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Special Tactics Airmen Integrate Combat Capabilities During Exercise Commando Crucible

Monday, August 3rd, 2020


Air Force special tactics teams provide a wide range of core responsibilities and combatant commands rely on ST operators to hone their skills long before arriving at a deployed location.

To meet the standards required for deployment, special tactics teams completed exercise Commando Crucible, from June 18-July 3, at Hurlburt Field and in Kinston, North Carolina.

“Despite logistical frustrations due to COVID-19 restrictions, the exercise allowed special tactics flights and attachments to conduct critical training on global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and foreign internal defense capabilities,” said a special tactics officer and lead planner for the exercise.

Special tactics operators led the training, which consisted of 253 participants and leveraged 40 aircraft from across Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Combat Command. One team of participants included members from the 53rd Air Traffic Control Squadron assigned to Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. The 53rd ATCS members played the role of a simulated host nation force and special tactics operators were responsible for training them on fundamental tactical skills and guiding them through a direct action training mission.

“The ST flights did a great job providing a plan of instruction in only three days to effectively integrate with the teams conducting the raids,” the special tactics officer said. “This is extremely realistic for a lot of the different partner forces we integrate with in deployed areas of operation.”

Col. Matt Allen, 24th Special Operations Wing commander, Col. Allison Black, the 24th SOW’s new vice commander and Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Guilmain, 24th SOW command chief, were present for portions of the exercise to observe the tactical units hitting their training objectives.

“We saw really well-rehearsed combat capability,” Guilmain said. “It was really valuable to watch how operators’ skills, both as individuals and as teams, have been refined over the months of training to provide incredible capability to the forward commanders. I’m glad we have that process in place where commanders can validate those capabilities and ensure readiness.”

Another critical readiness component teams were evaluated on was their ability to plan and carry out agile combat employment concepts. Special tactics forces have made this a priority in response to near-peer competition as well as AFSOC’s strategic guidance.

Special tactics operators traveled from Hurlburt Field to Kinston, N.C., to rapidly secure an airfield to use as a forward air refueling point, integrating combat Air Force assets such as F-15 Eagles, F-22 Raptors and AFSOC MC-130s.

“The ability for our aircraft to operate swiftly in contested areas improves U.S. Air Force lethality and presents strategic dilemmas for our adversaries. It also helps develop procedures to habitualize AFSOC and ACC units working together in support of the Air Superiority mission.” the special tactics officer said. “Overall, despite initial planning difficulties, the exercise execution went flawlessly and according to plan.”

Story by 1st Lt Alejandra Fontalvo , 24th Special Operations Wing

Photo by SSgt Rose Gudex

21st Special Tactics Squadron Recognized for Deployment Action in Fight Against Extremist Organizations

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. – The 21st Special Tactics Squadron assigned to Pope Field, North Carolina gathered with family and friends July 24, 2020 to watch the presentation of over 90 awards for the squadron’s most recent deployment in 2019, battling six extremist organizations across three areas of responsibility.

“The majority of you would rather receive a decoration in your team room, your office or at home maybe, and not in public, but it’s important,” said Lt. Col. Randall Harvey, former commander of the 21st STS and ceremony speaker. “It’s important for you, because you need to understand that we know what you do and what you sacrifice. It’s important for your families because they need to know your stories. It’s important for Americans out there to know what other Americans are doing on their behalf. Finally, it’s important for those who have come before us and those who are no longer with us. We owe it to them to be here and be standing strong.”

The presentations started by recognizing the members of the squadron who deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The Special Tactics unit served as  primary tactical planners for infiltration, exfiltration, fires, as well as Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance taskings in the execution of 241 direct-action raids during an especially “kinetic winter fighting season”. The team engaged in 235 firefights with hardened Taliban and ISIS-K fighters, controlled 4,985 aircraft, which conducted over 622 airstrikes on enemy targets, 235 of which were within  “danger close” range.  Their efforts removed 1,880 enemy personnel from the battlefield. Twelve Bronze Star Medals and four Bronze Star Medals with Valor were presented for actions contributed in this area of responsibility.

