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Air Force Special Operations Command
Shield of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command.svg
Air Force Special Operations Command Emblem
Active 22 May 1990 – present[1]
Country  United States of America
Branch Military service mark of the United States Air Force.png United States Air Force
Type Special Operations
Role Conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower to infiltration, aviation foreign internal defense, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements[1]
Size 18,000[1]
Part of United States Special Operations Command Insignia.svg United States Special Operations Command
Garrison/HQ Hurlburt Field, Florida
Motto(s) "Any Time, Any Place"

Invasion of Panama
Gulf War
Unified Task Force
Operation Gothic Serpent

Operation Uphold Democracy
Operation Enduring Freedom

Iraq War
Lieutenant General Eric E. Fiel[1]

United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is the special operations component of the United States Air Force and the US Air Force component command to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a unified command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. AFSOC provides AF Special Operations Forces (SOF) for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified commands.

AFSOC was initially established on 10 February 1983 as Twenty-Third Air Force (23 AF), a subordinate numbered air force of the Military Airlift Command (MAC), with its headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Florida. On 22 May 1990, 23 AF was redesignated as AFSOC and became a separate United States Air Force (USAF) major command (MAJCOM) responsible for all USAF special operations forces (SOF), aircraft and personnel in the Regular Air Force, and the operational "gaining command" for all USAF SOF, aircraft and personnel in the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and the Air National Guard (ANG).


  • Established as Twenty-Third Air Force on 10 February 1983
Activated on 1 March 1983
  • Redesignated Air Force Special Operations Command, with the status of a major command, on 22 May 1990





Twenty-Third Air Force

In December 1982, the Air Force transferred responsibility for Air Force special operations from Tactical Air Command (TAC) to Military Airlift Command (MAC). Consequently, in March 1983, MAC activated Twenty-Third Air Force (23 AF) at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. This new numbered air force's responsibilities included worldwide missions of special operations, combat rescue, weather reconnaissance and aerial sampling, security support for intercontinental ballistic missile sites, training of USAF helicopter and HC-130 crewmen, pararescue training, and medical evacuation.

Operation Urgent Fury

In October 1983, 23 AF participated in the successful rescue of Americans from the island nation of Grenada. During the seven day operation, centered at Point Salines Airport, 23 AF furnished MC-130s, AC-130s, aircrews, maintenance, and support personnel. An EC-130 from the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Air National Guard (ANG), played a significant psy-war role. An MC-130 pilot from the 8th Special Operations Squadron won the MacKay Trophy for his actions in leading the air drop on the Point Salines Airport.

US Special Operations Command

In May 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act led to the formation of the United States Special Operations Command. Senators William Cohen and Sam Nunn introduced the Senate bill, and the following month Congressman Dan Daniel introduced a like measure in the House of Representatives. The key provisions of the legislation formed the basis to amend the 1986 Defense Authorizations Bill. This bill, signed into law in October 1986, in part directed the formation of a unified command responsible for special operations. In April 1987 the DoD established the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and Army GEN James J. Lindsay assumed command. Four months later, 23 AF moved to Hurlburt Field, Florida.

In August 1989, Gen Duane H. Cassidy, MAC Commander in Chief, divested 23rd AF of its non-special operations units. Thus, 23 AF served a dual role—still reporting to MAC, but also functioning as the air component to USSOCOM.

Operation Just Cause

From late December 1989 to early January 1990, 23 AF participated in the re-establishment of democracy in the Republic of Panama during Operation Just Cause. Special operations aircraft included both active duty and reserve AC-130 Spectre gunships, EC-130 Volant Solo psychological operations aircraft from the Air National Guard, HC-130P/N Combat Shadow tankers, MC-130E Combat Talons, and MH-53J Pave Low and MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. Special tactics Combat Controllers and Pararescuemen provided important support to combat units during this operation.

Spectre gunship crews of the 1st SOW earned the Mackay Trophy and Tunner Award for their efforts, a 919th SOG Spectre crew earned the President's Award, and a 1st SOW Combat Talon crew ferried the captured Panamanian President, Manuel Noriega, to prison in the United States. Likewise, the efforts of the 1st SOW maintenance people earned them the Daedalian Award.

On 22 May 1990, General Larry D. Welch, Air Force Chief of Staff, redesignated Twenty-Third Air Force as Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). This new major command consisted of three wings: the 1st, 39th and 353rd Special Operations Wings as well as the 1720th Special Tactics Group (STG), the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School, and the Special Missions Operational Test and Evaluation Center.

Currently, after major redesignations and reorganizations, AFSOC direct reporting units include the 16th SOW, the 352nd Special Operations Group, the 353rd Special Operations Group, the 720th Special Tactics Group (STG), the USAF Special Operations School and the 18th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS). During the early 1990s a major reorganization occurred within AFSOC. The 1720th STG became the 720th STG in March 1992; the transfer of ownership of Hurlburt Field from Air Mobility Command (AMC, and formerly MAC) to AFSOC in October 1992, followed by the merger of the 834th Air Base Wing (ABW) into the 1st SOW which assumed host unit responsibilities. A year later the 1st SOW became the 16th SOW in a move to preserve Air Force heritage.

Meanwhile, the Special Missions Operational Test and Evaluation Center (SMOTEC), which explored heavy lift frontiers in special operations capabilities, while pursuing better equipment and tactics development, was also reorganized. In April 1994, the Air Force, in an effort to standardize these types of organizations, redesignated SMOTEC as the 18th Flight Test Squadron.

