Archive for the ‘SOF’ Category

Silver Star Awarded to Naval Special Warfare Legend

Friday, January 27th, 2023

CORONADO, Calif. –

A half-century ago, Lt. j.g. Thomas Richards, fighting through injury and exhaustion in the rice paddies of Vietnam, made repeated trips through enemy gunfire to rescue three injured SEAL Team One Zulu Platoon teammates. Nicknamed “The Hulk” for his size and strength, Richards demonstrated uncommon valor by hauling the wounded men across a dike and then lifting each into a friendly helicopter for evacuation. Without his courageous runs into the “kill zone,” the other men on patrol would not have survived the day.

On Jan. 17, over 50 years later, Rear Adm. Keith Davids, commander, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command, presented the Silver Star to retired Rear Adm. Richards for his actions that day as the assistant patrol leader of Zulu Platoon. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro upgraded the original Bronze Star, recognizing the meritorious nature of Richards’ actions.

“Today we were fortunate to attend a very long overdue ceremony to recognize one of Naval Special Warfare’s truest warriors, tribal elders and fantastic teammates,” said Naval Special Warfare Force Master Chief (SEAL) Walter S. Dittmar. “His humility was absolutely evident in the fact that he still recognizes and defers to all the brothers who were around him for why he is alive today.”

Despite originally being recommended for the Silver Star and demonstrating courage under fire typical of higher awards, the staff for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam initially recommended Richards for a Bronze Star. The decision by Del Toro to upgrade the award is a reminder that the courage, grit, and integrity of past NSW teammates forms the standard upheld in the community today.

“The upgrade to the Silver Star provides recognition of the fact that things went terribly wrong that day in South Vietnam,” said Richards.

“More importantly, it brings attention to the fact that the SEALs and other special operations forces are put in those situations to support our country’s foreign policy in the most dangerous manner. This Silver Star reminds our country that we have people risking their lives for the democracy we enjoy daily.”

A native of Bay Shore, New York, Richards’ background in lifeguarding, wrestling, and experience with small boats led him to believe that the Navy Underwater Demolition Teams would be a natural fit. Moreover, as someone who could squat and deadlift more than 500 pounds, he was well prepared for the arduous physical evolutions of BUD/S except for the runs. His heavier frame was punished by the soft sand, and the runs left him “puking in front of the Hotel Del (Coronado) more times than you want to know.”

Richards credits his parents for instilling in him the values of integrity, bravery, and self-sacrifice — ideals further refined during his military training. Reflecting on his actions, the retired SEAL matter-of-factly mentioned that he was laser focused on managing the situation and getting his teammates to safety.

“Thinking back on that day, I never gave any thought to my own personal exposure to enemy fire,” Richards said. “ I wanted to get my friends out of danger and to safety.”

When questioned about the nature of his courage and whether it’s innate or imbued through rigorous military training, Richards sees it as a combination of the two. In his view, the candidates that begin SEAL training already have the tools built into their persona; it’s the job of the SEAL instructors to bring those values to the surface. Moreover, the bonds formed during training and pre-deployment workups made it so that he would risk his life rather than leave a teammate behind. His bravery speaks to the fact that Naval Special Warfare’s selectivity is built on the rock-solid foundation of earned respect and an unbreakable commitment to the mission.

Saving his teammates in Vietnam was just the beginning of the frogman’s long and colorful career. Over the next 30 years, Richards would “follow the conflicts,” leading special operations missions in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Praying Mantis and Operation Prime Chance. He would also serve in numerous staff and command positions, including as executive officer of Underwater Demolition Team 12 and as commanding officer of Special Boat Unit 13,  SEAL Team One, and Naval Special Warfare Center. His final post would be as commander of Naval Special Warfare Command from 1996-1999, after which he retired from active duty.

Thanks to his extensive experience at the tip of the spear in various conflicts, Richards is uniquely qualified to comment on how NSW can advance capabilities that directly contribute to integrated deterrence and campaigning for influence.

“What most people do not understand about NSW is that we are the best problem solvers around. Bar none,” Richards said. “Special operations and NSW exist because there is that set of missions that take a different approach to successfully execute.”

As the NSW community shifts its focus to developing the force for strategic competition, Richards points out that NSW must be willing to adapt and innovate to execute its role of gaining, maintaining, and extending access for theater warfare commanders and the Fleet.

“We must be flexible in response to change,” Richards said. “More importantly, we must place ourselves ahead of change coming from our adversaries or potential adversaries.”

