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Archive for the ‘SOF’ Category

Green Beret Anniversary

Monday, September 21st, 2020

On 21 Sep 1961, The Green Beret became the official headgear of the US Army Special Forces.

An Imprecise History of the US Army Security Agency Special Operations Detachments

Sunday, September 20th, 2020

Organic to each of the US Army’s Special Forces Groups are small teams of Signal Intelligence specialists operating in teams called Special Operations Team – Alpha or SOT-A. These in turn are supported by fewer still SOT-Bs. I served on a SOT-A from 1990-96 in 2nd Bn, 3rd SFG(A). The SOTs-A are the direct descendants of the United States Army Security Agency Special Operations Detachments (USASASODs).

While other SOF components have stood up SIGINT support elements over the past decade, SF has had the dedicated capability since before the Vietnam War.


Photograph: The 403rd SOD courier run – Plei Ku to Kontum – 1968 (Photo: INSCOM)

What follows is an “imprecise” history of thier existence from an ASA veteran website.

AN IMPRECISE HISTORY OF THE USASASODS

In the history of mankind, there are fleeting moments of time where, by fate or good judgement on the part of someone, a group of people are brought together at the most appropriate time and place or places to form extraordinary military units.

One such fleeting moment of history, was the formation and life cycle of an extraordinary military unit called the United States Army Security Agency Special Operations Detachment, more commonly referred to as the ASASOD.

One may ask why the ASASODs were called extraordinary and not elite. There are many elite military organizations such as the Roman Legions, Merrill’s Marauders, Rangers, Special Forces, SEALs, etc., however, there are few extraordiary units such as the ASASODs.

Why were the SODs extraordinary? Certainly, the timing was there and so were the places. But, the thing that really made the SOD an extraordinary unit was the people… good Special Forces soldiers…good technicians…loyal, dedicated, brave men…but, most of all, trusted and true friends.

The first SOD was originally formed at Vint Hill Farms Station, VA and relocated to FT Bragg, NC during the summer of 1960 with the 5th and 7th SFG(A)s. Later in 1960, units were organized and located in Okinawa with the 1st SFG(A) and Bad Toelz, GE with the 10th SFG(A). These original SODs were then designated as the 1st (1st SF), 2d (10th SF), 3d (7th SF), and 4th (5th SF) Operational Detachments of the 80th USASA Special Operations Unit (80th USASASOU).

In 1962 these Operational Detachments of the 80th SOU were redesignated as USASA Radio Research Units (RRUs); the 10th RRU (400th SOD) 1st SFG(A), and the 11th RRU (401st SOD) 8th SFG(A) was created, 12th RRU (402d SOD) 10th SFG(A), and the 13th RRU (403d SOD) 5th SFG(A).

During 1963 the units were again redesignated to the final designations we know them as today; the 400th ASASOD, 1st SFG(A); 401st ASASOD, 8th SFG(A); 402d ASASOD, 10th SFG(A); 403d ASASOD, 5th SFG(A) until Jan 64, 7th SFG(A) until Jan 65, and then to the 3d SFG(A) until the 403d’s deployment to RVN with the 5th SFG(A) in 1966.

The SODs remained the same from 1966 until the post-Viet Nam stand down of Special Forces during the early 1970s. With the stand down of the 5th SFG(A) in Viet Nam, the 403d was deactivated and was never again reactivated. On deactivation of the 8th SFG(A) in Panama, the 401st was deactivated for a short while and later reactivated with the 7th SFG(A) at Ft Bragg, NC. In 1974, on deactivation of the 1st SFG(A), the 400th was redeployed from Okinawa to Ft Bragg with the 5th SFG(A). The 402d redeployed from Germany with the 10th SFG(A) to Ft Devens, MA.

The official end of the USASASODs as United States Army Security Agency units came with the deactivation of HQs, USASA and conversion to Combat Electronic Warfare Intelligence (CEWI) organizations in December, 1976. However, even after the designation of USASA, the SODs continued to carry the ASASOD unit designations into the early 1980s when they were redesignated as Combat Intelligence Companies.

By the late 80s, the CBTI Cos were broken apart into Battalion level Military Intelligence Detachments in addition to a Group-level MID. The SOT-As went to the Bn MIDs, three a piece, along with a single SOT-B per Bn. The Group retained the TCAE.

