1st Lt. Donald Hurlburt
Hurlburt Field, home of the Air Force Special Operations Command and the 1st Special Operations Wing, has a long and distinctive history. Hurlburt Field was named for 1st Lt. Donald W. Hurlburt, a World War II pilot, who perished in an aircraft accident on the Eglin military reservation in 1943. Originally designated as Auxiliary Field No. 9, Hurlburt Field became one of the first pilot and gunnery training fields built on the Eglin Air Force Base complex in the 1940s. In Burma, during 1943, American C-47s and British Dakotas formed an unbroken aerial lifeline to British Gen. Orde Wingate’s Raiders. Aircrews dropped provisions such as food, ammunition, clothing and medical supplies. These drops were done by parachute from 200 feet during the day and 400 feet during the night.
General Wingate’s 1943 campaign prompted further efforts of the same unconventional nature. The U.S. Army Air Force formed the 5318th Provisional Unit (Air) to spearhead Wingate’s operations. This group’s inventory reflected as odd an assortment of hardware as could be imagined. It boasted C-47 transports, P-51 fighters, B-25 bombers, UC-64 utility aircraft, L-1 and L-5 observation aircraft and a glider force consisting of CG-4As and TG-5s. The group also utilized the YR-4 helicopter and conducted the first ever combat helicopter rescue. During the mission March 5, 1944, dubbed Operation Thursday, the 5318th successfully airlifted ground troops and equipment into a jungle clearing nicknamed Broadway. The 1st Air Commando Group, created March 29, 1944, in India, won historical fame by providing fighter cover, air strikes and airlift for “Wingate’s Raiders,” who operated 200 miles behind enemy lines in Burma.
In 1955, the 17th Light Bombardment Wing arrived at Hurlburt Field from Miho, Japan, to conduct routine training. After a three-year stay, the 4751st Missile Wing of the Air Defense Command replaced it to test surface-to-air missiles launched from facilities on neighboring Santa Rosa Island.
With the phase-out of the Bomarc missile in 1961, the call to train airborne special warfare specialists revived the legacy of the air commandos. On April 14, 1961, the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron activated. Less than a year later, the squadron expanded and it became the 4400th Combat Crew Training Group to provide the Air Force with a counterinsurgency military responsibilities continued to grow, the group became the 1st Air Commando Wing on June 1, 1963.
The Kennedy Administration’s policy of “flexible response” revived interest in special operations. As the Vietnam War expanded in scope and intensity, the Air Force increased its counterinsurgency capability. The Air Force dedicated most special operations resources to the war in Southeast Asia.
Propeller aircraft such as the T-28s, B-26s, C-47s and A-1s appeared strangely out of place in the jet-age Air Force during this time, but the commandos contended, “Our planes may be obsolete and unsophisticated, but they can do our kind of job.” Whether the job entailed a C-47 dropping flares to illuminate the target area or a B-26 making repeated strafing, rocket and bombing passes, the job got done. The 1st ACW met the expanded requirements of air operations in Vietnam. The air commando units conducted psychological operations as well as unconventional warfare and advisory activities. The AC-130 performed the interdiction mission in an outstanding manner and proved to be the most effective truck killer of the war.
The Air Force redesignated the 1 ACW as the 1st Special Operations Wing on July 8, 1968. Missions of the Air Force Special Operations Force and the 1 SOW consolidated on July 1, 1974, and the Air Force redesignated the 1 SOW as the 834th TacticalCompositeWing, reporting directly to the commander of Tactical Air Command. Only one year later, July 1, 1975, the wing again became the 1 SOW. After Vietnam, the wing participated in Operation Rice Bowl, the 1980 attempt to rescue American embassy personnel held hostage in Iran. On March 1, 1983, the 1 SOW became a unit under the reactivated 2nd Air Division. The 1 SOW participated in Operation Urgent Fury in October 1983. The wing’s AC-130H Spectre Gunships and MC- 130E Combat Talons spearheaded the assault on the island of Grenada. The Spectres provided close-air support to ground units, while the MC-130s supported the infiltration of U.S. Army Rangers and combat control teams. The objective consisted of rescuing American medical students and other Americans on the island. The success of the mission threw the 1 SOW into the limelight and drew national attention for months.
The 2d Air Division inactivated Feb. 1, 1987 and the headquarters for 23rd Air Force moved to Hurlburt Field from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., on Aug. 1, 1987. In August 1989, four MH-60 helicopters and two HC-130 tankers conducted search operations for Texas Congressman Mickey Leland’s party, which disappeared while on a survey of relief activities in Ethiopia. Rescuers quickly located the crash site; however, there were no survivors. The 1 SOW mobilized for Operation Just Cause in December 1989 and deployed aircraft and aircrews from all five flying squadrons plus maintenance and support personnel to Panama. The 1723rd Special Tactics Squadron also participated. The objectives of the operation included protecting the lives of Americans and American interests under the Canal Treaty, establishing law and order, restoring democracy and bringing Panama’s dictator, Gen. Manuel Noriega, to justice. The successful mission resulted in the arrest and extradition of Noriega to the U.S. on drug charges and the surrender of Panama’s Defense Forces.