Effusive in his praise of others, Richards is a stellar example of the servant leadership requisite of any naval officer. When discussing how the incident in Vietnam impacted his career and leadership style, Richards made it clear that he viewed his role as the commander of Naval Special Warfare as one in which he “worked for 6,000 people, not that there were 6,000 people under my command.” Moreover, he learned early the importance of taking care of his people first “drag the injured men out of the rice paddy, stay up as late as you need to get the Fitreps and awards done right for those within your command,” he said.

Evident when speaking with the retired admiral is the importance of family and personal relationships. His father, who had a successful law enforcement career, provided discipline that served Richards during his own career. According to the Richards, the BUD/S instructors never struck as much fear in him as his father did during a high school wrestling competition. The innovative young athlete had previously invented a new move which was quickly banned. After witnessing his son’s blatant use of the now illegal move, the elder Richards’ stood up from the bleachers and called out to his son in a tone more chilling than any future instructor.

In addition to the numerous commanding officers and executive officers he served under, his wife of 52 years, Jackie, is a source of strength and inspiration. Jackie, whom he describes as one of the most brilliant individuals he ever met, provided wisdom and counsel over Richards’ career. His advice for those pursuing careers in special operations and trying to make a relationship work is to understand the tremendous burden you’re asking of your partner. Just as a good teammate puts their fellow SEALs first, similarly, one must be considerate and accommodating in family life.

Throughout their history, U.S. naval commandos have pioneered special operations from the sea and waterways. These were irregular warfare missions from the maritime flanks of the enemy. Our forefather’s resolute example inspires how Naval Special Warfare today is evolving to fight under, on, and above the sea to gain and maintain access for the Fleet and joint force. For Richards, receiving the Silver Star is long-deserved recognition of his meritorious actions. A warrior, husband, leader, and teammate, his influence is felt by our special operators today, as they continue to adapt and change to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

By Lt. Zachary Anderson, Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs

G-Form in Cooperation with Crye Precision, Develops Innovative Protective System for United States Marine Forces, Special Operations Command

Thursday, January 26th, 2023

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Jan. 26, 2023 — G-Form®, the innovative protection manufacturing brand, reveals the development of an all-new body protective system for the United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). Teaming up with Crye Precision, G-Form strategically designed a product that met MARSOC’s niche performance needs, enhancing both mobility and lethality.

“It is an exciting time for G-Form as we continue to advance knee and elbow protection, utilizing our cutting-edge SmartFlex technology to generate innovative product solutions for our warfighters,” explains Glen “Gava” Giovanucci, G-Form CEO, “We are honored to be partnering with the Crye Precision team on this remarkable collaboration for MARSOC operators who require enhanced protection product improvements to deliver exceptional performance capabilities.”

“Crye Precision is proud to support G-Form in their initiative to provide capabilities and protection to MARSOC and the Warfighter in general. It’s these sorts of collaborations that reinforce the concept that one plus one can certainly be greater than two especially in the world of product innovation,” adds Gregg Thompson, Crye Precision CEO

“MARSOC Operators require constant improvements, technological innovation capability, and high-quality systems to perform in a fierce competitive environment,” shared Greg Snyder, G8 United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command, “G-Form had great vision to leverage their proven capability and then worked with industry partners to provide operators an increased level of protection.”  

The product has been designated with National Stock Numbers (NSN) and has been added to the Special Operations Forces Personal Equipment Advanced Requirements (SPEAR) contract.

Det 1, 24th SOW Trains In Alaska

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

24th Special Operations Wing D-Cell, Pioneers of the ACE Concept, Hone Arctic Skills in Alaska

Air Force Special Tactics Airmen with the 24SOW, Detachment 1, aka “D-Cell”, provided security while an Alaska Army National Guard HH-60M Black Hawk landed at Camp Mad Bull during CASEVAC training.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Agile Combat Employment is one of the most talked-about concepts in the Air Force. The ability to rapidly deploy and establish forward operating locations, manned by multi-capable Airmen, is the way the Air Force is crafting the future of warfare.

The Airmen of the 24th Special Operations Wing, Detachment 1, also known as Deployment Cell or “D-Cell,” have been doing just this for over 60 years.

The unit, based out of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, consists of 54 members across 15 career fields, forming four agile teams. These teams of multi-capable Airmen are trained in 49 cross-functional tasks including Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training, advanced shooting, and advanced combat casualty care.

