353rd Special Operations Group wraps up Cobra Gold 2018

U-TAPAO, THAILAND 02.23.2018 Story by Capt. Jessica Tait  353rd Special Operations Group  (DVIDSHUB.NET) The 353rd SOG trained side-by-side with their Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) counterparts throughout the exercise, conducting formation and low-level aviation, military free fall (MFF) operations, assault zone establishment and control, fixed and rotary wing fires, rigging alternate method Zodiac (RAMZ) airdrops, an overwater search and rescue contingency and the staging of a forward area refueling point (FARP) for close air support (CAS) and assault aircraft. “Building on our bilateral exchanges from previous years with the 3rd Special Operations Regiment and 601st Squadron, our training this year focused on increasing the complexity and dynamic environment in which we conducted our mission essential tasks,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Joel Buelow, 353rd SOG mission commander for CG18. “We looked to enhance the cooperation, interoperability and collaboration of our forces in special tactics missions, formation flight procedures, aircraft maintenance and mission support functions. We worked side-by-side with our Thai counterparts throughout the exercise to increase mission effectiveness in our training evolutions and to prepare our forces to jointly succeed in real-world contingencies.” The U.S. Air Force 320th Special Tactics Squadron combat controllers (CCTs) and pararescuemen (PJs) conducted programs of instruction on forward air control and overwater search and rescue, conducted live Forward Air Control with fixed and rotary wing fires assets, surveyed and established assault zones and exercised multiple MFF jump profiles for infiltration utilizing air support from U.S. Air Force 1st Special Operations Squadron MC-130H Combat Talon IIs. “Embedded with the RTAF 3rd SOR, we advanced interoperability and increased partner capacity in the planning and execution of complex and realistic missions,” said Buelow. “This partnership has evolved over the last 19 years and will continue to strengthen for years to come.” In addition to supporting airborne operations for Thai and U.S. special operations forces (SOF), the 1st SOS conducted a formation flight with their RTAF C-130 counterparts from the 601st SQN, air intercept training with RTAF 403rd Tactical Fighter Squadron and advanced day and night low-level aviation. “The airborne operations conducted during CG18 enhance our ability to provide a rapid multinational response to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) efforts in the Pacific,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Howard, 353rd SOG air operations planner for CG18. “The experiences gained with our RTAF partners complement our mutual training interests and combined ability to respond to crises across the range of military operations.” The military members demonstrated appreciation to the local community during CG18 by gaining approvals for a community relations event. The full day of activities included, opening ceremonies, sports events, a luncheon and bilateral friendship jump and aerial demonstration. “To further the educational needs of the students from Sirijantaranmit School Lopburi, we’ve donated $15,000 worth of goods to include computers, printers, washers and dryers, uniforms and essential school supplies,” said Buelow. “Our bilateral friendship jump with RTAF 3rd SOR served as the culmination event to training and demonstrated our commitment to supporting not only the security of Thailand but also the community and humanitarian interests of a key partner nation.” CG18 improved the capabilities of participating nations to plan and conduct combined and joint operations; build relationships among participating nations across the region; and improve interoperability over a range of activities, including enhancing maritime security and responding to large-scale natural disasters. “Our RTAF counterparts have been amazing hosts,” said Buelow. “We look forward to future engagements here in Thailand and hope to raise the bar again next year.” Cobra Gold is one of the largest theater security cooperation exercises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region.

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Vietnam veteran talks long-term resilience to ST Airmen

