Female aviator joins Special Tactics leadership team

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachel Williams
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Air Force Special Operations Command’s 2020 Strategic Guidance called for a change in developing and providing unique capabilities valuable to the broader joint force while remaining an integral part of the joint special operations forces team.

Those priorities brought an aviation background into the Special Tactics ranks.

Earlier this summer, U.S. Air Force Col. Allison Black made history as she joined the Special Tactics leadership team and became the vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing.

“With any leadership team, you want to have people that cover each other’s blind spots and are able to bring the best out of the organization,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Matt Allen, commander of the 24th SOW. “Not only does Col. Black have a rich history as an aircrew member within AFSOC, but she also has key insights working on staffs within U.S. Special Operations Command and she is a female colonel, which provides really good insight as we look at our diversity and inclusion aspects of the force to make sure that we’re making good organizational decisions on bringing in the first wave of female operators onto the line.”

Black’s commissioned background entails being a navigator on the AC-130H Spectre gunship. She was known as “The Angel of Death” as she was the first female Spectre navigator in combat operations during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

“When I was in Afghanistan, she was certainly popular because she was the only female voice you would hear when you’re out in the field as a [joint terminal attack controller],” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Guilmain, former command chief of the 24th SOW.

Black credits working on the gunships supporting the ground forces, to her gaining a better understanding of the Special Tactics community and their mission.

“When you talk about diversity of thought, I think it’s great having an individual come in with a long standing, very successful career in AFSOC, who has been around Special Tactics and worked with us as joint partners forward in Afghanistan directly in the fight,” said Guilmain. “It’s powerful to have her experience as an outsider looking at us both operationally and in garrison to help us look at hard problems to build the force of the future.”

When asked how she felt toward this milestone position, Black said she was “honored, humbled and little-kid excited.”

“It’s a great honor to serve the Special Tactics community as their vice wing commander,” said Black. “I’m now a direct part of the machine that I’ve directly supported my entire aviation career from the air. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Col. Matt Allen. He’s a dedicated leader and consummate professional who deeply cares about our people. As Col. Allen’s vice, it’s my role to follow his lead and drive the organization toward a successful future.”

The Long Island, New York, native enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1992, originally expecting a job in radiology.

Little did Black know what the next 28 years would entail.

During the first week of basic military training, all of the flights were briefed on what is now called Special Warfare career fields. Survival, evasion, resistance and escape caught Black’s attention – a predominantly male career field.

SERE specialists train Airmen on how to survive in the most hostile and remote environments.

“For me, overall, it was the challenge,” Black said. “As hard as it was going to be, I just wasn’t going to quit.”

Breaking through barriers, Black graduated and became a SERE specialist where she excelled for the next six years.

In 1998, Black sought out yet another challenge and commissioned through Officer Training School and became a navigator on the AC-130H Spectre gunship with the 16th Special Operations Squadron, which landed her at Hurlburt Field in early 2000 where she would remain for the next decade.

As a navigator, now known as a combat systems officer, Black acted as the eyes for the ground forces below her. In communication with Special Tactics operators, Black also assisted bringing airpower down on the enemy.

As Black advanced through the ranks, she took a brief break from the AFSOC community and headed on to be the Chief of the Operational Integrated Communications Team at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, from 2010-2012.

She quickly returned to Hurlburt Field and was integrated as the Director of Operations into the 319th Special Operations Squadron, an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unit that operates U-28s, which she later commanded from 2015-2017.

Black then moved to USSOCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, before returning to Hurlburt Field as the vice commander for the 24th SOW.

Black’s unique background, involving SERE and navigating a gunship, has left her with an extraordinary knowledge set to bring to the Special Tactics community.

“Let’s just make a difference. Let’s exploit what I have learned throughout my career on operations, risk management, and regulations,” Black said. “Let’s uncover all of that and let’s roll up our sleeves and use that to make our community stronger and more effective. Let’s exploit technology and work to define what the future holds. We need to determine what niche capabilities our current Special Tactics force must bring to the future fight.”

Black is hopeful that her presence makes a difference and inspires others to “work hard and continue to take the risk to try.”

“I hope that my perspective makes our team stronger,” Black said. “Even though I look different than most of our force… and even though I don’t wear a beret, I’m confident that my background in AFSOC, and in the Air Force, will be seen as a positive.”