Gulf War

From early August 1990 to late February 1991, AFSOC participated in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, the protection of Saudi Arabia and liberation of Kuwait. Special tactics personnel operated throughout the theater on multiple combat control and combat rescue missions. Special operations forces performed direct action missions, combat search and rescue, infiltration, exfiltration, air base ground defense, air interdiction, special reconnaissance, close air support, psychological operations, and helicopter air refuelings. Pave Low crews led the helicopter assault on radars to blind Iraq at the onset of hostilities, and they also accomplished the deepest rescue for which they received the Mackay Trophy.

Combat Talons dropped the largest conventional bombs of the war and, along with Combat Shadows, dropped the most psy-war leaflets. The AC-130s provided valuable fire support and armed reconnaissance, but they also suffered the single greatest combat loss of coalition air forces with the shooting down of Spirit 03. All fourteen crew members aboard were lost.


Post-Gulf War

In December 1992, AFSOC special tactics and intelligence personnel supported Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. In late 1994, AFSOC units spearheaded Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and in 1995 Operation Deliberate Force in the Balkans.

Operation Enduring Freedom

AFSOC Combat Controller in Afghanistan

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon, Washington D.C., on 11 September 2001 pushed the United States special operations forces to the forefront of the war against terrorism. By the end of September 2001, AFSOC deployed forces to southwest Asia for Operation Enduring Freedom to help destroy the al Qaeda terrorist organization and remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. AFSOC airpower delivered special tactics forces to the battle ground and they in turn focused U.S. airpower and allowed Afghanistan's Northern Alliance ground forces to dispatch the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan. AFSOC personnel also deployed to the Philippines to help aid that country's efforts against terrorism.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

In March 2003, AFSOC again deployed forces to southwest Asia this time in support of what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom – the removal of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist government. The command's personnel and aircraft teamed with SOF and conventional forces to quickly bring down Saddam Hussein's government by May 2003. AFSOC forces have continued to conduct operations since then, in support of the new Iraqi government against insurgents and terrorists.


AFSOC has had nine commanders since its inception in 1990.

List of AFSOC Commanders
Name Tenure start Tenure End
Maj. Gen. Thomas E. Eggers 22 May 1990 20 Jun 1991
Maj. Gen. Bruce L. Fister 21 Jun 1991 21 Jul 1994
Maj. Gen. James L. Hobson, Jr. 22 Jul 1994 8 Jul 1997
Maj. Gen. Charles R. Holland 9 Jul 1997 4 Aug 1999
Lt. Gen. Maxwell C. Bailey 5 Aug 1999 15 Jan 2002
Lt. Gen. Paul V. Hester 16 Jan 2002 30 Jun 2004
Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley 1 Jul 2004 26 Nov 2007
Lt. Gen. Donald C. Wurster 27 Nov 2007 24 Jun 2011
Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel 24 Jun 2011 Incumbent


Several aircraft of the 1st Special Operations Wing belonging to the 6th Special Operations Squadron

Air National Guard units

Air Force Reserve Command units

Personnel and Resources

AFSOC has approximately 15,000 active-duty, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and civilian personnel.[5]

The commander of AFSOC is Lieutenant General Eric Fiel. Major General O.G. Mannon is Vice Commander, and Chief Master Sergeant Bill Turner is the Command Chief Master Sergeant, Air Force Special Operations Command.

The command's SOF are composed of highly trained, rapidly deployable Airmen who are equipped with specialized aircraft. These forces conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower, to infiltration, aviation foreign internal defense, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements. The command's Special Tactics Squadrons are led by Special Tactics Officers (STOs). Special Tactics Squadrons combine Combat Controllers, TACP, Special Operations Weather Technicians, Pararescuemen and combat rescue officers to form versatile SOF teams. AFSOC's unique capabilities include airborne radio and television broadcast for psychological operations, as well as combat aviation advisors to provide other governments military expertise for their internal development.

Special Tactics is the US Air Force special operations ground force. Similar in ability and employment to MARSOC, Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Tactics personnel are typically the first to enter combat and often find themselves deep behind enemy lines in demanding, austere conditions, usually with little or no support. Due to the rigors of the job, Special Tactics yearlong training is one of the most demanding in the military, with attrition rates near 80 to 90 percent. In an attempt to reduce the high attrition, Special Tactics is very selective when choosing their officers. Special Tactics Officers (STO) undergo a highly competitive process to gain entry into the Special Tactics career field, ensuring only the most promising and capable leaders are selected. STO leadership and role modeling during the difficult training reduces the attrition rate for enlisted trainees. As befits their special connection between SOF and the USAF, these airmen have specialized equipment such as C4 vests.[6]

STO selection is a two-phase process. Beginning with Phase One, a board of veteran STOs reviews application packages consisting of letters of recommendation, fitness test scores, and narratives written by the applicants describing their career aspirations and reasons for applying. Based on Phase One performance, approximately 8 to 10 applicants are invited to the next phase. Phase Two is a weeklong battery of evaluations, ranging from physical fitness and leadership to emotional intelligence and personality indicators. At the end of Phase Two, typically 2–4 applicants are selected to begin the year-plus Special Tactics training pipeline.



AFSOC operates the following aircraft as part of its regular inventory:[7]

Additionally, AFSOC units possess and operate a small number of the following aircraft for special training mission:


New MC-130J aircraft based on the Lockheed Martin KC-130J Super Hercules tanker variant will be acquired.[9]


See also


Further reading

External links

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