FL, UNITED STATES 02.22.2018 Story by Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo 24th Special Operations Wing  HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. –The attack left him without his left arm, left eye and inflicted serious wounds to his right hand and legs. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Clebe McClary had given up, he was borderline unrecognizable and waiting to die in a hospital. That’s when Billy Casper, a professional golfer who was visiting wounded warriors at the hospital in Japan, showed up at McClary’s bedside. Casper told him, “I love you, I’m praying for you, and thank you for what you’ve done.” The simple, honest words struck a chord in McClary, and he was filled with hope and the determination to continue living regardless of the severity of his wounds. “Casper saved my life,” McClary said. “He made me realize I had a purpose, and that God had put me here for a reason … I couldn’t give up.” An audience of Special Tactics Airmen with the 24th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command Preservation of the Force and Family, and AFSOC Care Coalition staff, listened to McClary speak here, Feb. 9, using his own story as an example of overcoming overwhelming drawbacks through hope and resilience. Special Tactics Airmen are USSOCOM’s tactical air and ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force to enable global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations. ST Airmen have been involved in almost every major operation since 9/11 and have seen a significant amount of combat. “The environment our Special Tactics force work in is inherently dangerous,” said Col. Michael Martin, commander of the 24th SOW, the only Special Tactics wing in the Air Force. “We ask those in our command to take risks, including that of risking their lives, so it is critical that we focus on resiliency efforts in this wing. By building a culture of trust, we are confident our Airmen, at all levels, have no concerns when seeking help.” The USSOCOM’s Preservation of the Force and Family initiative directly embeds resilience specialists into units. Instead of having to schedule appointments weeks ahead of time, Special Tactics Airmen can see licensed physicians, physical therapists or chaplains that are directly assigned to their squadron. “Long-term resiliency is about doing what you need to accomplish your mission, but it’s also about developing a skill set that allows you to remain resilient for the rest of your life,” said Craig Engelson, Preservation of the Force and Family program manager with the 24th SOW. “The majority of our force has been at war their entire career and as history has shown — war has an effect on people.” Balancing the different aspects of life is a critical piece of how McClary stays lively and positive in his increasing age, he said. Similar to the Air Force’s four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, McClary’s work in mental, social, and, particularly for him, spiritual, and physical health keeps him going. “I think that the biggest take away for the ST community is that long-term resiliency is a choice that you have to consciously make,” Engelson said. “Regardless of what resources you have access to in your unit, your long term success boils down to an individual’s choice to be proactive and seek out the help available to them.”

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Silver Star awarded for Mosul offensive

From the 24 SOW HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — The steel enforced car bomb barreled relentlessly toward the joint special operations team … it seemingly came from nowhere. A Special Tactics operator, exposed in an open turret hatch, began to fire the Humvee-mounted M2 machinegun into the large pickup truck, as it hurtled closer and closer. 200 meters, 150 meters, 125 meters… finally, the operator triggered a massive detonation at 100 meters away. The team was safe … for now. Staff Sgt. Christopher Lewis, a combat controller with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the Silver Star Medal during a ceremony hosted by Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, Jan. 19, 2018, here for his actions during the Mosul offensive in 2016. “Every street was contested, every building was unsafe,” said Webb. “Chris epitomizes what we all strive to be in this command. I am extremely proud of him.” Lewis was embedded as a joint terminal attack controller with a Naval Special Warfare Platoon during the opening days of the Mosul offensive on Oct. 20, 2016, in Iraq. The joint team was tasked with advising and assisting Kurdish Peshmerga forces expunging Da’esh fighters from strongholds and liberating the city. “Chris is our go-to guy, he is one of our most experienced JTACs in the theater, and for that reason, we put him in our toughest spots,” said a Special Tactics officer who was Lewis’ team leader in garrison and expeditionary special tactics squadron commander. “Prior to the battle of Mosul, we actually hand-picked him as the most seasoned operator … I wanted Staff Sgt. Lewis to create the best force multipliers for the impending battle that we could.” The day began at 2:30 a.m. with a 15 kilometer drive south to link up with the Peshmerga fighters. The convoy consisted of close to 50 vehicles, including tanks and up-armored bulldozers, which are designed to trigger roadside bombs and clear the path. As the sun began to rise, around 7 a.m., the joint force began to receive indirect fires from the closest village to the forward line of troops. The automated .50 caliber turret system on Lewis’ vehicle became disabled. In the midst of withering grenade, mortar and small arms fire, Lewis systemically engaged the enemy in multiple locations from the open turret. He held this vulnerable position for hours despite direct enemy fire impacted within inches of him. During this time, Lewis simultaneously directed airstrikes from F-15 Eagles and B-52 Stratofortresses within 400 meters of the team’s positions before engaging the pickup truck-born IED, providing the cover and opportunity for the team to move out of harm’s way. The convoy didn’t go far before being ambushed again by enemy fire from a concealed tunnel entrance only 100 meters away and detonating several IEDs, mortally wounding one U.S. service member. Lewis leapt out of his vehicle without hesitation to assist his wounded teammate, and coordinated the casualty evacuation while providing medical care just feet away from an unexploded IED. He established a hasty helicopter landing zone and moved his severely wounded teammate to the extraction point while simultaneously working with other aircraft to assess and eliminate a second, vehicle-born threat before it reached his team. Lewis’ calm, collected demeanor was apparent when he received the news of his nomination for the Silver Star. “It was emotional at first, you really think about, or at least I thought about, ‘do you deserve this?’” said Lewis. “Obviously if it wasn’t for the proficiency of the aircrews overhead and the Navy Seal team, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. Being a combat controller and within the community, you’d like to think that any one of us could step in and fill that role and do what I did that day, and that’s just the level of professionalism and proficiency that we like to hold all of ourselves to.” To read more about Lewis’ actions during the battle, read his write-up in Portraits in Courage.

