating any hope of strategic surprise. Marines, embarked in Navy Amphibious Squadron 4 (Capt. Carl Erie) would seize Pearls Airport, while elements of two U.S. Army Ranger battalions (from the 75th Ranger Regiment – Joint Task Force 123, Army Maj. Gen. Richard Scholtes), parachuting from MC-130s of the Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing, would capture and clear the unfinished runway at Point Salines, allowing six battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division to land in C-141 jet transports. H-Hour was set for 0200 (2:00 a.m.) local time on Oct. 25. Delays and confusion in loading the aircraft caused this to slip to 0400, then 0500 – perilously close to daylight. Things Start to Go Wrong Navy SEAL Teams 4 and 6 were assigned some of the most challenging preliminary missions of the invasion. One group


operation urgent fury

Above: An aerial view of Point Salines, as seen from an aircraft approaching the runway during Operation Urgent Fury. LEFT: A DoD-


DoD/2 Soviet Military Power, 1984

made a successful reconnaissance of the island’s northeast coast, which convinced planners that the beaches were unsuitable for landing. The Marines would have to go in by helicopter. Another group of SEALs captured Grenada’s radio station, but were driven out by a strong counterattack. They “exfiltrated” to the coast and swam out to be recovered by USS Caron (DD 970). Another vital political objective was the rescue of Governor General Paul Scoon and his family from house arrest. Grenada had never officially quit the British Commonwealth, and the governor general, who represented the queen, was the remaining symbol of legitimate authority on the island. SEALs fast-roped in from helicopters and quickly secured the house and the governor general, but they were soon surrounded and under fire until Marines broke through to link up with them the next morning. But Point Salines was the key objective, and 12 SEALs drew the task of covertly investigating the defenses and delivering four Air Force combat controllers who would set up radio beacons enabling C-130s carrying the Rangers to

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released image of objectives surrounding Point Salines Airfield.

operation urgent fury

ABOVE: Flight deck crewmen and medical personnel remove a wounded serviceman from a Task Force 160 Little Bird helicopter on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Guam (LPH 9) during the multiservice, multinational Operation Urgent Fury. RIGHT: A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter lands at Point Salines Airfield during Operation Urgent Fury.

line up precisely on final approach. The SEALs parachuted into the ocean 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Point Salines with two Zodiac rubber boats. In darkness, high winds, and heavy seas, four SEALs were lost. The rest carried on, evading a Grenadian patrol craft, but the boats were swamped, and when their engines would not start, the mission was scrubbed.

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Rangers Lead the Way About 350 men of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were originally scheduled to make an assault landing in six MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft of the Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing. A follow-on echelon, the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, would secure the eastern half of the airfield, then regroup to attack overland to secure a


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An aerial view of Fort Frederick, in Grenada, showing damage sustained during Operation Urgent Fury.

clearing the runway. Later, the bulldozer was used like a tank to lead an advance against the Cuban camp – a scene immortalized in Clint Eastwood’s 1986 film Heartbreak Ridge. By 10:00 a.m., the airfield and the nearby True Blue campus of the medical school were secure. At 1405 (2:05 p.m.), the first C-141 starlifter touched down, carrying troops of the 82nd Airborne Division. Planners had not been aware that there was another campus at Grand Anse, north of the Cuban camp, but that would be secured by Marines and the 2/75th Rangers the next day. Later, on Oct. 27, the Rangers

