Nation’s first special tactics memorial unveiled

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Conroy
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
A seven-foot tall bronze statue of a special tactics Airman in operational gear stands atop a black granite base -- a memorial to past, present and future special tactics operators.

The Special Tactics Memorial was unveiled at a dedication ceremony with more than 800 people present, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein presided over the ceremony at Hurlburt Field Air Park Oct. 20.

“This memorial serves to close a loop in our airpark,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the Air Force Special Operations Command commander. “As special tactics is the connective tissue between the ground and the air, this memorial links our past to our present and our future."

The memorial, according to Col. Michael Martin, the 24th Special Operations Wing commander, is a physical touchstone of the special tactics community’s place in history.

“This monument serves as recognition of the battle-hardened operators who defend our nation's freedoms against tyranny and oppression,” Martin said. “The members who serve within the special tactics community are dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to preserve our way of life. This monument represents the valor of those who never wish to highlight themselves – the quiet professionals of Air Force's ground special operations force.”

Special tactics, the Air Force’s ground special operations force, has been engaged in every major conflict since 9/11, continuously deployed for more than 5,000 days to more than 73 locations. As a result of their actions in combat, the special tactics community has earned the highest number of valorous medals in the Air Force since the Vietnam War.

In the last 40 years, only 10 Airmen have received the Air Force Cross, the second highest medal that can be bestowed for valor in combat. Eight of those recipients were special tactics Airmen.

Their names are now forever etched into granite of the monument.

“They don’t consider themselves as heroes; they see themselves as Airmen,” Goldfein said. “In this community, uncommon valor is a common virtue.”

In addition to eight Air Force Crosses awarded since the Battle of Mogadishu, Airmen in the special tactics community have received 35 Silver Stars, 105 Purple Hearts, more than 600 Bronze Stars, and hundreds have received Bronze Stars with valor.

“In today’s battlefield environment, joint operations is the only way to go,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, the U.S. Special Operations Command deputy commander. “Being an infantry guy, I can tell you there’s nothing better than having a special tactics Airman around and having a gunship overhead. That changes everything on the ground: a sense of confidence that isn’t really matched by anything else."

Flanking the statue will be two pedestals with the names of fallen special tactics Airmen --19 Airmen killed in action and eight in training -- recognition of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The costs of war are real, and special tactics Airmen understand these costs as well as anyone,” Goldfein said. “The price of admission to this community is higher than most are willing to pay – checks signed with blood and cashed in loved ones’ tears.”

Families of several fallen special tactics Airmen were present for the unveiling of the memorial.

“In our line of work, the next day is never a certainty,” Martin said. “Our special tactics community understands that risk and rises to the challenge. Any loss of an Airman is tragic, but we are committed to continuing the legacy of those who gave their lives, and the sacrifice made by our Gold Star families."

The memorial was conceptualized by retired Chief Master Sgt. Steven Haggett, who served 14 of his 30 years in AFSOC as a first sergeant and maintenance crew chief. Haggett volunteered to lead the project, from concept to design to final creation.

“In over 30 years of military service, I have not come across a community like special tactics. They never asked for anything other than allowing them to do their job, without complaint -- with no regrets,” Haggett said. “It was clear to me that a memorial was the least we could do for these Airmen who give everything for their country, and ask for nothing in return. To us, it is the right thing to do.”

The memorial was a team effort between many units here, including AFSOC leaders, the 1st Special Operations Wing, 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, and 823rd RED HORSE Squadron.

After the ceremony, nearly the entire crowd participated in a set of memorial pushups, a special tactics tradition that honors fallen comrades.

“I commend you for guarding this, your heritage, as fiercely as you defend our nation,” Goldfein said. “I’ve never been prouder to be an Airman than I am standing here before you on this sacred ground.”