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.
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