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USAF Special Tactics Form SOTF During Exercise Emerald Warrior

This is a very big deal. It means Special Tactics have come a long way from when I was an LT, 20 years ago at the 720th STG and we had just created the Special Tactics Operations Center UTC to provide C2 for deployed ST forces. We didn’t even have enough manpower billets to conduct 24 hour operations in all specialties. ST has not only matured into a Wing with two Groups, but its organic support infrastructure has grown to the point where operators can concentrate on their mission rather than providing support functions.

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — Emerald Warrior is an annual air-centric irregular warfare exercise directed by U.S. Special Operations Command, but this year, something different happened: the Air Force’s ground special operations force specifically trained joint leaders how to win across multiple domains.

For the first time during EW17, Air Force Special Tactics executed command and control of all ground special operations forces during the two-week irregular warfare exercise, which ended March 10.

“This was the first time that Special Tactics has fielded a SOTF headquarters — everything from leadership to sustainment, planning of operations to execution,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Magruder, commander of the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron.

For Special Tactics Airmen, EW17 was a proof of concept for the Air Force’s role in future joint operations: employing Airmen in leadership positions against an enemy-centric problem.

“EW 17 provided us a great opportunity to further refine and train toward the responsibility to lead at the O-5/E-9 joint special operation forces task force level,” said Col. Michael E. Martin, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing. “Lt. Col. Magruder and Chief Innis surpassed our expectations and the joint standards to lead and employ as Special Operations Task Force command team.”


The ground component of EW17 was led by an ST Airman, Magruder, who acted as the exercise’s SOTF commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Scott Innis, who acted as the senior enlisted leader.

Magruder and his staff led EW17’s entire ground component special operations force, including 300 operators from France, the Netherlands, the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group and Air Force Special Tactics teams.


The SOTF planned and executed 21 full mission profiles in compressed timeline of 10 days. Primarily, special operations teams performed an array of congressionally-mandated missions spanning global access, direct action and personnel recovery.

“From our perspective, this was about developing joint leaders in the Air Force,” said Magruder. “This is a great venue in terms of developing some experience in the ground scheme of maneuver and translating that into something that Airmen understand in terms of what higher headquarters is expecting to achieve from a joint-force perspective.”

Special Tactics Airmen were the preponderance of ground special operations force, and integrated the air component, to include fighter and global strike bomber aircraft into their missions, instead of visa versa. As with many firsts in a complex operating environment, the Air Force-led SOTF faced and overcame a multitude of challenges.

According to Magruder, it was challenging to effectively manage information and synchronize resources while meeting training objectives and executing safe operations on such a large scale– another reason Special Tactics dedicates itself to training like they will fight.

“Special Tactics is all about looking at ways to solve hard problems and contribute to the win,” said Martin. “The 22 STS successfully deployed and led a SOTF at Weapons School Integration phase on Dec. 16, and then to EW 17. I have all the confidence in them to lead during crisis and combat.”

All photos from US Air Force.


13 Responses to “USAF Special Tactics Form SOTF During Exercise Emerald Warrior”

  1. Archangel says:

    Impressive. Thank you SSD for highlighting the evolution of ST capabilities.

  2. rotorhd says:

    Nothing against the US Navy but…
    I’m not sure why US Navy H-60’s are supporting this AFSOC exercise when USAF HH-60G’s are available in two locations nearby…… just a thought….

    Hold your ears, political statement forthcoming.
    Maybe it has to do with the unbelievable mismanagement of the USAF RW fleet by the “Big Blue.” Some senior USAF officers don’t know that the USAF has RW aircraft. I guess it starts w/ the H-47 fiasco, carries on to the CRH impending fiasco and bumps up to the H-1 replacement abortion. I’m sure there are many more stories people could tell.

    My 2 cents,

    • Eddie says:

      That feeling when they stress “Service interoperability” to cover the fact they want to use Big Navy’s Budget. Lmao I love the colorful language of the military to explain to explain things like that as well. “We must focus to coordinate our efforts in conjunction with our counterparts and assess the situations possible within our area of operations so we can be more effective using different assets without hindering operational capability and be a more integrated and effective fighting force.” I could be a Colonel.

      Just kidding, much love to all of you.

    • Disgruntled PJ says:

      USAF H-47s… (sigh, what could’ve been) this is what happens when a bunch of USAF HH-60G folks throw a hissy fit because the collective requirement drove the selection of a minivan instead of the sports car they desired. Enjoy your HH-60W with no increase in capability while AFSOC and SOAR does the mission you are supposed to do.

  3. rotorhd says:

    “Service operability?” I guess.
    I don’t know the mission profile for this exercise. However, the video shows day “helo casts” or “low n slows.” The difficult thing is doing this stuff (hoist, rope ladder, fast rope, infills, exfils and boat work) live at night over the water with any sea state. Trust me, it is very difficult and takes LOTS n LOTS of current training to accomplish safely.

    I can remember a Guard aircraft that crashed and killing the crew and several MARSOC Raiders. I can also remember two USMC CH-53’s crashing off Hawaii with a loss of all aboard.

    Folks, this stuff ain’t easy and the idea that any and all helo crews can do this is absolutely false. The US Navy (Reserve) has closed one of their dedicated NSW helo squadron due to $$. This ain’t good. The USAF fumbles around in their RW woes due to self mismanagement and stupidity. The USMC Aviation is struggling to maintain flyable aircraft to train and deploy.

    • SSD says:

      Outside of 6h SOS for FID, AFSOC doesn’t have any RW aircraft. Instead, they’d use CV-22 or Army.

      • lysander6 says:

        USAF has HH-60 Pave Hawks for Search and Rescue. The USAF must have its own organic RW to provision PR and SAR of downed airmen. They have approx 100 HH-60G and HH-60U. [To be replaced by 112 HH-60W from 2021] That fulfillment in 2021 is problematic with the issues plaguing all large acquisitions.

        I don’t know if 6th SOS still has RW aircraft. All Hueys and Russian birds phased out in 2012.

        USA 160th SOAR has approx 120 birds. 11 x MH-47D, 23 x MH-47E, 27 x MH-47G, 23 x MH-60K, 35 x MH-60L.

        All of this is subject to change but we can thank Odin that no more MH53s are in service. They’d alert 6-8 birds for us if tasked so 2x could make the mission.

        • SSD says:

          Okay, here’s reality for you. The HH-60s belong to the CAF and not AFSOC. They have a mission and it isn’t doing training lines for AFSOC.

  4. rotorhd says:

    There are less than 100 HH-60Gs but I’m not sure what the current number is. Yes, They belong to the CAF versus AFSOC and many say that is the problem…. These G’s are getting very very long in the tooth and worn out. If you believe, they will be replaced by HH-60W’s, you need to stop smoking the “wacky weed”. The CAF wants the F-35’s more…..

    • SSD says:

      That’s all quite possible, but don’t confuse the Air Force’s requirement to provide CSAR for its forces with AFSOC’s SOF mission. They are not the same.

      • rotorhd says:

        You are correct, they are not the same but similar capabilities. It’s a mindset.

        CSAR, the 1 trick pony who hasn’t done much CSAR in the list 20 years. Lots of $$, personnel, aircraft, time, training, deployments with few completed missions.

        • SSD says:

          Very true. During that. I’ve been part of a CJSOTF tasked specifically with theater CSAR.

          The CAF didn’t get the mission because it lacked the legs and survivability.

  5. will sew 4 kit says:

    in photo #3 A static line jumper exiting the tailgate like he’s MFF?
    Something the AF does different?