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Air Force Special Operations Command
Shield of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command.svg
Air Force Special Operations Command emblem
Active May 22, 1990
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Special Operations
Part of United States Special Operations Command
Garrison/HQ Hurlburt Field, Florida
Nickname AFSOC
Lieutenant General Donald C. Wurster

Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) was established 22 May 1990, with headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Florida. AFSOC is a United States Air Force (USAF) major command and is the Air Force component (AFSOF) to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a unified command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

The commander of AFSOC is Lieutenant General Donald C. Wurster. Major General Kurt A. Cichowski is Vice Commander, and Chief Master Sergeant Michael P. Gilbert is the Command Chief Master Sergeant, Air Force Special Operations Command. AFSOC provides AF Special Operations Forces (SOF) for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified commands.

The command's SOF are composed of highly trained, rapidly deployable Airmen who are equipped with specialized aircraft. These forces conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower, to infiltration, aviation foreign internal defense, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements. The command's Special Tactics Squadrons are led by Special Tactics Officers (STOs). Special Tactics Squadrons combine Combat Controllers, Special Operations Weather Technicians, Pararescuemen, Tactical Air Control Party, and combat rescue officers to form versatile SOF teams. AFSOC's unique capabilities include airborne radio and television broadcast for psychological operations, as well as combat aviation advisors to provide other governments military expertise for their internal development.

Special Tactics is the US Air Force special operations ground force. Similar in ability and employment to Army Special Forces and Navy Sea-Air-Land forces (SEALs), Air Force Special Tactics personnel are typically the first to enter combat and often find themselves deep behind enemy lines in demanding, austere conditions, usually with little or no support. Due to the rigors of the job, Special Tactics yearlong training is one of the most demanding in the military, with attrition rates near 80 to 90 percent (Hayward, 1999). In an attempt to reduce the high attrition, Special Tactics is very selective when choosing their officers. Special Tactics Officers (STO) undergo a highly competitive two-phase process to gain entry into the Special Tactics career field, ensuring only the most promising and capable leaders are selected. STO leadership and role modeling during the difficult training reduces the attrition rate for enlisted trainees.

As previously mentioned, STO selection is a two-phase process. Beginning with Phase One, a board of veteran STOs reviews application packages consisting of letters of recommendation, fitness test scores, and narratives written by the applicants describing their career aspirations and reasons for applying. Based on Phase One performance, approximately 8 to 10 applicants are invited to the next phase. Phase Two is a weeklong battery of evaluations, ranging from physical fitness and leadership to emotional intelligence and personality indicators. At the end of Phase Two, typically 2-4 applicants are selected to begin the year-plus Special Tactics training pipeline.



On May 22, 1990, General Larry D. Welch, Air Force Chief of Staff, redesignated Twenty-Third Air Force as Air Force Special Operations Command. This new major command consisted of three wings: the 1st, 39th and 353d Special Operations Wings as well as the 1720th Special Tactics Group (STG), the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School, and the Special Missions Operational Test and Evaluation Center.

Currently, after major redesignations and reorganizations, AFSOC direct reporting units include the 16th SOW, the 352d Special Operations Group, the 353d Special Operations Group, the 720th Special Tactics Group (STG), the USAF Special Operations School and the 18th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS). During the early 1990s a major reorganization occurred within AFSOC. The 1720th STG became the 720th STG in March 1992; the transfer of ownership of Hurlburt Field from Air Mobility Command (AMC, and formerly MAC) to AFSOC in October 1992, followed by the merger of the 834th Air Base Wing (ABW) into the 1st SOW which assumed host unit responsibilities. A year later the 1st SOW became the 16th SOW in a move to preserve Air Force heritage.

Meanwhile, the Special Missions Operational Test and Evaluation Center (SMOTEC), which filled the unique role of exploring new heavy lift frontiers in special operations capabilities, while pursuing better equipment and tactics development, was also reorganized. In April 1994, the Air Force, in an effort to standardize these types of organizations, redesignated SMOTEC as the 18th Flight Test Squadron.


Gulf War

From early August 1990 to late February 1991, AFSOC participated in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, the protection of Saudi Arabia and liberation of Kuwait. Special tactics personnel operated throughout the theater on multiple combat control and combat rescue missions. Special operations forces performed direct action missions, combat search and rescue, infiltration, exfiltration, air base ground defense, air interdiction, special reconnaissance, close air support, psychological operations, and helicopter air refuelings. Pave Low crews led the helicopter assault on radars to blind Iraq at the onset of hostilities, and they also accomplished the deepest rescue for which they received the Mackay Trophy.

Combat Talons dropped the largest conventional bombs of the war and, along with Combat Shadows, dropped the most psy-war leaflets. The AC-130s provided valuable fire support and armed reconnaissance, but they also suffered the single greatest combat loss of coalition air forces with the shooting down of Spirit 03. All fourteen crew members aboard were lost.

Post-Gulf War

In December 1992, AFSOC special tactics and intelligence personnel supported Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. In late 1994, AFSOC units spearheaded Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and in 1995 Operation Delibrate Force in the Balkans.

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)

AFSOC Combat Controller in Afghanistan

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon, Washington D.C., on September 11, 2001 pushed the United States special operations forces to the forefront of the war against terrorism. By the end of September 2001, AFSOC deployed forces to southwest Asia for Operation Enduring Freedom to help destroy the al Qaeda terrorist organization and remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. AFSOC airpower delivered special tactics forces to the battle ground and they in turn focused U.S. airpower and allowed Afghanistan's Northern Alliance ground forces to dispatch the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan. AFSOC personnel also deployed to the Philippines to help aid that country's efforts against terrorism.

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)

In March 2003, AFSOC again deployed forces to southwest Asia this time in support of what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom- the removal of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime. The command's personnel and aircraft teamed with SOF and conventional forces to quickly bring down Saddam Hussein's government by May 2003. AFSOC forces have continued to conduct operations since then, in support of the new Iraqi government against insurgents and terrorists.


Several aircraft of the 1st Special Operations Wing belonging to the 6th Special Operations Squadron

Air National Guard units

Air Force Reserve units

Air Force Special Operations Command (full resolution).

Personnel and Resources

AFSOC has approximately 12,900 active-duty, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and civilian personnel. The command's active duty and reserve component flying units operate fixed-wing, rotary-wing, unmanned, and tiltrotor aircraft, including the CV-22, AC-130H/U, C-130, C-47T, EC-130, MC-130E/H/P/W, UH-1N/H, CN-235-100, An-26, U-28A, CASA 212,MQ-1A/B Predator, and Mi-17.[1]


See also


Further reading

External links


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