Total force, total commitment, total special operators

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Ginger Schreitmueller
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
A small group of Air Force special operators huddle together in a makeshift tent, miles away from anywhere on a map, planning the intense details of a mission.

All the "usual" mission planners are there -- aircrew, intel, weather, special tactics and communications. The team works through the wickets with ease; they have planned, exercised and executed this scenario together a thousand times.

This isn't Operation Enduring Freedom. This was 1990 and it was Operation Desert Storm. The mission team was made up of active-duty, Guard and Reserve special operators.

"From the birth of Air Force Special Operations Command, there was a conscious effort to include elements of the Guard and Reserve in our structure and mission," said Col. William Schaetzle, the Air National Guard advisor to the AFSOC commander. "Since 1990, the Guard and Reserve components have been entrenched in every aspect of the special operations mission."

AFSOC has approximately 2,500 people in Reserve and Guard units. These units have always been part of the team, working and training in a seamless environment, said the colonel. With years of countless Total Force commitment to the mission, when AFSOC was called forward for Operation Enduring Freedom the full team answered with passion.

AFSOC currently gains three weather flights, a special tactics squadron, a combat communications squadron, a flying wing and a band from the Air National Guard. The command also gains a flying wing from the Air Force Reserve.

"Within minutes of the attacks on our nation, guardsmen and reservists starting showing up at the units, calling in, with bags packed and ready to go," said Schaetzle. "From day one, our people have been deployed and engaged at every level, across the board."

Schaetzle's Air Force Reserve counterpart said the benefits of living, working and training together for years were immediate.

"That first week of Enduring Freedom, the Air Force Special Operations team made the mission happen -- Guard, Reserve, active duty," said Col. Guy Gordon, the Air Force Reserve advisor to the AFSOC commander. "We didn't need a spin up; we didn't need extra time to get on equal footing with each other. We strapped down the cargo, planned out the missions and flew out to answer our nation's call. As a force, we have prepared for these missions and were ready to respond as one team."

Gordon said that the inherent camaraderie between special operators is focused on the unique capabilities each brings to the fight. The two flying wings, one Guard and one Reserve, bring special skills to the AFSOC mission.

The Air National Guard's 193rd Special Operations Wing is located at Harrisburg, Pa. The unit flies the only psychological operations aircraft in the military -- the EC-130 Commando Solo. The Commando Solos were among the first in theater for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Additionally, the Air Force Reserve Command's 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field, Fla., is the only unit in the Air Force flying the MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft.

"We are all low density, high demand," said Gordon. "From the Commando Solo's in Pennsylvania to the Talons at Duke Field, and all the Guard and Reserve units within the command, we are special operators.

"AFSOC is a relatively small command, and most of us have known each other for years," he said. "Our active-duty counterparts don't see us as augmentees, they know we are integral to the successful accomplishment of our command's unique mission."

The specialized aspect of the command's team -- whether active-duty, Guard or Reserve -- brings together a collective force able to meet the tasks from day one.

"We are part and parcel Air Force special operators; we're not part-time help," said Gordon. "We are there on a daily basis. We deploy in concert with our active-duty brethren. When that first ship flew out in support of OEF, it was an AFSOC aircraft. There are no lines of distinctions between Reserve, Guard or active duty. Literally all of our tasked mission skill sets were performed in support of OEF, sometimes four or five times a mission."

A perfect example of the seamless Air Force Special Operations force strength is the active associate program at the 919th SOW, where active duty and Reserve squadrons share a common mission and a common team effort.

A combined force of 716th (active duty) and 919th (Reserve) Maintenance Squadron troops keeps the AFRC-owned MC-130E's mission-ready for aircrews of the 711th (Reserve) and the 8th (active duty) Special Operations Squadrons.

Aircrews in another 919th SOW squadron, the 5th SOS, fly AFSOC-owned MC-130P aircraft with their active-duty partners in the 9th SOS. The aircraft and crews are based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. A combined force of 919th MXS (Reserve) and 16th MXW (active) maintainers keeps the MC-130P flying.

That interoperability which has been ingrained since the command's early years, permeates every aspect of AFSOC.

"Our guardsmen and reservists must train to the same standards as our active-duty counterparts," said Schaetzle. "That is imperative since we are deployed and engaged at every level, from command leadership to airmen walking the perimeter. When you see a colonel in charge of a special operations (unit) forward deployed or an airman providing entry control at Hurlburt Field, there is no difference in ability from an active-duty or reserve component member."

The training and experience level of the command's Guard and Reserve units is an incredible asset to the team, said Chief Master Sgt. James Sims, who currently is mobilized from the Alabama Air National Guard's 280th Combat Communications Squadron to support OEF taskings.

"Our ability to do the job is attributed to the 'gift' of the Air Force," said Sims. "Our units are composed, to a great degree, of prior Air Force people who bring with them the tremendous experience they gained on active duty. We have members with four, eight, 10 and even 12 years of prior service, many of which were spent on active-duty in AFSOC. That truly multiplies our experience level."

Along with many of the Guard and Reserve members having prior active-duty experience, Sims said their civilian backgrounds often mirror their military jobs.

Many of the pilots fly for civilian airlines, and those related civilian careers only enhance their mission readiness, he said. Another example, said Sims, is the 280th CBCS based at Dothan, Ala. The majority of unit members have civilian jobs in the communications industry. "Keep in mind, many of our Guard and Reserve specialists have three careers: their civilian jobs, their family responsibilities and their commitment to patriotism," said Gordon.

Being able to effectively mix the three isn't always easy, said Sims.

"Balancing a civilian job and serving our nation can sometimes create hardships for the individual, the family, and civilian employers," said Sims. "Many of our Guard and Reserve force have been mobilized for more than a year, but their commitment is unwavering. This would not be possible without the support and understanding of our families and our employers."

As AFSOC continues its role in defense of the nation, have no doubt the Guard and Reserve team will be there, said Sims.

"Whether fighting the war, mobilizing forces, providing support to our active-duty partners or filling in home-station needs, we're ready," he said. "Our role in this command is 24/7, and on any given day, in any given location we will be there. The reserve component is providing real-world support every day."