The primary role of D-Cell is to “bare base,” which is to rapidly turn undeveloped locations into fully functional bases.

“The unique thing about us is that we have small teams that can go anywhere,” said Master Sgt. Nathan Johnson, a logistics superintendent and D-Cell Bravo Flight lead. “And because we can do other jobs, we can set up a bare base extremely fast, extremely efficiently.”

Due to working in such light and agile teams, being multi-capable Airmen is essential for mission success.

“Most of our Airmen are at – and I can say this comfortably – at probably a three-level in each other’s career fields, and some even a five-level,” said Master Sgt. Sammy Bridges, security forces superintendent and D-Cell Delta Flight lead.

“If I fall out, the next guy on my team, even though he might be a power [production] guy working on a generator, or he might be a services guy, guess what? He can still upload an aircraft,” added Staff Sgt. Jonathan Webb, an air transportation craftsman. “That [multi-capable Airman] concept is more than what you think it is.”

With their visibilities shifting towards future areas of operation, the unit visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, Jan. 6 through 10, 2023, to test their operating capabilities in extreme-cold weather environments.

“We’re out here to see if we can validate the Arctic side of what we have to do,” explained Johnson. “We’ve been in a certain part of the world for a long time, and mindsets are changing over where we could go. This is so we can test what we’ve been doing since the ’60s in a cold environment.”

The team spent their time in Alaska operating out of Camp Mad Bull, a training area on JBER designed to provide realistic austere operating conditions to test unit capabilities.

“You’re used to building and being at different locations for the past 20 years, where the whole [Department of Defense] has been, right?” said Johnson. “So now you come up here in a different environment, and you have to test yourself in that sense it’s zero degrees here versus where you’re used to building in 90 degrees [weather].”

Over the week, D-Cell worked on troop movement in extreme cold and deep snow, tent construction, and night operations, all of which culminated into a simulated combat scenario.

The Airmen also spent two days working with the Alaska National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment. One day was spent in a classroom with the regiment’s medevac unit, where they learned cold-weather specific tactical combat casualty care. The aviators also supported the training’s final combat scenario, providing medevacs to the simulated combat’s casualties.

“We’ve done medical training, [tactical combat casualty care] and things of that nature… now we’re getting knowledge from the Soldiers up here, who do things in the mountains and Arctic environment,” said Webb. “Pulling that knowledge of how you treat hypothermia, how you treat frostbite …. versus what we dealt with the past 20 years in a different [area of responsibility].”

“It wasn’t even necessarily the Arctic cold weather training, but it was the questions, the back-and-forth of it,” he continued. “You can read a book on it all day long, but if you’re talking to the author, you’ll get those little details. It’s good to have that insight.”

After the training wrapped up, the team prepared to leave the sub-zero temperatures of Alaska and return to the warm beaches of Florida – bringing back a new set of skills and validated capabilities.

“As leads, not only were we thinking about the actual build and the project,” said Johnson. “From my perspective, it’s about the personalities and the camaraderie. When you put people in an austere location in a stressful situation, whether it be from external weather or threats, how can those people come together and work as a team and react? It’s been an awesome experience together.”

By Senior Airman Patrick Sullivan, 673d ABW/PA

Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Paved Way for EOD Technicians in Elite Special Forces Unit

Sunday, January 22nd, 2023

SOUTH FORK, Colo. – If you have spent much time on military-related social media platforms, you’ve probably seen some of the memes featuring a seasoned U.S. Army sergeant major with a Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge and Combat Infantry Badge.

The Army EOD technician behind those memes is retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Mike R. Vining, one of the founding members of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Airborne) and one of the unit’s first EOD technicians.

The reason his Army career has gained so much attention is because Vining has participated in many of the American military operations that defined the latter part of the 20th century, as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician and an elite Special Forces Operator.

Growing up in Howard City, Michigan, Vining was interested in science and mountain climbing. He received chemistry sets for Christmas every year and earned the Grand Prize in a High School Science Fair for a Wilson Cloud Chamber. Vining was also a member of the Science Club and Chess Club and participated in wrestling and track.

Vining then watched a movie that changed the trajectory of his life.

“I saw a World War II movie about a British soldier disarming a large German bomb in an underground chamber in London, England,” said Vining. “I thought, wow, that must take a lot to disarm a large ticking bomb.”