RADM HW Howard III Relieved RADM Collin P Green as Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command During Recent Change of Command Ceremony

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

NAVAL AMPHIBIOUS BASE CORONADO (NNS) – (Sep. 11, 2020) Rear Adm. H. W. Howard III relieved Rear Adm. Collin P. Green as Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) during a change of command ceremony at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Sept. 11, 2020.

U.S. Army General Richard D. Clarke, commander, United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was the presiding officer.

“But on all days, today, September 11th, we all remember an event that changed many things for our country. And for our special operations forces, it changed our course, it changed many of our joint force individuals, and changed many families for years to come. And I would ask everyone to keep that foremost in your mind today, as we recognize the import of today’s event,” said Clarke. “For 19 years, SOF has been the tip of the spear operating around the globe to protect our American people, our interest and our way of life. From the beginning the Navy SEALs and the entire NSW team has been an absolutely essential part of that effort. …The incredible ethos of teamwork and excellence established in the tradition of this command firmly holds true today.”

Green assumed command of NSWC in July 2018 and in his next assignment, he will serve as chief of staff, U.S. Special Operations Command.

Howard arrives as Commander, NSWC from his most recent assignment as Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command Central located at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

NSW Command is committed to its Sailors and the deliberate development of their tactical excellence, ethics, and leadership as the nation’s premiere maritime special operations force supporting the National Defense Strategy.

NSW is the maritime component of U.S. Special Operations Command, and its mission is to provide maritime special operations forces to conduct full-spectrum operations, unilaterally or with partners, to support national objectives.

Courtesy Naval Special Warfare Command

Lose Something?

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

Maybe he was sitting on his helmet so his balls didn’t get blown off and forgot to put it back in before exiting the aircraft.

Fail Forward: Lessons Learned from a Career AF Special Tactics Operator

Monday, September 7th, 2020

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. —

Editor’s note: This commentary was written by a career Air Force Special Tactics operator and expresses his personal opinions based on his experiences. 

In the Air Force Special Tactics community, we live our lives by certain immutable truths. You may have heard of them – “SOF forces cannot be mass produced”, “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast”, “Two is one; one is none.”

To the initiated, these (and many more) are repeated so often that you learn to recite them without even blinking. They become part of your own self-talking training, in mission preparation and in combat. Almost like a mantra, you find yourself repeating these things to yourself. “Calm down – when we break the plane of the door, go opposite the guy in front of you. Watch your muzzle. Protect the team. Bleeding, airway, get them out. De-conflict fires from friendly positions. Sights, slack out, press. Be aggressive.”

After nearly two decades in the Air Force, I have trained, tried and failed so many times that I’ve accumulated a near endless stream of consciousness that is simultaneously conscious and muscle memory. All of these lessons- hard learned and through both failure and victory- came to light during the After Action Report process. We commonly refer to the information gleaned in these sessions as “lessons learned”. Get done with the mission, take care of weapons, sensitive items, and reset. Then, when everything is fresh in your mind, explore what was good, bad, ugly and perfect. Formalize those lessons and most importantly, don’t allow the same mistakes you made last time.

I value that process. A saying I’ve gotten used to using is that “Our [standard operating procedures] are written in blood.” Meaning- we have lost many, and we owe it to those men and women to make ourselves better, every single rep. I’d like to share my three ‘“lessons learned”. I won’t claim to be an expert. What I can say, is that I wish someone would have taken me aside as a younger Airman and told me these things. If anything, I hope that my failures and missteps can help someone avoid my mistakes.

Failure is always an option.

While I understand the intent behind the cliché phrase, “Failure is not an option”, it’s simply false. I have failed many times in my career. I’ll fail many more. I expect my team to fail. In training and unfortunately, in combat. I wish it was different. If it was, I would have friends back, less regrets, less “I wish that day didn’t go like that” statements in my life.

In the end, you must try to avoid failure; but at the same time you have to accept and strive to train so close to your limit that sometimes you fall short. You must test and sometimes exceed your limits to know what your limits are. And sometimes you’ll fail.

What’s my lesson learned? How you lead through failure is far more valuable to me and my teams than a perfect run. How we deal with failure, with tragedy, with heartbreak and boredom and disillusionment and being unmotivated- in those times we find out what our mettle really is. If you’re going to fail, make it count. Learn from it. Avoid that failure in the future, and don’t be afraid to fail. Always learn, always grow … and always continue to push your limits for the better.