“In many ways it’s the greatest adventure to put yourself on the line… and step up when it counts the most,” said Harvey. “For some of you that line was a razor’s edge between life and death.”

In addition to the numerous precision strikes and direct action raids, the team made Special Tactics history by employing their leading global access capabilities. Specifically, one of the deployed teams single-handedly secured, established, controlled and commanded a mission support site during a 96-hour ST-organic and presidentially approved operation.

The squadron members deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve were also recognized for actions ranging from controlled fires, which put pressure on thousands of enemy fighters to surrender, to driving 190 joint and coalition missions and working with United Nations and Department of Defense partners to provide food and supplies to over 40,000 internally displaced citizens. Three additional Bronze Star Medals along with several Air Force and Army commendation medals were presented for OIR.

“You may not realize it, but you are the privileged ones,” said Harvey. “You are the privileged ones to have stepped into that arena and stepped on to the line when it mattered most. Many Americans will never know what that’s like.”

Lastly, a 12-person flight deployed to Africa was recognized for their integral role in building counter violent extremist capabilities with allied nations in Northwest and East Africa while navigating complex state and military systems to establish enduring Special Tactics-led foreign internal defense missions.

“In Africa, we partnered with key allies in Mali and Kenya, establishing new partnerships to integrate airpower into the ground scheme of maneuver… things no other [special operations force] can do out there,” said Harvey. “Our guys were on the ground day and night enhancing counterterrorism capabilities of these SOF units, while simultaneously reinforcing that the United States is the partner of choice in the region.”

The squadron’s Special Tactics leaders won approval from key Kenyan military leaders to craft and launch an air to ground integration training program for the Kenyan military, focused on improving tactics in the fight against Al Shabaab extremists. The program was deemed successful and sparked demand among Kenyan military and Air Force leaders for similar programs going forward.

“I want to say congratulations on a job well done,” said Harvey. “I’ll close with a quote from John F. Kennedy, he said ‘there are risks and costs to programs of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.’ Thank you for being men and women of action.”

Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operation Command’s tactical air and ground integration force, and the Air Force’s special operations ground force, leading Global Access, Precision Strike, Personnel Recovery and Battlefield Surgery operations on the battlefield. Since 9/11, Air Force Special Tactics operators have been involved in almost every major operation and have seen a significant amount of combat. It is the most highly decorated community in the Air Force since the end of the Vietnam War.

Overcoming Adversity: How an Italian Became a Special Tactics Operator

Sunday, June 28th, 2020

Sometimes in order to achieve one’s goal in life, one has to overcome a great deal of adversity and life lessons to do so. No one appreciates this more than Master Sgt. Stefano Guadagnuolo, a Special Tactics operator assigned to the 125th Special Tactics Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. His teammates prefer to call him G for short.

G grew up in the town of Piacenza, Italy in an 80 person condominium, where there was an ‘army of kids’ for playing and snowball fights. Italians are used to being very social, it’s a cultural thing, said G. Every weekend is a celebration and you don’t have to walk far to be with friends and family.

He attended college in Parma and at the age of 18 he was drafted into the Italian Army as a Mountain’s Troop Officer, where he served for two and a half years. After going back to Parma for college, he decided it was time to venture out and try something new. He ended up in Costa Rica to be a diver, and from there travelled to Honduras for a year to become a Dive Master as an underwater tour guide. G met many American friends there vacationing who told him he should come to the states, so he sold all of his scuba gear and flew to Houston.

After arriving in the U.S., he toured the country for a while eventually ending up in San Diego, again as a Dive Master on a boat. He remembered how he always wanted to join the Air Force’s Combat Control career field because he learned about them during his time as an Italian officer, but he couldn’t get a security clearance at the time. Air Force recruiters told him to join the Marines or the Army to get jump and dive certified and then try again. He then joined the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry, and ended up with an Army Ranger contract.