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Air Force Special Tactics, Marine Recon groom joint ground leaders

From DVIDS MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, HI, UNITED STATES 01.23.2018 Story by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy  24th Special Operations Wing  The police officers rush into the compound, weapons drawn, shouting orders at the men inside the building to surrender. Shots ring out, spent rounds discharge and the police retreat, leaving one officer behind with a gunshot wound. The insurgents drag him through the courtyard for all to see and execute him. Buried in the thick brush on a hill, a small contingent of Force Reconnaissance Marines and Special Tactics Airmen are watching, waiting and reporting what they see back to the operations center. Their intelligence will provide incoming Marines with vital information to conduct raids later in the day. This was not a real mission in a foreign land, but rather a Marine reconnaissance proving ground at Bellows Air Force Base, Hawaii. Three Special Tactics Airmen graduated from the Marine’s Reconnaissance Team Leader Course in November, following two months of rigorous desert, jungle and amphibious reconnaissance training. RTLC is an advanced level reconnaissance course designed to develop junior service members into better team leaders through realistic training. “Our main objectives in this course is taking young leaders and guiding them into being better ground force commanders,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy Froio, NCO in charge of RTLC. “Regardless of what service you’re in, the reconnaissance mission is so detail oriented and in depth that no matter what your actual mission is, you’re going to benefit from this training.” Force Reconnaissance Marines are the Marine Corps’ special-operations-capable forces that provide essential intelligence to the command element of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. Forging a relationship between conventional and SOF create unique opportunities and partnerships in the future. Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air and ground integration force and the Air Force’s ground special operations force enabling global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations. To provide realism to the curriculum, students in the course transition to three different geographic locations. Special Tactics regularly trains in extreme conditions to acclimate to any scenario when called upon. “Much like in a Marine Expeditionary Unit, you find yourself in some other part of the world … one day you’re in the high desert, the next the desert plain, the next in the jungle, etcetera,” said Froio. “We try to replicate that aspect of not always knowing your environment.” Beginning at Camp Pendleton, Calif., students learn public speaking to enhance their briefing skills, and conduct their first patrol as a team. According to the instructors, briefing is the first step of becoming a capable ground force commander. Froio explained the need for ground force commanders to clearly communicate their intent and objectives during mission planning, because without that capability, the team won’t make it to the battlefield. “We wholly utilize the crawl, walk, and run method during training by having them brief daily, to giving impromptu briefs and finally briefing a real commander after drawing up their mission plan,” said Froio. From there, the course moves to Yuma, Ariz., for desert patrols and reconnaissance. During this portion, instructors incorporated Special-Tactics-unique scenarios for the students such as an airfield reconnaissance and fires planning. “Since Airmen from Air Force Special Operations Command began to take this course, we have changed our curriculum to accommodate what they bring to the table,” said Gunnery Sgt. Edward Brugeman, senior noncommissioned officer in charge of RTLC. “Each one of the mission sets gives the students – Marines and Airmen alike – the planning, briefing and execution aspect of a multitude of mission sets they will most likely encounter in the real world.” From Yuma, the joint contingent travelled to Marine Corps Base Hawaii-Kaneohe Bay to exercise jungle and amphibious reconnaissance mission sets. Here, they finished the tactical portion of their training with a 3-day, 2-night marathon final exercise. “We’re giving these Airmen the ground-level experience they may not get from other schools in their pipeline,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Mackey, course chief of RTLC. “They bring so much to our class and our students learn a ton from them, in return we give them the ground-based tactical decisions and skills they need to lead a team.” Throughout each portion of the course, each student rotated through multiple graded billets to gain perspective and experience in each position: Team Leader, Assistant Team Leader, Point Man, Radio Transmission Operator and Assistant RTO, said Brugeman. “Every student is placed in every role, because in order to become an effective leader, you don’t only need to know what you need to do, but what every person on your team needs to do,” said Brugeman. During the training, the joint efforts between the Airmen and the Marines lead to them casting aside their differences and embracing their similarities. While the Airmen were sent[…]