At 17, not long after the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, Vining went to an Army recruiting office and signed up to be an Ammunition Renovation Specialist with the plan of volunteering for EOD as soon as possible. After graduating from basic training camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he went to Ammunition Renovation School on Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where he learned how to destroy unserviceable Code H ammunition during a course that was taught by EOD technicians.

He attended EOD training on Fort McClellan, Alabama, and Indian Head, Maryland, and graduated in May 1969.

While serving with the Technical Escort Unit at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, he volunteered to serve in Vietnam and he spent 11 months with the 99th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) in Phuoc Vinh, Vietnam, in an area west of Saigon and near the Cambodia border.

Two of the most memorable EOD operations of his career happened in 1970 when he participated in the destruction of the Rock Island East and Warehouse Hill enemy weapons and ammunition caches in Cambodia.

Vining was part of the seven-man Army EOD team that supported the 1st Cavalry Division mission to secure and destroy the largest weapons and ammunition cache discovered during the U.S. military’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Named “Rock Island East” after the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, the enemy weapons cache had 932 individual weapons and 85 crew-served weapons as well as 7,079,694 small arms and machine gun rounds. The enemy cache also contained almost a thousand rounds of 85mm artillery shells that were used for the D-44 howitzer and the T-34 tank.

Vining and the EOD techs had to dodge enemy fire and endure biting red ants while working on the cache. After setting up “scare charges” to keep enemy forces out of the security perimeter, Vining made it on the helicopter in time to watch the explosion and see the mushroom cloud that was visible from 50 miles away. The seven Army EOD technicians at Rock Island East used 300 cases of C4 explosives to destroy 327 tons of enemy munitions.

During the operation to seize the cache site, 10 American Soldiers died and 20 were injured.

Later at the Warehouse Hill operation in Cambodia, the EOD team had to disarm booby traps and crawl into underground tunnels to place C4 explosives on 14 cache sites. Vining had to contend with large cave crickets, poisonous centipedes, spiders, bats and scorpions in the narrow tunnels. The teams used 120 cases of C4 explosives to destroy hundreds of thousands of enemy rounds.

After completing his tour in Vietnam, Vining left the Army and returned home to Michigan. He got a job at a plant that stamped out automotive body parts for Ford Motor Company and then became the lead employee on the third shift of the largest press in the plant, a 500-ton press.

“Although it was very good pay, I did not see myself doing this for 20 to 30 years,” said Vining. “In October of 1973, I saw my Army recruiter and asked to go back into the Army.”

The U.S. Army recruiter told Vining that he would have to serve as an EOD technician again, which was exactly what he wanted. He was assigned to the 63rd Ordnance Detachment (EOD) on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Vining was serving on a U.S. Secret Service support mission when his EOD supervisor, Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Ray Foster, Sr., was killed by an improvised explosive device at the Quincy Compressor Division Plant in Illinois, in 1976. Afterward, Vining thought it was time for a change.

“I decided to take Emergency Medical Technician training and following that I decided to volunteer to be a Special Forces medic,” said Vining. “I was getting out of EOD when my control sergeant major told me that they were forming a new Special Forces organization at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and that they were looking for six EOD techs.”

Vining called the number and flew to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for an interview with Col. “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith, the founder of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. Beckwith envisioned the concept that the U.S. Army should have a counterterrorism unit like the British Special Air Service.

“Two weeks later, I was one of four Army EOD techs to start the Operator Training Course 1,” said Vining. “Only two of us made it through. The second person was (retired Sgt. Maj.) Dennis E. Wolfe.”

One of the unit’s first operations was the clandestine mission to rescue 53 American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Known as Operation Eagle Claw, the rescue mission was cancelled after the loss of three helicopters during a sandstorm at the staging site known as Desert One. While the aircraft were leaving the Desert One staging area, a RH-53D helicopter crashed into the transport aircraft that Vining and his team was on.

The helicopter rotor chopped into the top of the fuel-laden aircraft and a fireball shot by Vining and his team. As the EC-130E “Bladder Bird” was engulfed in flames and munitions cooked off around them, Vining and his teammates made it off the aircraft. Vining and his team got on another aircraft with faulty landing gear and just enough fuel to make it across the water to safety.

During the Desert One aircraft collision, eight American troops were killed and both aircraft were destroyed.

Joint Special Operations Command was created as a result of the investigation that followed the ill-fated rescue mission.