“I had only been in the states for less than a year when I joined the Army, so I had to pick up English very quickly,” said G. “The American culture is very different from Italy, also. Everyone is so spread out and you have to make plans to see each other.”

Once he had gotten used to the culture, the Army realized there was a mix up with his security clearance, and as a result the Army sent G back to Italy where he was assigned to an Infantry Airborne Brigade. He served as a gunner in Vicenza, Italy for four years, but still dreamed of joining the Air Force. He decided to give it another try and called up an Air Force recruiter to apply to become a Special Tactics Combat Controller, but found out he would have to be stateside to apply for Active Duty. Once again G had to veer away from his goal and decided to re-enlist in the Army, as a Deep Sea Diver and was stationed in Virginia for four years. Eight years later, he still had hopes of joining the Air Force, and worked on his citizenship to do so.

“It felt like the target would keep moving past me, and I had to keep asking myself ‘should I do this,’ said G “…but I had already made it this far so I might as well keep going.”

The year he tried to get into the Combat Control pipeline, was also the year the 142nd stood up the 125th Special Tactics Squadron. The squadron saw his resume and concluded he had the qualifications to join, so G moved his family to Portland to take on the extremely difficult two-year pipeline at 35 years of age.

While his 20-year-old teammates were out on the town, he would be at home icing up and letting his body recover after long days of intense training.

Despite some difficulties he was already qualified in many of the required skills and was even named honor graduate at Combat Control School. Thanks to his hard work and determination, G was offered a full-time Active Guard Reserve position at the base. He now currently serves as the Squadron’s Superintendent 13 years later.

“Don’t stay comfortable in what you do,” said G. “Plan on trying new roles and career developments, and take on new challenges. Know your limits and stick to your goals.”

He enjoys what he does, so it made the challenges worth it. He stuck to his goal that he had his heart set on, but had to go through years of experience first to achieve it. Besides the challenges he’s faced in learning English, the cultural differences in the states, and joining the Army to reach his ultimate goal, he has also had to deal with challenges as a Special Tactics operator during conflicts in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The Air Force has a much better lifestyle than the Army he said. He now has an 18-year-old daughter, Kate Guadagnuolo, who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the U.S. Air Force as well. Kate is scheduled to attend Basic Military Training by the end of the summer after she graduates high school.

“My dad has taught me to take life in strides and that’s how you venture through life and get through it,” said Kate.

G will be retiring in a year, but is proud of his daughter for wanting to follow in his Air Force footsteps and even more glad he stuck to his goal of becoming a Special Tactics Combat Controller by staying resilient, keeping his heart set on his goals, and overcoming the adversity he has faced in his career.

“I know she will be able to handle the military as she is mentally tough,” said G. “You have to be able to stay positive and resilient, but the rewards are worth it.”

She was able to meet his family in Italy and said that they are very intense, but sweet and are very family oriented. Kate enjoys playing in the water, like her dad, through water polo and said that he is goofy and likes to embarrass his kids.

She’s excited to join the Air Force and follow in her dad’s footsteps, but she will be going in to Public Affairs as a Photojournalist. She said G makes fun of her for not being able to run as fast as her old man, so she’ll have to work on that, but has told her that the military can offer her more opportunities for education and travel.

Story by Tech. Sgt. Emily Moon 

142nd Wing Public Affairs

Air Force Awards 10-Year $950 Million Contract for Special Warfare Individual Equipment

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

The Department of Defense recently announced the following award:

Federal Resources, Stevensville, Maryland (FA8629-20-D-5003); W.S. Darley & Co., Itasca, Illinois (FA8629-20-D-5052); US21 Inc., Fairfax, Virginia (FA8629-20-D-5053); Atlantic Diving Supply Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia (FA8629-20-D-5054); and Tactical & Survival Specialties Inc., Harrisonburg, Virginia (FA8629-20-D-5055), have been awarded a $950,000,000, 10-year, multiple-award, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to provide equipment, training and product support to approximately 3,500 Air Force Special Warfare operators, as well as authorized users in support of Special Warfare mission requirements.  Work will be performed at various U.S. locations, and is expected to be completed June 2030.  These awards are the result of a competitive acquisition with 17 offers received.  Fiscal 2019 other procurement funds in the amount of $2,000 will be obligated on the initial order placed against each of the contracts.  Air Force Life cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, is the contracting activity. (FA8629-20-R-5003).

Special Tactics Wing, AFRL Develop Smartphone App to Mitigate COVID-19 Risk

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. – The Air Force Special Tactics community is known for looking at complex problems and finding new ways to accomplish the mission; when COVID-19 became a global pandemic, it was no exception.

Medical and Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF) team members of the 24th Special Operations Wing, headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Florida, teamed up with the Air Force Research Lab to develop a way to monitor ST operators’ health status during the pandemic straight from their smartphones.  

The team quickly responded by taking an existing human performance software known as, Smartabase, which identifies health risks to the force, and adding a “COVID-19 Check In” feature to monitor pre-and post-deployment health.

“We recognized the need for real-time monitoring of the force and readiness impact from COVID-19,” said Col. John Dorsch, 24th SOW surgeon general. “COVID-19 screening was a natural extension of our efforts since it is another risk to force like others for which we are monitoring, such as TBI, musculoskeletal injuries, and PTSD.”

The app feature is designed as a daily survey where users input daily temperature, possible symptoms, risk factors, exposure as well as mental health state. All the data from the ST operators is collected and alerts medical and command teams if there is anything out of the ordinary that needs to be addressed.

“This ensures commanders have important information related to their operators and allows them to make the best decisions about who goes where and does what,” said Craig Engelson, 24th SOW POTFF director. “In the past they have had to coordinate with multiple departments and multiple systems to get the same information.”

The idea stemmed from the wing’s long-standing efforts using technology and innovation to maintain operator readiness as well as ensure Special Tactics teams’ ability to perform optimally on the battlefield for years to come.

“[Special Operations Forces] can’t be mass produced,” said Dorsch “Special Tactics is a small, but incredibly important and highly specialized combat capability.  This system helps protect this capability for combat operations, and our partnership with AFRL has been invaluable.  We must continue to leverage technology to help us solve the nation’s hard problems.”

Dr. Adam Strang, a human performance research scientist and AFRL’s director of the Signature Tracking for Optimized Nutrition and Training (STRONG) team, has been leading the back-end development of the database as well as finding new opportunities for improvement.

“As a scientist I like to lean forward and stay on the cutting edge,” said Strang. “Often that requires taking big swings and being comfortable with risk. Special Tactics functions similarly, which makes a good pairing.  Together we push the edge of technological capability in ways that AFRL could not accomplish alone.”

The technology proved successful in monitoring returning deployers, safeguarding families from health risks, as well as helping outgoing deployers meet specific country clearance requirements. The 24th SOW team also helped integrate the technology at the 1st Special Operations Medical Group at Hurlburt Field and 27th Special Operations Medical Group at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico to monitor pre-deployment health for almost 250 Air Commandos.

“In truth I believe that we are only scratching the surface of its capabilities,” said Engelson “As our providers and commanders integrate with the system even more, there is no telling how much more useful this system could become.”

Special Tactics is the Air Force’s ground special operations force that leads global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgical operations. For more info on Air Force Special Tactics visit our website www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil or follow us on social media: Twitter: @SpecialTactics_ Facebook/Instagram: @Airforcespecialtactics

24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office

Air Force SERE Modernizes Training

Saturday, June 6th, 2020


The 336th Training Group is streamlining Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training with several possible permanent changes to modernize training which have been under review but are being expedited because of COVID-19.

As a response to COVID-19, SERE training at the group paused for 14 days to implement movement restrictions, which is when healthy individuals with no known exposure or illness monitor their own health status prior to being introduced into a previously healthy population.

“This has been near and dear to my heart for the last 15 months in planning,” said Col. Carlos Brown, 336th Training Group commander. “We are confident this new format of training will be able to get the right Airman, the right training and the right time and make the training process more efficient.”