You can still be unique and part of a highly functioning team.

Air Force Special Tactics attracts the widest range of all personality types, hands down. We actually select out for individuals, capable of making individual decisions that further the mission of the team, the squadrons and entire organizations.

Tree hugging, slack lining, hackey sack playing ‘hippies’. Death metal listening, big weight moving, aggressive hyper alpha males. Quiet graduates of Ivy League schools that have diverse stock portfolios. Ultra long distance runners. Powerlifters that hate cardio. Guys and gals that sold everything they own and lived in their van prior to joining and becoming part of the ST team. We value ALL of these personalities.

Often times, people have approached me and said, “I don’t feel like I fit in” or even worse, “I’m not getting along with so and so- we are so different.”

On my first deployment, I was in exactly such a scenario. I attended two weeks worth of training with a fellow operator; we just couldn’t get along. It got heated multiple times. Months after the initial training, a very wise Team Leader of mine called me out when I was lamenting my interactions with that other operator.

He drew a small box, about 3 inches by 3 inches wide on a huge whiteboard. He then drew two dots, in opposing corners.

“So,” he said, “You’re these two dots. Couldn’t be further apart. Diametrically opposed, yeah?”

I don’t remember my exact response, but it was a pretty solid, “Exactly.”

“That box you’re both in contains all the people that have volunteered multiple times and have wanted nothing more than to support and defend the Constitution and have willingly accepted the possibility they might die doing so. Outside of this box, the entire 15 foot by 5 foot white board, represents the rest of humanity. You have more in common with this person you dislike for no good reason than you do with 99.9% of humanity. Maybe grow up.” 

What’s my lesson learned? It’s ok to be yourself and to be a valued member of Special Tactics. Whether it’s as an operator, Combat Mission Support, a surgeon on a Special Operations Surgical Team, a First Sergeant, a chaplain- we all make the team of professionals we have today, together. We value and foster our differences. Embrace that and don’t let a preconceived notion about someone else- or even worse, yourself- get in the way of what’s important. The team. The mission.

Keep an even keel.

I was about six months out of completing my two plus year training requirements to earn my beret. We were doing some training, but got the call that a Philippine sailor was gravely ill at sea, and I was going to be part of the rescue team to go get him. After multiple mid-air refuelings, I was hoisted from an HH-60 onto a moving super tanker, assessed and stabilized my patient, packaged him in a litter and we were both hoisted back up. I then cared for my patient until we transferred care to a waiting team in Ireland, about 4-5 more hours in the aircraft. My patient lived.

The sense of pride and accomplishment I had was undeniable. It was a lifetime of effort justified in one 24-hour period. The rescue was given an award that year.

Fast forward to 2015, somewhere in a combat environment.

In support of a huge operation, my team learned that a U.S. Army special forces soldier had been severely wounded by small arms fire. We immediately transferred him to the far-forward operating room- which was just a building close to the fighting- and the surgeons did everything they could do. Unfortunately, it was just one of those ‘perfect’ wounds that was unsurvivable.

My close friend and element leader and I knew what had to be done. We had to prepare this fallen soldier for his Angel Flight and it had to happen before his team came back. We placed the flag appropriately and did everything we could to honor him.

That event haunts me to this day. I can still feel that emotion and smell those smells when I think about it. I told the trauma surgeon at the time, “I think this one might have really done some damage. I’m not real sure how many more of those I got left.” I have never been so devastated; the whole team took it very, very hard.

What’s my lesson learned? This career- this life- holds the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In order to be successful, you can’t swing too hard in either direction. hubris and complacency lies on one end of the spectrum; inescapable darkness lies on the other end. It’s not advisable to spend too much time at either end.

As it stands, I’m still learning now. While my team position has changed, so have I. Some pitfalls I can avoid thanks to a lifetime of “lessons learned”, but the reality is, there are still more to learn. More importantly, the only way we can move forward as an entire enterprise is to share these lessons learned with one another and learn from each other. Good, bad, ugly, perfect.

There is no better job in the Department of Defense than Air Force Special Tactics, I firmly believe that.

But even if you find yourself in a different career, branch, command, profession- I hope that you’re taking your own “lessons learned” and making yourself a better human, citizen, or member of your team.

“First There, That Others May Live.”