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silver star

Finding the way: Special Tactics chief awarded Silver Star

HURLBURT FIELD, FL, UNITED STATES 12.15.2017 Story by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy  24th Special Operations Wing Chief Master Sgt. Michael West, a Special Tactics operator with the 720th Operations Support Squadron, utilized 58 coalition aircraft delivering 24,000 pounds of munitions, turning the tide of battle, and now he’s receiving the Silver Star Medal. During a ceremony Dec. 15, here, the commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, presented the nation’s third highest medal for gallantry against an armed enemy of the U.S. in combat to West. West’s actions occurred 11 years earlier, when he was deployed with U.S. Army Special Forces teams in support of Operation MEDUSA. “This ceremony is about the Air Commando culture epitomized in Special Tactics and Special Tactics being epitomized in that chief right there,” said Webb. “It’s a culture of willingly facing seemingly insurmountable problems; it’s about courage, endurance, wisdom. It’s figuring out to solve problems and getting ‘er done. It’s about finding the way.” West was originally awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his actions in May 2007, but due to a recent DOD-wide review, his package was resubmitted for an upgrade. “I am honored and humbled for the recognition, and I wish the [Special Forces] team guys were here to share this,” said West. “It was a great opportunity to work with a bunch of professionals, and I know that I have friends for life.” As a Special Tactics combat controller, West is a part of a highly-trained special operations force who integrates air power into the special operations’ ground scheme of maneuver. “Special Tactics is the connective tissue between the ground and air and you can ask our Army and Navy counterparts who will not leave home with Special Tactics,” said Webb. “Special Tactics exemplifies what it means in that ‘find the way’ Air Commando culture, and West epitomizes Special Tactics.” Webb said we are living in a “Golden Age” of Special Tactics, citing the 10 Air Force Crosses and this ceremony marking the 42nd Silver Star Medal awarded to a Special Tactics operator since 9/11. Operation MEDUSA On Sept. 5, 2006, then-Master Sgt. West was assigned to three different Special Forces teams alongside three platoons of Afghan National Army forces during a deployment to Panjwai Village, Afghanistan. Operation MEDUSA was a Canadian-led effort to clear a village, believed to be a Taliban safe haven of 700-1000 enemy forces. A Canadian ground force would clear the village from west to east and the Special Forces teams, alongside West, would set up a blockade position south of the village. As the Canadian-led ground force began their movement, they were met with fierce resistance, resulting in a crippling amount of casualties that forced them to disengage. In an attempt to salvage the operation, the Task Force directed the special operations teams to seize and hold elevated terrain to observe and attack enemy positions. “The first day we approached this hill, we met heavy resistance … the enemy saw us coming from the south, and we started to get shot at from tree lines on either side of us,” said West. At this time, West coordinated airpower from a B-1 Lancer bomber aircraft to drop eight bombs on the enemy and their resupply compound. This was the first time West would utilize airpower to eliminate the enemy, but it would not be his last. The next day, the teams decided to advance up the hill further to investigate and clear an old enemy compound. Due to the high probability of enemy engagement, West coordinated two A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft to watch over them. They cleared the buildings and as they began to climb higher, an ANA soldier stepped on an anti-personnel mine. “We were all blown back trying to figure out what happened and once the dust settled, we heard the screaming,” said West. “The soldier was lying there with half of his leg gone, and he was really banged up.” West and his team leader quickly assessed the man for injuries and applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and decided he needed to be evacuated. As the team struggled to carry the injured ANA solider off the hill, a vehicle in the team’s convoy hit an improvised explosive device, which triggered a full-on assault from enemy forces. “As soon as the it blew, the tree lines on either side of us fully erupted with gunfire … like they were waiting for that IED to explode,” said West. “We started receiving [rocket-propelled grenade] fire and small arms fire and my team was completely exposed.” The joint special operations team began to fire back, but West did what multiple Special Tactics Airmen before and after him have done countless times, he called for airpower. “I immediately put those A-10s into action and[…]

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