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Grenadian army base at Camp Calivigny, about 7.5 miles to the east. Then intelligence confirmed the runway was obstructed with vehicles and equipment. This meant the Rangers would have to parachute from 500 feet, exposed to enemy fire for 10 to 15 long seconds. There was additional delay when the inertial navigation system and FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared imaging system) in the lead aircraft malfunctioned. A tropical thunderstorm added to the confusion as the Rangers hurriedly re-rigged their chutes and gear for the drop. The jump went in at 5:34 a.m. Ground fire was heavy (from Zu-23 and M-53 quad machine guns) but inaccurate due to untrained crews. Not one man was killed by enemy fire during the drop, although one soldier broke a leg on landing. A supporting AC-130 gunship took out some of the enemy guns, but it was almost 90 minutes before all of the Rangers were on the ground. Capt. John Abizaid (later a commander of U.S. Central Command), commanding A Company, 1/75th, ordered his men to hot-wire a Cuban bulldozer and start

operation urgent fury

LEFT: Members of the 1/75th Rangers are briefed on plans for a night patrol during Operation Urgent Fury. An M60 machine gun, equipped with a night sight, is mounted on their M151 light utility vehicle. BELOW: Soviet BTR-60 armored personnel carriers seized by U.S. military personnel during Operation Urgent Fury.

staged a heliborne assault on the Calivigny base, only to find the defenders had fled. Tragically, a helicopter collision and crash killed three Rangers and badly injured four more. The Night Stalkers at Richmond Hill Prison

DoD photos

Planners knew that Grenada’s political prisoners were held at the fortress-like Richmond Hill Prison, on a ridge above the harbor of St. George’s. Army Delta Force commandos, transported by five MH-60A Black Hawk helicopters of Task Force 160 (today the 160th Special Operations Aviation


operation urgent fury

Aftermath By Oct. 29, Urgent Fury had evacuated 599 U.S. citizens and 121 citizens of other nations. With the mission accomplished, combat operations officially ended on Nov. 2. “Things did go wrong, but generally the operation was a success. The troops did very well. ...,” Vessey said on Meet the Press on Nov. 6, 1983. Approximately 7,300 American military personnel served in Operation Urgent Fury, along with 350 peacekeepers from Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica, and other Caribbean islands. Nineteen Americans were killed, including eight Army Rangers, three paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne, one Army aviator of the 160th SOAR, four Navy SEALs, and three Marines. Wounded totaled 116. Out of about 1,500 engaged, the Grenada People’s Revolutionary Army suffered 45 killed and 358 wounded.


American students walk toward an aircraft as they are evacuated from the island by U.S. military personnel during Operation Urgent Fury.

Cuban forces reported 25 killed, 59 wounded, and 638 captured. Unfortunately, at least 24 Grenadian civilians were also killed, including patients at a mental hospital mistakenly bombed by U.S. Navy jets. The date of the invasion is still observed as a national holiday in Grenada. The Point Salines airfield was renamed Maurice Bishop International Airport. Deficiencies in communications, planning, and organization during Urgent Fury and the earlier Operation Eagle Claw (the 1980 attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran), were the final nails in the coffin for the dysfunctional American command and control system created by the National Security Act of 1947. Clearly the future of U.S. operations was going to be centered on the idea of “jointness,” with standardized communications and intelligence protocols for all the services. In addition, the improvements to SOF capabilities since Eagle Claw, while impressive, were shown to still have a long way to go. These lessons learned eventually led to the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (Public Law 99-433) and the subsequent Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the 1987 Defense Authorization Act signed by Reagan. Within a year, U.S. Special Operations Command was stood up and operational. Just months later, during Operation Earnest Will in the Persian Gulf, and the invasion of Panama in late 1989, the wisdom and effectiveness of those reforms would be proven.

DoD photo

Regiment [SOAR], “The Night Stalkers”), would fast-rope down to storm the prison in predawn darkness, relying on surprise. But the attack was 75 minutes late, and the defenders were alerted. The prison was dominated by Fort Frederick, another 18th century stonework on a higher ridge 980 feet across a narrow valley. The Black Hawk helicopter, which was making its combat debut during Urgent Fury, was designed to take battle damage and keep flying, but as flight crews and passengers began to suffer injuries from ground fire, the impossibility of the mission became evident. One helicopter caught fire and later crashed near Point Salines. After another attempt failed, the mission was aborted.

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The Year in Special Operations 2013-2014  

The Year in Special Operations 2013-2014