In October 1983 during Operation Urgent Fury, when U.S. forces invaded the Caribbean Island of Grenada following the pro-Cuban coup there, Vining was on a rescue team sent to free political prisoners at the Richmond Hill Prison.

His Blackhawk helicopter came under intense enemy anti-aircraft fire on approach to the prison facility and the mission had to be delayed.

The political prisoners were released before a second mission was launched.

After seven years of serving with distinction in Delta Force, Vining accepted an assignment with the 176th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) on Fort Richardson, Alaska. He made the move to be more promotable within the EOD community and to be close to the mountains of the 49th state.

While in Alaska, he maintained his proficiency for EOD missions and later came back to twice climb the 20,310-foot Mount Denali, the highest mountain in North America.

Within one year, he was back at the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, where he would serve in Operation Desert Storm. Although his EOD duties didn’t change, Vining switched to infantry during this time to make himself more promotable within the elite Special Forces unit.

During this second 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta tour, Vining also participated in Operation Pocket Planner during a Federal Penitentiary prison riot in Atlanta in 1987.

Vining would later serve at the Joint Special Operations Command as an exercise planner and J-3 Special Plans sergeant major. He was the Joint Special Operations Task Force senior enlisted advisor aboard the aircraft carrier USS America (CV 66) during Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.

The sergeant major also served as an explosive investigator on the task force that investigated the 1996 Khobar Tower bombing in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, and he used the lessons learned from that attack to help hardened U.S. installations around the world.

During nearly three decades in uniform, Vining earned the Combat Infantry Badge, Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge, Parachutist Badge, Military Free Fall Parachutist Badge and Austrian Police High Alpine “Gendarmerie-Hochalpinist” Badge.

Vining racked up a huge stack of medals and ribbons that include the Legion of Merit Medal, Bronze Star Medal, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, Army Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, two Joint Service Achievement Medals and the Army Achievement Medal. He also earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology from the University of the State of New York.

Vining said he was glad when the U.S. Army established the 28th Ordnance Company (EOD) (Airborne) to support U.S. Army Ranger and Special Forces missions around the world, as well as the two Airborne Platoons of the 722nd Ordnance Company (EOD) and 767th Ordnance Company (EOD) to support the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force mission.

The Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based companies are all part of 192nd EOD Battalion, 52nd EOD Group and 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. military’s premier all hazards command.

Vining said that the Kirtland Air Force Base New Mexico-headquartered 21stOrdnance Company (EOD WMD) was another welcome addition to the U.S. Army EOD units. The highly specialized company is part of the 71st EOD Group and 20th CBRNE Command.

From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.

“In my time, Army EOD was viewed as Combat Service Support, but in reality, Army EOD is Combat Support and has always been that way and that means supporting Special Operations and Airborne forces,” said Vining.

Vining said the key to success in the EOD profession is noncommissioned officer (NCO) leadership and mentorship.

“Mentorship is one of the duties of a senior NCO,” he said.

The Army EOD community marked its 80th anniversary in 2022 and NCOs have played a critical role in the EOD profession since its inception. Led by noncommissioned officers, EOD teams often serve on their own in austere environments, covering vast operational areas.

Vining also encouraged EOD techs to seek help for both the seen and unseen scars of war that come with the profession.

“I believe if you spend a career in EOD that you will witness severe injuries and death,” he said. “EOD is an inherently dangerous career but it is also a very rewarding career knowing you have eliminated a hazardous situation.

“If you are suffering from events that you were involved in, you are not alone in dealing with this kind of trauma. I encourage you to open up and just talk about it to a fellow EOD tech or an EOD veteran,” said Vining. “From World War II to the present, we have all witnessed the horrors of war and even the dangerous job we do in peacetime.”

In January 1999, Vining retired from the U.S. Army and married his wife Donna Ikenberry, a hiking guidebook author, professional wildlife photographer and freelance photojournalist. They were engaged at the top of Mount Rainer in Washington and exchanged wedding vows on Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in Hawaii.

Today, they live together in South Fork, Colorado, where Vining continues to enjoy spelunking, skiing, rock climbing and mountaineering. He also remains active in the veteran’s community.

Vining was inducted into the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 2018.

When he hung up his highly decorated uniform after nearly three decades of service, Vining said he never knew that his storied career would later launch a tidal wave of memes.

“I do not know how any of the memes got started,” said Vining. “One of my grandchildren saw that someone even did a Pokémon card on me.”

By Walter Ham

Special Tactics, AMC Airmen Spearhead Agile Combat Employment Concepts During Mission Generation Exercise

Thursday, January 12th, 2023


Special Tactics Airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing participated in a mission generation exercise on Jan. 5, 2023, alongside Air Mobility Command aircrews.

The 437th and 315th Airlift Wings launched 24 C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Joint Base Charleston to conduct the exercise and integrate with Air Force, Army, and Marine forces across five operating locations.

Several C-17s landed at Pope Army Airfield after the initial launch to establish a tactical operations center and conduct an airfield seizure with multiple special tactics teams.

“This exercise is about readiness and lethality,” said Maj. Zachary Barry, C-17 pilot and lead planner for the exercise. “We wanted to get as many aircraft as possible off the deck in a 48-hour timespan, to tell pacing threats that we can go anywhere, anytime.”

The airfield seizure took place on Fort Bragg’s Holland Landing Zone. There, Special Tactics teams secured the perimeter, established the airfield, and executed a follow-on clearance of nearby outposts.  

Working alongside AMC aircrews allows Special Tactics teams to plan for operations in joint environments to maximize lethality as an air and joint force.

“Exercises like these require detailed planning but pay dividends when complete,” said a 24th Special Operations Wing Special Tactics officer. “Agile combat employment is paramount to our success as an Air Force, and incorporating Special Tactics teams into exercises like this benefits everyone involved.”

Combining these skillsets with mobility air forces like those from the 437th AW demonstrates the need to get ahead of the nation’s pacing challenges. Mission generation takes competencies from across the U.S. Air Force and connects them with capabilities from the joint force to maneuver past tomorrow’s challenges and enhance combat readiness.

By 1st Lt Victor A. Reyes, 24 SOW Public Affairs

SOFWERX – Small Business Boot Camp 2.0

Monday, December 26th, 2022

SOFWERX, in coordination with the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP), will provide a forum 15-16 February 2023, for Small Businesses with technologies that support National Security Interests and/or the SOCOM technology interest areas to learn more about doing business with SOCOM. Additionally, the second day of the event will provide an opportunity for Small Business engagement with government stakeholders and investors in the form of “Speed Dating” and a “Pitch Day.”

Investors: Request to Attend NLT 24 January 11:59 PM ET

Industry: Request to Attend NLT 08 February 11:59 PM ET

The OSBP is dedicated to helping you and your business. They will explain known requirements, help you understand who buys what within the Command, and can assist you in locating other likely markets within DoD and developing strategies for accessing those markets. They provide information and guidance on defense procurement policies and procedures as well as methods for identifying prime contracting and subcontracting opportunities.

For more info, visit

WV Guard Hosts Irregular Warfare Planning Conference with Special Operations, Allied Partners

Monday, December 26th, 2022

The West Virginia National Guard’s Ridge Runner Irregular Warfare program hosted an initial exercise planning conference Dec. 5-7, 2022, at Camp Dawson with participants from nine organizations representing U.S. Army special operations forces, psychological operations, civil affairs, U.S. Marine Corps Advisor Company A, and the Polish Territorial Defense Forces.

Ridge Runner is a West Virginia Army National Guard training program that provides various National Guard, active duty, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allied nation’s armed forces training and experience in irregular and asymmetrical warfare tactics and operations.

In June 2023, Ridge Runner will be hosting its first validation exercise for 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group. The goal of the exercise will be to provide U.S. Special Operations Command with the premier Irregular Warfare Training Center capable of simulating the most complex special warfare multi-domain environments to exercise and validate special operations forces and to support joint force commanders worldwide.

Partner nation forces from across Europe will participate and train alongside the 5-19th SFG during the exercise, which will be held throughout West Virginia.

“This is my first experience with Ridge Runner and the same for our company,” stated U.S. Army Master Sgt. Cody (name withheld for privacy purposes). “Our battalion commander has outlined key tasks that he wants us to accomplish, especially in the irregular warfare realm and getting that foundation for operating with partner nations that we will see downrange is key. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to train with our partners stateside unless we are participating in a collective training. This is my first time dealing with a non-Combat Training Center exercise that has a lot of resources and it’s great to see the relationships being built at this level that will grow into a product that will be beneficial to what we need [during deployment]. It’s truly invaluable to us.”

During the planning conference, attendees refined scenarios, scope, logistics, timelines and training lanes to meet key objectives for the 5-19th SFG and partner nations who will be participating in the exercise.