President George H. W. Bush ordered the execution of Operation Desert Storm in mid-January 1991, to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Hurlburt Field Airmen played a significant role in Desert Storm. The MC- 130E Combat Talons dropped leaflets on Iraqi forces and dropped 15,000-pound, BLU-82 bombs in combat.
The 20th Special Operations Squadron’s MH-53 PAVE LOWs teamed with Army Apache helicopters and knocked out Iraqi early warning sites, which opened a hole in the Iraqi air defense system on the first night of the air war. The PAVE LOWs then served primarily in a combat search-and rescue role and rescued a downed Navy flier Jan. 21, 1991.
The AC-130H Spectre Gunships flew armed reconnaissance and destroyed targets identified during the Operation Desert Shield buildup. The MH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters performed combat search and rescue and inserted Special Forces behind enemy lines. Also, HC-130 Combat Shadow tankers flew deep into Iraq to refuel 1 SOW helicopters in a threat environment. By March 13, 1991, wing aircraft had flown more than 10,000 hours on more than 5,000 sorties.
During Operation Desert Storm, the 1 SOW lost one AC-130H and its crew of 14 while supporting Marine ground forces during the battle for the town of Al-Khafji, Saudi Arabia. This incident would be the Air Force’s largest single loss suffered by any unit during the operation. Hurlburt Field • Home of America’s Air Commandos History 9 Following the overwhelming victory in Desert Storm, the 9th and 20th Special Operations Squadrons remained in southwest Asia to meet new taskings for two years.
On May 22, 1990, the Air Force redesignated the 23rd Air Force as the Air Force Special Operations Command, making it a major command of the Air Force and the Air Force component of the U.S. Special Operations Command. To comply with then Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak’s directive that no active duty units would have the same designation, the Air Force decided to redesignate the 1 SOW rather than the 1st Fighter Wing located at Langley AFB, Va., because the latter possessed a higher heritage score. On October 1, 1993, the Air Force officially redesignated the 1 SOW as the 16th Special Operations Wing.
In 2006, the Air Force announced the stand-up of a second active duty Air Force Special Operations Wing at Cannon AFB, N.M. Because of the proud and rich heritage of special operations and Hurlburt Field, Air Force leadership decided that it would return the Hurlburtbased wing back to its original 1 SOW designation. On November 16, 2006, the Air Force redesignated the 16 SOW back to the 1 SOW. The 1 SOW retained all the honors the 16 SOW garnered in its 13 year existence.
Also in 2006, the 8 SOS ceased operating the MC-130E Combat Talon and prepared for AFSOC’s newest platform, the CV-22 Osprey. On November 16, 2006, the 8 SOS welcomed its 22nd type of aircraft by accepting the ceremonial key for the unit’s first CV-22. The CV-22’s mission includes infiltration, exfiltration, resupply missions and rapid mobility while leaving a small footprint. The aircraft’s speed allows it to reach destinations worldwide much quicker than a helicopter. When in airplane mode, the aircraft is 75 percent quieter than other fixed-wing aircraft, which is beneficial when heading into unknown territories. It has the capacity to fly long ranges before refueling and it can reach speeds of more than 275 mph.
The concept for the CV-22 evolved from the Operation EAGLE CLAW disaster in 1980. The need for an aircraft to cover long distances quickly with few refuelings, have the ability to convert to helicopter mode and remain as quiet as possible was in need then, as it is now. As the new millennium began, the 1 SOW continued its high operations tempo. After the coordinated terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, the 1 SOW continued to lead the nation’s global war on terrorism. Aircraft, aircrews, maintenance and support personnel have deployed in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM and performed their duties in the most austere conditions. By the end of 2007, the 1 SOW had flown more than 38,000 combat missions accumulating more than 115,000 flying hours in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM.
The 1 SOW, like its predecessors the 1 ACW and 1 ACG, fills needs not met by the rest of the Air Force, by providing a rapid reaction force for global special operations tasks. More and more, the wing also responds to calls for conventional support. Its impressive list of capabilities includes close air support, airlift, airdrop, interdiction, infiltration, exfiltration, supply and resupply, psychological operations support, search and rescue, combat search and rescue, navigational path-finding and varied and secure communications for Army, Navy, Marine and other Air Force customers. The wing prefers to operate in the dark rather than in the light due to slow airspeeds and limited maneuverability. The 1 SOW continues to build on its proud heritage as a unique, composite wing with a distinctive history. It stands ready to perform all assigned tasks “Any Time, Any Place.”