Commentary by Special Tactics operator, 24th Special Operations Wing, 24th Special Operations Wing

Photo by TSgt Sandra Welch

US Army Ranger to Receive Medal of Honor for Hostage Rescue Mission

Monday, September 7th, 2020

WASHINGTON — An Army Ranger who risked his life to save dozens of hostages facing imminent execution by ISIS fighters will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Thursday.

Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne, who is assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, was part of a joint task force that assisted Iraqi security forces Oct. 22, 2015, in raiding an ISIS prison near Hawija in northern Iraq.

Payne and his teammates liberated 70 hostages — many of whom were captured Iraqi security forces personnel — after a request by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Soldiers had to quickly rescue the hostages amid heavy enemy gunfire and suicide-vest detonations during the contested nighttime operation, which left one U.S. Soldier and at least 20 insurgents dead.

“Time was of the essence,” Payne said in an interview. “There were freshly dug graves. If we didn’t action this raid, then the hostages were likely to be executed.”

After being infilled by CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Payne and members of the task force climbed over a wall into the prison compound. Payne, an assistant team leader at the time, helped lead his team as it cleared one of the two buildings known to house hostages.

Once inside the building after light resistance from the enemy, Payne said his team used bolt cutters to pierce through the locks of a prison door, freeing nearly 40 hostages.

Payne and others then heard an urgent call for help over the radio from other task force members engaged in an intense firefight at the second building.

Payne and his team maneuvered about 30 yards to the heavily-fortified building, which was partially on fire.

Once there, he and others scaled a ladder onto the roof of the one-story building as a sustained rate of enemy machine-gun fire shot out from below. From a vantage point on the roof, they engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire.

At that point, enemy fighters began to detonate their suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. Payne and others then moved off the roof to an initial breach point on the ground level.

With barricaded enemies firing rounds toward him, Payne entered the structure to open another fortified door. After he managed to cut the first lock, he had to run out due to the heavy smoke and handed off the bolt cutters to an Iraqi partner. After the partner came out for fresh air, Payne took the tool again to sheer off the last lock and kicked open the door.

Still being engaged by the enemy, Payne and others escorted about 30 more hostages out of the burning building, which was about to collapse.

“We had to use speed to our advantage,” he said.

With disregard for his own safety, Payne then reentered the building two more times to ensure every hostage was out. One of those times he had to forcibly remove one of the hostages who had been too frightened to move during the chaotic scene, he said.

For his actions, Payne was initially given the Army’s second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to a Medal of Honor.

President Donald Trump will present the medal to Payne on Sept. 11.

Originally from Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff, South Carolina, Payne joined the Army in 2002 as an infantryman with hopes of becoming an Army Ranger.

Since then, he has deployed several times to combat zones as a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and in various positions with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

He earned a Purple Heart medal after being wounded in a separate 2010 mission in Afghanistan. And as a sergeant first class in 2012, Payne won the Army’s Best Ranger Competition, representing USASOC.

He is married with three children and is currently stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

For more information about Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne’s heroic actions, visit Medal of Honor: Sgt. Maj. Thomas Payne.

By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service

SOFWERX – Austere 3D Printing Assessment Event 28-29 October 2020

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

Manager – Expeditionary Support (PM-ES), will conduct an Austere 3D Printing Assessment Event (AE) to identify 3D printer capabilities designed to meet the unique requirements of Special Operations Forces (SOF) Operators in austere environments.

Current U.S. commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 3D printers are not designed to meet the unique SOF requirements (i.e. size, weight, power, mobility, survivability, etc.) needed in support of USSOCOM SOF missions.

the USSOCOM MTRC program is interested in assessing 3D printer technologies ranging from small – single SOF Operator portable systems with niche capabilities that can be hand-carried and/or transported via non-standard commercial vehicles, to moderate – SOF Team portable systems with robust adaptive manufacturing capabilities that can be palletized and/or transported by C-130 aircraft.

They desire the following system attributes:

-U.S. 3D printer technologies designed, developed, produced, manufactured, and/or supported predominantly in the United States.
-U.S. 3D printer technologies that are self-contained, ruggedized, mobile, and capable of printing at SOF point of need in a wide array of environmental conditions.
-U.S. 3D printer technologies that allow for forward deployment, into the field, at the point of SOF equipment failure, reduce hardware replacement times, enable SOF Operator innovation, are reliable, and/or are easy to operate and maintain.

Interested parties must submit, NLT 30 September 11:59 PM ET. Visit events.sofwerx.org/3dprint for full details and to enter.