According to West Virginia National Guard Sergeant Major Jason Smith, deputy director of the Ridge Runner program, West Virginia is the perfect location for training exercises of this type.

“West Virginia is an almost mirror image to the overall terrain and climate throughout Eastern Europe,” he stated. “Hosting the Ridge Runner program here makes perfect sense, allowing U.S. troops the opportunity to operate together with our allies and share in their expertise in as close an environment as possible to our real-world missions. Providing this type of experience prior to deployments will be invaluable moving forward, allowing our operators to validate their training and giving them the very best opportunities to be successful while in theatre.”

Along with various U.S. military participation, members of the Polish Territorial Defense Forces (POL TDF), or Wojska Obrony Terytorialnej (WOT), traveled to West Virginia to participate in the planning with the purpose of having an element of the POL TDF take part in the June 2023 exercise.

“This has been one of the best relationships the POL TDF has ever established with a partner nation,” stated 2nd Lt. Marek Zaluski, executive officer for the POL TDF. “We did not know coming here in 2019 [for Ridge Runner] and building this relationship how real life would verify it. Here we are 10 months into the invasion of our neighbor (Ukraine), and we are getting ready to prevent such things from happening within the NATO territories. We are grateful and proud to be working with the West Virginia National Guard, the 19th SFG and the entire National Guard and U.S. armed forces family on such an important endeavor.”

The PTDF took part in exercise Ridge Runner in 2019 alongside the Latvian Zemmessardze where each nation’s Soldiers learned irregular and unconventional warfare tactics from West Virginia’s 2nd Battalion, 19th SFG (Airborne).

Partner nation participation in the Ridge Runner program is coordinated through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, which links states and territories with partner countries around the world to foster mutual interests, establish long-term relations, enhance U.S. national security interests, and promote political stability.

Additional planning conferences will be held in the coming months to finalize all aspects of the exercise prior to April 2023.

Story by Maj Holli Nelson, West Virginia National Guard

C-145A Combat Coyote Makes Final Run After Decade of Service

Thursday, December 22nd, 2022

DUKE FIELD, Fla. —  

Aircrews from the Air Force Reserve’s 711th Special Operations Squadron departed the Duke Field flightline Dec. 15, 2022, in four C-145A Combat Coyote aircraft for the last time after 10 years of service to Air Force Special Operations Command.

When the aircraft returned, aviators, loadmasters, and ground crew alike all gathered to respectfully mark the end of an era.

The Combat Coyote’s landed in sequence and proceeded in tight formation down the taxiiway as if to offer one final show for the small group of awaiting spectators.

“There weren’t many other aircraft in the Air Force like this one,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Bobby Barton, former senior enlisted leader of the 919th Special Operations Group. “These guys loved this airplane, it really stood out from the crowd.”

The 919th Special Operations Wing began utilizing the Combat Coyote in 2012. Combat Aviation Advisors from the 711th SOS used the aircraft to maintain proficiency prior to instructing partner nation aircrew on a wide range of advanced aviation tactics. Instructors from the 5th Special Operations Squadron Detachment 1 at Duke Field trained U.S. Air Force pilots on the aircraft for Air Force Special Operations Command.

Although it was not used for overseas deployments in recent years, the Combat Coyote’s provided a tactical mobility advantage to missions downrange when they were initially purchased by the command. They could make short landings and takeoffs, ideal for rural, undeveloped airfields and cargo delivery to forward operating bases.

“Today’s flight was a little bitter sweet,” said Maj. Kristoffer Williams, 711th SOS chief of safety. “It’s been a great aircraft to fly, the Wolfhound was good to us while it lasted.”

The 919th SOW was the last wing operating the airframe, officially retiring it from the U.S. Air Force. Citizen Air Commandos and their families gathered on the flightline to watch the planes land and congratulate pilots on the final flight.

“We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this airframe,” said Williams. “We learned to appreciate it, but it’s time to move on to the next aircraft.”

The wing has a historical precedent of adapting to the needs of the Air Force. The 919th SOW previously retired the beloved AC-130H Spectre and the MC-130E Combat Talon I. As it has in years past, the wing is prepared to transform to meet the future needs of Air Force Special Operations Command.

“The only constant in the Air Force is change,” said Barton. “The people that flew the C-145 enjoyed it. It was a nice aircraft to have for a while, but I’m looking forward to the next one.”

By Senior Airman Dylan Gentile, 919th Special Operations Wing