The changes will involve shifting the SERE training paradigm from a one-size fits all approach to a flexible and more efficient concept that will adequately prepare forces for a high-end conflict, including the incorporation of distance learning into the curriculum.

“These changes will provide more tailored training for our Airmen while delivering them to their combat units more quickly,” said Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander. “This is an exciting development that saves our most valuable resource – our Airmen’s time, while preparing our Air Force to better meet the demands of the 21st century fight.”

Initial SERE training for Airmen at high risk of isolation has been conducted through four courses over a 26-day period. Now, leaders at 336th TRG believe they have found a way to restructure the training requirements, which make it more efficient and ultimately saves time. COVID-19 expedited the need to test these changes, which are proving to be beneficial.

“Reducing the length of the SERE training helps accommodate personnel’s needs, especially through this pandemic,” Brown said. “We are professionalizing our Airmen through continued distance-learning education and getting after some long-term projects to modernize the SERE enterprise.”

The modernization effort, if approved by the Air Force, will provide tailored and targeted training based on an Airman’s AFSC and the level of risk they may face on the battlefield. This custom approach to training targets the right Airman, at the right time, in the right place for training.

“Currently the Air Force is working with every major command in the Air Force to better understand their SERE training needs, and we are confident these changes put into place because of COVID-19 will be in line to meet those requirements,” Brown said.

Story by C Arce, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

Photo by 1st Lt Kayshel Trudell

US Air Force Creates New AFSC for Special Warfare Officers

Thursday, April 30th, 2020


The Air Force consolidated and transitioned officers of Air Force Special Warfare to a new Air Force specialty code to increase resourcing, improve talent management and enhance deployment capabilities.

Effective April 30, special tactics, tactical air control party and combat rescue officers will transition from the command and control AFSC, 13XX, to the new AFSPECWAR officer AFSC, 19ZXX.

“The creation of a cadre of officers steeped in joint leadership and trained to lead the full spectrum of AFSPECWAR conventional and special operations missions will streamline accession, selection and common skills training,” said Col. Thomas Palenske, director of the AFSPECWAR directorate at the Pentagon. “These officers will share a common assessment and selection standard with a heightened benchmark for leadership capabilities to prepare them as next-generation leaders for the AFSPECWAR enterprise.”

The 19ZXX AFSC includes three shred-outs:

– Special tactics (19ZXA): Leads special operations forces conducting global access, precision strike and personnel recovery operations across all domains to support the joint force commander.

– Tactical air control party (19ZXB): Leads combat air forces and SOF conducting precision strike, the application and integration of joint fires and all-domain command and control operations to support the JFC.

– Combat rescue (19ZXC): Leads personnel recovery and SOF conducting personnel recovery operations to report, locate, support, recover and reintegrate isolated personnel across all domains to support the JFC.

All administrative systems such as MilPDS are expected to automatically update by May 1.

The transition to the new AFSC will be a direct conversion with no additional training required. While differences between special tactics, TACP and combat rescue officer training and development exist today, the development of a new 19Z assessment and selection process will create core standards for future special warfare officers.

“Upon the establishment of the 19Z officer training and developmental processes, every AFSPECWAR officer will exercise the unique competencies: ‘mission command’ culture, advanced combat skills, ground maneuver warfare expertise, air-mindedness and all-domain warfare capabilities,” said Col. Mark McGill, AFSPECWAR deputy director and officer career field manager. “They should see greater opportunities to serve in different positions across the Air Force and will serve the greater AFSPECWAR enterprise together.”

AFSPECWAR is the Air Force’s premier ground force that specializes in air, ground, space and cyber integration in hostile, denied or politically sensitive environments to achieve all-domain dominance. Officers in these career fields are charged with leading, organizing, training and equipping the special tactics teams, TACP and Guardian Angel weapon systems, which collectively execute global access, precision strike and personnel recovery operations.

