The 123d Special Tactics Flight, stationed at Standiford Field, Kentucky, Kentucky Air National Guard, was re-designated as the 123d Special Tactics Squadron (123 STS). The squadron was later re-aligned from Air Combat Command (ACC) to Air Force Special Operations Command effective 1 November 1996.
Nineteen militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.
The Chief, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) authorized a deployment order calling for United States Commander in Chief Special Operations Command (USCFNCSOC) to deploy special operation assets to Masirah, Oman, and Qarshi, Uzbekistan, for Operation INFINITE JUSTICE. For AFSOC, these assets included: MC-130E and MC-130P aircraft, four MH-53Ms, crews, maintenance and support personnel; Special Tactics personnel; two Air Force Special Operations Detachments; a Joint Special Operations Liaison Element (JSOLE); a Joint Special Operations Air Component (JSOAC), as well as other special operations elements.
By the end of September 2001, AFSOC deployed forces to Southwest Asia at the onset of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) in order to confront and remove the Taliban regime from Afghanistan, along with the Taliban-supported al Qaeda terrorist organization headed by Osama Bin Laden who were responsible for the September 11 attacks against the United States.
At the onset of OEF, Special Tactics operators played a critical role in the campaign as Coalition Forces relied heavily on Joint Terminal Attack Control (JTAC) qualified Combat Controllers’ expertise for pinpoint accurate surgical airstrikes—critical to the Northern Alliance effort to oust the Taliban and al Qaeda from the country.
Special Tactics operators were instrumental in the first major gains of the conflict and nearly every major operation since.
OEF combat continued through 31 October 2014 with a continuous presence of rotating Special Tactics operators – now operating under the auspices of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. While major combat operations have lessened, Special Tactics operators contribute directly to continued counterterrorism missions and train, advise, and assist missions in support of NATO’s Operation Resolute Support.
As part of initial Operation ENDURING FREEDOM action, four C-17s carrying AFSOC personnel and equipment arrived at Khanabad. In addition to AFSOC personnel, the C-17s also carried personnel from the U.S. Army's (USA) Special Forces unit from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Immediately upon landing, 23d Special Tactics Squadron (23 STS) personnel set up their mobile microwave landing system (MMLS) enabling them to conduct and maintain air traffic control (ATC) operations for Khanabad. The ATC operations consisted of 24 hour per day, 7 day a week visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument flight rule (IFR). Additionally, personnel arriving on station began the process of establishing a base operating support (BOS) structure, which was largely nonexistent prior to the arrival of SOF.
Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) began with the bombing of strategic targets inside Afghanistan. Combat Controllers (CCT) belonging to AFSOC set up operations in the flight line tower of Jacobabad. By the days’ end the CCT’s completed the Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) setup and worked to have in-flight refueling (IFR) capabilities up and running.
The U.S. initiated airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Combat Controllers and other AFSOC special operators played a vital role in the actual targeting of Al-Qaida and Taliban targets.
Lieutenant General Maxwell Bailey, Commander, AFSOC, authorized the command to seek the immediate partial mobilization of the Special Tactics operations flight (Pararescue) of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123d Special Tactics Squadron. The command contended that the critical shortage of available Pararescuemen in the Afghanistan area of responsibility necessitated the deployment of additional Pararescue assets. In total, AFSOC requested a total of 35 additional Pararescuemen to be deployed into the theater.
Two JSOAC-N AC-130Hs and three JSOAC-S AC-130Us conducted operations over Tora Bora and Kandahar, Afghanistan. The gunships each flew different station times over the target areas and worked in concert with Combat Controllers (CCTs) from the 23d Special Tactics Squadron who coordinated and called in the close air support attacks.
Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from the 21st and 22d Special Tactics Squadrons, conducted strategic reconnaissance and LOC interdiction operations in the valley south of Lash Kar Gah, Afghanistan, with Australian Secret Air Service (SAS) forces.
Master Sergeant William L. McDaniel II was killed when the MH-47 Chinook helicopter he was flying in crashed in the Philippines. MSgt McDaniel was assigned to the 320 STS, Kadena AB, Japan, and will never be forgotten.
Staff Sergeant Juan Ridout was killed when the MH-47 Chinook helicopter he was flying in crashed in the Philippines. SSgt Ridout was assigned to the 320 STS, Kadena AB, Japan, and will never be forgotten.
Technical Sergeant John Chapman was awarded the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism against an enemy of the United States in the vicinity of Gardez, in the eastern highlands of Afghanistan. TSgt Chapman paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service to his country and will never be forgotten.
Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham was awarded the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism in combat while serving as a Pararescueman near the village of Marzak in Paktia Province of Afghanistan. SrA Cunningham paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service to his country and will never be forgotten.
Three combat controllers perished during a training mission in an MC-130H Combat Talon crash in Puerto Rico; Capt Panuk P. Soomsawasdi (STO/LNO to SOCSOUTH), TSgt Martin A. Tracy and TSgt Christopher A. Matero (both from the 123 STS). Six members from the 16th Special Operations Wing were also killed in the accident: pilot Maj Michael J. Akos, co-pilot Capt Christel A. Chavez, navigator Maj Gregory W. Fritz, loadmaster SSgt Robert J. McGuire Jr., electronic weapons officer 1Lt Nathanial D. Buckley and flight engineer TSgt Robert S. Johnson. Also killed was SSgt Shane Kimmet, a support operation from the Air Intelligence Agency. May we never forget their ultimate sacrifice.
The war against Iraq began at 0530hrs Baghdad time (19 March, 2130hrs EST), when the U. S. launched Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. Called a "decapitation attack, " the initial air strike of the war attempted to target Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders in Baghdad.
Unites States Special Forces raided Saddam Hussein’s Tharthar Presidential Palace northwest of Baghdad, seizing documents but failing to find any weapons of mass destruction or the Iraqi dictator. Conducted inside the radius of Iraq’s surface-to-air missile (SAM) network, two Combat Talons flew a low-level refueling mission for a 10-ship rotary wing assault package consisting of four MH-47E, four MH-60L troop transports, and two MH-60K gunships.
Special Operations Forces (SOF), accompanied by ST, rescued Pfc. Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq. She was one of 12 members of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company captured by Iraqi troops on 23 March.
Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather, a combat controller assigned to the 24 STS, was killed-in-action in Iraq. He paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service to his country and will never be forgotten.
Army Private Jessica Lynch, a prisoner of war who was rescued by a team of Navy SEALs and Air Force Special Tactics Pararescueman, received a hero's welcome when she returned to her hometown of Palestine, West Virginia. Lynch’s story garnered massive media attention and she became an overnight celebrity. Various reports emerged about Lynch’s experience, with some news accounts indicating that even after Lynch was wounded during the ambush she fought back against her captors. However, Lynch later stated that she had been knocked unconscious after her vehicle crashed and couldn’t remember the details of what had happened to her. She also said she had not been mistreated by the staff at the Iraqi hospital and they put up no resistance to her rescue. In April 2007, Lynch testified before Congress that she had falsely been portrayed as a “little girl Rambo” and the military had hyped her story for propaganda reasons. According to Lynch: “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary.”
Iraq's deposed leader Saddam Hussein was captured by American troops. The former dictator was found hiding in a rat hole near his hometown ofTikrit and surrendered without a fight.
The 720th Operations Support Squadron (720 OSS) activated and served as the key enabler for the 720th Special Tactics Group (720 STG) and its subordinate war-fighting organizations.
Operation UNIFIED ASSISTANCE was a humanitarian effort in the wake of the Tsunami that struck South East Asia. Some 20 U. S. naval vessels went to the region and 85 U. S. military aircraft worked to deliver supplies to the survivors. By 5 Jan 05, U.S. servicemembers had delivered more than 610,000 pounds of relief supplies to the region. Helicopters assigned to Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2) and Sailors from Abraham Lincoln conducted humanitarian operations in the wake of the Tsunami that stuck South East Asia.
The 244th Combat Communications Squadron was re-designated the 125th Special Tactics Squadron (125 STS), Oregon National Guard, Portland, Oregon.
Captain Jeremy Fresques, Captain Derek Argel, and Staff Sergeant Casey Crate were killed during a training mission in eastern Diyala Province when the Iraqi Comp Air 7SL aircraft they were flying in crashed-all three warriors were assigned to the 23 STS and will never be forgotten.
Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana/Mississippi and was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States-among recorded Atlantic hurricanes. On 31 August, a team of CCTs and STOs from the 23 STS arrived at Keesler AFB, Miss. Designated Landing Zone Team 1, these personnel assisted with reestablishing airfield operations at the heavily damaged installation. A second group of CCTs, LZ Team 2, deployed to New Orleans International Airport where they provided temporary lighting and assisted with airfield operations. The 123/125 STS' deployed CCTs and PJs to New Orleans Naval Air Station, Louisiana, and concentrated their efforts on pulling survivors from flooded neighborhoods. Between 31 Aug and 7 Sep, ST personnel (augmented by 131 RQS and 212 RQS) rescued 1,292 people, controlled 3, 179 sorties, and contributed to the evacuation of 11,927 individuals.
The 720th Special Tactics Group formally opened the Battlefield Airmen Clinic (BFAC).
Senior Airman Adam P. Servais was killed by enemy fire in the Oruzgan Province of Afghanistan, in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, during a fierce battle with over 100 insurgents-he was assigned to the 23 STS and will never be forgotten.
The USAF redesignated the 16th Special Operations Wing as the 1st Special Operations Wing. The redesignation came from the Air Force's announcement in the summer of 2006 that it planned the stand-up of a second active-duty Air Force Special Operations Wing at Cannon AFB, NM. Because of the proud and rich heritage of special operations and Hurlburt Field, Air Force leadership decided that it would return the Hurlburt-based wing to its original 1 SOW designation and activate a new SOW at Cannon AFB. The 1 SOW retained all the honors the 16 SOW garnered in its 13 year existence at Hurlburt Field.
Technical Sergeant Scott E. Duffman was killed when the MH-47 helicopter he was flying in experienced a sudden loss of power and crashed in eastern Afghanistan. TSgt Duffman was assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24 STS), stationed at Pope AFB, N.C., and will never be forgotten.
Technical Sergeant William Jefferson Jr., was killed near Sperwan Ghar, Afghanistan, when the vehicle he was traveling in encountered an improvised explosive device (IED). TSgt Jefferson was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope AFB, N.C., and will never be forgotten.
The 720th Special Tactics Group (720 STG) dedicated a state-of-the-art training center and an adjacent roadway in honor of four Air Commandos killed in the line of duty during combat operations. The Crate Advanced Skills Training Center, a $7.8 million, 50,000 square foot facility, was dedicated in honor of Staff Sergeant Casey Crate. The center's Fresques Auditorium was dedicated in memory of Captain Jeremy Fresques and the Argel Aquatics Center paid tribute to Captain Derek Argel. All three perished on 30 May 2005 while aboard an Iraqi Air Force SL7 light aircraft that crashed approximately 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq. The street adjacent to the facility was named Servais Way, honoring Senior Airman Adam Servais who was killed 19 Aug 2006, during an engagement with enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan.
The Special Tactics Training Squadron (STTS) activated at Hurlburt Field, Fla., during an official ceremony at the Crate Advanced Skills Training facility. Formerly the Advanced Skills Training Flight aligned under the 720th Operations Support Squadron (720 OSS), STTS became aligned directly under the 720 STG.
The 17th Air Support Operations Squadron (17 ASOS)-and its Operating Locations-Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and Echo (OL-A, B, C, D, E)-was reassigned from Air Combat Command (ACC) to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and aligned under the 720th Special Tactics Group (720 STG) during an official ceremony held at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Headquarters, Air Force Special Operations Training Center (HQ/AFSOTC) activated at Hurlburt Field and was assigned to AFSOC as a primary subordinate unit. The Special Tactics Training Squadron was relieved from the 720 STG and assigned to AFSOTC.
The Air Force Special Operations Weatherman career field received a new Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC), which enabled recruiters to enlist trainees directly into the 1WOX2 career field.
Senior Airman Zachary J. Rhyner earned the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism against an enemy of the United States in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Norton A. Schwartz pinned the AF Cross on SSgt Rhyner during a ceremony on 10 March 2009.
Senior Airman Caleb D. Heidelberg’s Silver Star Citation: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Senior Airman Caleb D. Heidelberg, United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States as a Combat Control Journeyman, 22d Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron, 1st Expeditionary Special Operations Group, Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component, Special Operations Command Central, on 28 July 2008. On that date, in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM, Airman Heidelberg and his Army Special Forces and Afghanistan National Security Forces team conducted a mounted combat reconnaissance patrol. As members of the patrol dismounted to clear a vegetated area, they were ambushed within 10 meters by enemy insurgent forces employing heavy and effective small-arms and mortar fire, injuring all of the dismounted team. Cognizant of the grave danger faced by his reconnaissance teammates; Airman Heidelberg exposed himself to extensive enemy fire while repositioning his vehicle to provide cover for his wounded comrades. With continued disregard for his own safety, he then stationed himself forward of the vehicle and suppressed the enemy with his squad automatic weapon, thereby allowing his vehicle's gunner to climb to the mounted turret, clear the jammed automatic grenade launcher and put fire on the enemy. Realizing wounded members of his patrol were still exposed and in mortal danger, Airman Heidelberg willfully and unhesitatingly moved from the cover and protective fire of his position and ran toward them. Exposing himself again to heavy enemy fire, Airman Heidelberg carried a seriously wounded Afghan soldier back to the protection of the vehicle. As the fight continued, he brilliantly directed a complex air-ground battle to destroy the enemy with AH-64 strafing attacks and bombs dropped from B-1 and F-15 aircraft. Additionally, he simultaneously directed four helicopter sorties to both evacuate the wounded and replenish a critically low supply of ammunition. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Airman Heidelberg has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
The 17th Air Support Operations Squadron (17 ASOS)—and its Operating Locations- Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and Echo (OL-A, B, C, D, E)—were reassigned from Air Combat Command (ACC) to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and aligned under the 720th Special Tactics Group (720 STG) during an official ceremony held at Hurlburt Field, Florida. AFSOC redesignated the 17 ASOS as the 17 Special Tactics Squadron on 8 August 2013. On 1 October 2020, AFSOC transitioned the 17 STS from the 720 STG to the 724 STG.
Headquarters, Air Force Special Operations Training Center (HQ/AFSOTC) activated at Hurlburt Field and was assigned to AFSOC as a primary subordinate unit. The Special Tactics Training Squadron, active since 1 June 2008, was relieved from the 720 STG and assigned to AFSOTC. When the 24 SOW reactivated on 12 June 2012, AFSOC reassigned STTS to the 24 SOW.
The National Museum of the U. S. Air Force (NMUSAF) unveiled a new "Warrior Airman" exhibit that featured Special Tactics warriors who fought fierce battles in support of Operation ENDURTNG FREEDOM.
Staff Sergeant Timothy P. Davis was killed-in-action near Oruzgan, Afghanistan, when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device (IED)-he was assigned to the 23 STS and will never be forgotten.
Master Sergeant Thomas E. Case’s gallantry in action in Afghanistan earn him a second Silver Star (the first was from action in Iraq in 2003). Master Sergeant Thomas Case, United States Air Force, heroically distinguished himself through gallantry as a tactical air control party in Afghanistan for a Classified Special Operations Task Force from 16 July 2009 to 17 July 2009. During one mission Sergeant Case and his platoon conducted a nighttime operation deep into the Khowst-Gardez Pass in order to capture or kill an enemy combatant and to destroy mountain camps utilized by insurgent forces in the area. Due to weight restrictions on the helicopters used to insert Sergeant Case's platoon, his platoon was inserted approximately 30 minutes after the lead platoon's insertion. With the helicopter landing zone at eight thousand five hundred feet mean sea level, they began an arduous five kilometer foot movement towards the target area located at eight thousand eight hundred forty two feet mean sea level. As the platoon maneuvered to the target area, Sergeant Case maintained control of the aircraft supporting this operation. He utilized an AC-130 gunship and manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to maintain sensor coverage of the target area as well as the infiltration route. After moving nearly one thousand feet up mountainous terrain, Sergeant Case realized they were off their planned route and notified his ground force commander in order to get the assault force moving in the right direction. At that time the platoon came into decisive contact with an enemy machine gun position approximately fifteen meters away and perched above them in the high ground. Pinned down in the center of the platoon's formation, Sergeant Case recognized they needed to employ close air support. With machine guns rounds impacting the ground and trees within two feet of him, Sergeant Case remained exposed to enemy fire so he could locate the enemy position. Unfortunately, the wires on his radio were seriously damaged making it nearly impossible for him to communicate with their supporting aircraft. After identifying and troubleshooting the problem, Sergeant Case was able to hold the wires together and request immediate close air support from the gunship. With the gunship in an offset orbit for noise mitigation and needing approximately two minutes to reposition in order to support, Sergeant Case requested an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance update from the aircraft supporting overhead. After he was told the enemy was approximately fifteen meters away, Sergeant Case stood up while under enemy fire in order to take charge of five support personnel attached to the platoon. With enemy gunfire continuing to impact within feet of his position and whizzing by his head, he laid down suppressive fire with his M-4 rifle and expertly directed the five enablers to move behind cover. Afterwards, Sergeant Case briefed his close air support plan to the ground force commander and then employed his damaged radio to call for danger close AC-130.
Staff Sergeant Robert Gutierrez earned the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism against an enemy of the United States in Herat Province, Afghanistan. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Norton A. Schwartz pinned the AF Cross on SSgt Gutierrez during a ceremony on 27 October 2011.