Air Commandos with the 352nd Special Operations Wing conduct Staff Ride in preparation for D-Day

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena
  • 352nd Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

“Given our location in the U.K., we were allowed to visit the airfields that were used for bombing campaigns and troop carrier actions in World War II, and D-Day June 5th and 6th in particular,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Keith Snook, commander of the 7th Special Operations Squadron, based at RAF Mildenhall, U.K. 

Staff rides can be traced back to the turn of the century when the U.S. Army took charge of preserving and marking Civil War battlefields. Today, they are used to represent a unique and persuasive method of conveying the lesson of the past to the present-day leadership for the current application. 

The bases visited were RAF Spanhoe and RAF North Witham in Eastern England.

“We want to talk about history, but also talk about the history of the staff ride and where it began. Staff rides are primarily to develop leaders introducing the officers to the benefits of military history. It also helps them increase their tactical knowledge of battlefield tactics, techniques, and procedures,” said Snook.

During the RAF Spanhoe visit, SOW leaders received an in-depth brief from an airfield historian on the history of the U.S. Army Air Force, 315th Troop Carrier Group, which flew from the site on airborne missions to Normandy from 1944-1944. Primary operations operated from RAF Spanhoe include Operation Overlord, Neptune, Market Garden, and Operation Varsity - part of Operation Plunder. 

The second part of the Staff Ride included a tour of RAF North Witham tour, which was the base for the 9th AAF’s Troop Carrier Group’s Pathfinders, an elite force that had a key operational role in the invasion on D-day. 

“We visited RAF North Witham which is where the Pathfinders trained and launched out of for D-Day. These Pathfinders were specially selected and trained paratroopers and aviators that were called on to be the first ones in, to lead the way for the main force," said a U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Officer and commander of the 321st Special Tactics Squadron. "Today’s Air Force Combat Controllers and some of our SOF aviation were established from these pathfinder units, so it was extremely impactful to see the heritage and be standing on the ground where they trained and launched for the massive operation 75 years ago."

The 352nd SOW, along with nearly 1,1000 U.S. service members stationed in Europe and from U.S. based units with historical links to D-Day will join contingents from more than five nations to recognize and honor the men and women of all allied countries during the commemorative period of June 5-9, 2019 in the region of Normandy, France. Keep a lookout for the 352 SOW's MC130J and CV22B Osprey over RAF Spanhoe and RAF North Witham on June 5, 2019. 

Through these exercises, key leaders are subsequently able to leverage real-world examples of leadership, tactics, strategy, communications, use of terrain, and psychology of troops in battle when applying lessons learned from the past to present day operations.

“Getting that perspective as we fly into reenacting D-Day on the 75th Anniversary, is pretty motivational for the pilots and those in the back of the aircraft jumping out," said the 321st STS commander. Can you imagine doing this in those conditions under enemy fire? That is pretty amazing and incredibly heroic, and I’m honored to be a part of the event."