The development and implementation of the new AFSC is a continuation of efforts to empower AFSPECWAR to be the elite and ready ground force the Air Force needs to dominate the air, space and cyber domains. In October 2019, enlisted members transitioned to new AFSCs that identify and categorize the AFSPECWAR operator, enabler and support specialties.

“The Department of the Air Force is modernizing to connect the joint force so we can more seamlessly integrate as a joint team,” Palenske said. “This transformation strengthens the connective tissue between AFSPECWAR Airmen enabling them to integrate the unique capabilities of the Air Force into an even more lethal, joint all-domain fighting force.”

Special Tactics Airmen Support Vital Training, Maintain Readiness Through COVID-19

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

Special Tactics Airmen from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron filled in to conduct interoperability training with the 14th Weapons Squadron assigned to the U.S. Air Force Weapons School detachment at Hurlburt Field, Florida for a Special Operations Force Exercise on April 22, 2020.

“The recent training event was done in conjunction with the 14th Weapons Squadron as part of their curriculum to produce Weapons Officers from various aircraft in [Air Force Special Operations Command].,” said Maj. Blake Jones, director of operations for the 23rd STS. “Their scenarios and full mission profiles necessitate the role of ground force as they train to conduct and support airfield seizures, non-combatant evacuations, hostage rescues and counter weapons of mass destruction operations. The 23rd STS picked up this great training opportunity after COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented other units from participating as planned.”

The exercise is a part of the 14th WPS’ demanding five and a half month syllabus exposing students to a wide range of joint special operations and combat air force capabilities. Being able to move forward with the training allowed the iteration of Weapons School students to stay on track with their training timeline.

“Our students require close interaction with skilled ground forces throughout their training to graduate them as the recognized experts in [Special Operations Forces] and [Combat Air Forces] integration,” said. Lt. Col. Jacob Duff, 14th WPS director of operations. “Our planned training partners, a different Special Tactics Squadron and multiple Army Special Forces units, were unable to travel to Hurlburt and the 23rd STS immediately stepped in to fill that gap. Without them, it would have been significantly more difficult to meet our training objectives and graduate the newest class of SOF Weapons Officers and enlisted Advanced Instructors.”

The SOFEX also provided a unique opportunity for local Special Tactics Airmen to conduct multifaceted training with a volume of aviation assets otherwise not easily replicated outside of a larger exercise. 

“Our recent participation allowed us to evaluate individual personnel and conduct training in mission planning, tilt-rotor assault, airfield seizure, landing zone establishment and control, terminal attack control, close quarters combat, personnel recovery and battlefield trauma care,” said Jones. “This was important because it gave many junior enlisted and junior officer [Special Tactics] personnel a crucial repetition mission planning with some of the best aviators in AFSOC as well as the opportunity to execute, work through contingencies and lead in a high-fidelity scenario.”

The units not only trained on the necessary skill sets needed to conduct a wide-range of special operations missions, increase lethality and maintain joint warfighting capabilities, but they were also tested on their ability to plan complex missions amidst COVID-19 preventative measures.

“The combat capabilities we are tasked to provide are not changing, but the constraints are different now so we must adapt,” said Jones. “We are adapting how we train, but also adapting how we resource and plan that training over teleconferences and web-based planning applications.”

In addition to reducing in-person mission planning, Special Tactics Squadrons have implemented several techniques to maintain readiness while keeping health of operators at the forefront, including sanitizing equipment, using face coverings when needed, conducting internal evaluations on prioritization of missions, staffing smaller training groups and taking advantage of local training opportunities.

“Stopping all training is not a feasible course of action because the second and third order effects months down the line are far too costly in terms of readiness,” said Jones. “Our squadron commits and deploys personnel operationally year-round, so we focused on ensuring we are still on track to field combat ready forces on time.” 

Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air and ground integration force, and the Air Force’s special operations ground force, leading global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations.

Story by 1st Lt. Alejandra Fontalvo, 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Photos by Staff Sgt. Rose Gudex