Female Aviator Joins Special Tactics Leadership Team

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — Air Force Special Operations Command’s 2020 Strategic Guidance called for a change in developing and providing unique capabilities valuable to the broader joint force while remaining an integral part of the joint special operations forces team.

Those priorities brought an aviation background into the Special Tactics ranks.

Earlier this summer, U.S. Air Force Col. Allison Black made history as she joined the Special Tactics leadership team and became the vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing.

“With any leadership team, you want to have people that cover each other’s blind spots and are able to bring the best out of the organization,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Matt Allen, commander of the 24th SOW. “Not only does Col. Black have a rich history as an aircrew member within AFSOC, but she also has key insights working on staffs within U.S. Special Operations Command and she is a female colonel, which provides really good insight as we look at our diversity and inclusion aspects of the force to make sure that we’re making good organizational decisions on bringing in the first wave of female operators onto the line.”

Black’s commissioned background entails being a navigator on the AC-130H Spectre gunship. She was known as “The Angel of Death” as she was the first female Spectre navigator in combat operations during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

“When I was in Afghanistan, she was certainly popular because she was the only female voice you would hear when you’re out in the field as a [joint terminal attack controller],” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Guilmain, former command chief of the 24th SOW.

Black credits working on the gunships supporting the ground forces, to her gaining a better understanding of the Special Tactics community and their mission.

“When you talk about diversity of thought, I think it’s great having an individual come in with a long standing, very successful career in AFSOC, who has been around Special Tactics and worked with us as joint partners forward in Afghanistan directly in the fight,” said Guilmain. “It’s powerful to have her experience as an outsider looking at us both operationally and in garrison to help us look at hard problems to build the force of the future.”

When asked how she felt toward this milestone position, Black said she was “honored, humbled and little-kid excited.”

“It’s a great honor to serve the Special Tactics community as their vice wing commander,” said Black. “I’m now a direct part of the machine that I’ve directly supported my entire aviation career from the air. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Col. Matt Allen. He’s a dedicated leader and consummate professional who deeply cares about our people. As Col. Allen’s vice, it’s my role to follow his lead and drive the organization toward a successful future.”

The Long Island, New York, native enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1992, originally expecting a job in radiology.

Little did Black know what the next 28 years would entail.

During the first week of basic military training, all of the flights were briefed on what is now called Special Warfare career fields. Survival, evasion, resistance and escape caught Black’s attention – a predominantly male career field.

SERE specialists train Airmen on how to survive in the most hostile and remote environments.

“For me, overall, it was the challenge,” Black said. “As hard as it was going to be, I just wasn’t going to quit.”

Breaking through barriers, Black graduated and became a SERE specialist where she excelled for the next six years.

In 1998, Black sought out yet another challenge and commissioned through Officer Training School and became a navigator on the AC-130H Spectre gunship with the 16th Special Operations Squadron, which landed her at Hurlburt Field in early 2000 where she would remain for the next decade.

As a navigator, now known as a combat systems officer, Black acted as the eyes for the ground forces below her. In communication with Special Tactics operators, Black also assisted bringing airpower down on the enemy.

As Black advanced through the ranks, she took a brief break from the AFSOC community and headed on to be the Chief of the Operational Integrated Communications Team at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, from 2010-2012.

She quickly returned to Hurlburt Field and was integrated as the Director of Operations into the 319th Special Operations Squadron, an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unit that operates U-28s, which she later commanded from 2015-2017.

Black then moved to USSOCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, before returning to Hurlburt Field as the vice commander for the 24th SOW.

Black’s unique background, involving SERE and navigating a gunship, has left her with an extraordinary knowledge set to bring to the Special Tactics community.

“Let’s just make a difference. Let’s exploit what I have learned throughout my career on operations, risk management, and regulations,” Black said. “Let’s uncover all of that and let’s roll up our sleeves and use that to make our community stronger and more effective. Let’s exploit technology and work to define what the future holds. We need to determine what niche capabilities our current Special Tactics force must bring to the future fight.”

Black is hopeful that her presence makes a difference and inspires others to “work hard and continue to take the risk to try.”

“I hope that my perspective makes our team stronger,” Black said. “Even though I look different than most of our force… and even though I don’t wear a beret, I’m confident that my background in AFSOC, and in the Air Force, will be seen as a positive.”

By SSgt Rachel Williams, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs