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1st Special Operations Wing

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1st Special Operations Wing

1st Special Operations Wing
1st Special Operations Wing emblem
Active 1932–13, 1944–1948, 1962 – present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Role Special operations
Part of U.S. Special Operations Command
Air Force Special Operations Command
Garrison/HQ Hurlburt Field
Motto "Any Time, Any Place"
Engagements War in Southwest Asia
Afghanistan Campaign
Iraq Campaign
Decorations DUC
AFOUA w/ V Device
Col Bill West[1]
Charles R. Holland
Norton A. Schwartz
Marshall B. Webb
Several aircraft of the 6th Special Operations Squadron

The 1st Special Operations Wing (1 SOW) at Hurlburt Field, Florida is one of three United States Air Force active duty Special Operations wings and falls under the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

The 1st Special Operations Wing is a successor organization of the 16th Pursuit Group, one of the 15 original combat air groups formed by the Army before World War II.


  • Overview 1
  • Organization 2
    • Heraldry 2.1
  • History 3
    • 16th Pursuit Group 3.1
    • 1st Air Commando Group 3.2
    • Cold War 3.3
    • Modern era 3.4
    • Lineage 3.5
    • Assignments 3.6
    • Components 3.7
    • Stations 3.8
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The 1st SOW mission focus is unconventional warfare: counter-terrorism, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery, psychological operations, aviation assistance to developing nations, "deep battlefield" resupply, interdiction and close air support. The wing has units located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

The wing's core missions include aerospace surface interface, agile combat support, combat aviation advisory operations, information operations, personnel recovery/recovery operations, precision aerospace fires, psychological operations dissemination, specialized aerospace mobility and specialized aerial refueling.

The 1st SOW also serves as a pivotal component of AFSOC's ability to provide and conduct special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower to infiltration, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of special operations force operational elements. In addition, the 1st SOW brings distinctive intelligence capabilities to the fight, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance contributions, predictive analysis, and targeting expertise to joint special operations forces and combat search and rescue operations.

The wing's motto of "Keeping the Air Commando promise to provide reliable, precise Air Force special operations air power... Any Time, Any Place," has repeatedly shown to be true since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. MH-53 Pave Lows responded almost immediately to support relief efforts in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Since the Global War on Terrorism began in October 2001, 1st SOW aircraft have flown more than 25,000 combat sorties, amassing more than 75,000 combat hours. The wing has also deployed more than 8,500 personnel to 16 geographic locations around the world. The continued high operations tempo of the 1st SOW truly put the Air Commandos assigned here at the "tip of the spear."


The following units and aircraft are assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing:[2]


The unit's current emblem was approved on 6 June 1963.

The 16th Pursuit Group's emblem was approved in 1934. It has four lightning bolts—representing the four assigned squadrons—depicting destruction from the sky.


16th Pursuit Group

Emblem of the USAAF 16th Pursuit Group
Curtiss P-36A 38-33 16th Pursuit Group 1940 (16P33)

The beginnings of the 1st Special Operations Wing can be traced to the authorization by the Army Air Service of the 16th Pursuit Group on 24 March 1923 as part of the United States Army Panama Department at Albrook Field, Canal Zone. The unit, however, was not activated until 1 December 1932. The 16th Pursuit Group spent its entire existence in the defense of the Panama Canal. The Group was progressively redesignated, in keeping with the changes sweeping through the Army Air Corps, becoming first the 16th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) in 1939 and finally the 16th Fighter Group in 1942. It was disbanded in the Canal Zone on 1 November 1943.

Although subordinate squadrons assigned to the Group changed over the years the Group headquarters remained at Albrook Field throughout its existence. Squadrons assigned were:

As the U.S. prepared for World War II in 1940–1941, the 16th Pursuit Group, as of 1939 could count only 22 Curtiss P-36A Hawks on hand as of 1939, although these were the best fighter aircraft to be had at the time (in addition, Group Headquarters had two Northrop A-17's and two North American BC-1's). Additionally, as of February 1939 the Group was shown on Order of Battle documents with 10 Douglas B-18's, but these belonged to its 44th Reconnaissance and 74th Attack Squadrons, which were assigned to the Group at the time (the 44th Recon Squadron changed its status from "Assigned" to "Attached" on 1 February 1940, and finally being transferred entirely to the 9th Bomb Group 20 November, to whom it was it also attached).

In June 1941, relief for the P-36A's arrived in the form of 6 Curtiss P-40B's and 64 P-40C's, although, though these were split between the 16th and 32nd Pursuit Groups (the 16th got 32 P-40C's). These new aircraft arrived not a moment too soon, because as of April and May 1941 not fewer than 17 of the Groups P-36A's were either unserviceable or awaiting deposition due to either a lack of parts or as a result of the hard use they had endured during the intense training program then ongoing. With the arrival of the P-40's, morale improved dramatically, and the Group headquarters added a rare Sikorsky OA-8 to its roster for rescue and communications duties, and had lost one of its A-17's and one BC-1 by August, at which time all remaining P-36A's were transferred to the newly formed 32d Pursuit Group.

As of the outbreak of war in December 1941, the Group had 20 serviceable P-40C's (plus five others awaiting disposition and three unserviceable – two from the 24th Pursuit Squadron and one from the headquarters squadron (HHS), 41-13498) but 10 new P-40E's had arrived, although one of these was promptly crashed. One other P-40C didn't have a prop, and all elements of the Group were dispersed at Albrook Field.

By mid-January 1942, it was found expedient to send a detachment of the Headquarters to Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico to liaise with the VI Interceptor Command headquartered there, and detachments of six P-40C's were also quickly moved to Atkinson Field, British Guiana and Zandery Field, Dutch Guiana, to provide local air defense for the other elements stationed at those remote bases for Ferrying Command. Besides these, the Group had 23 P-40C's, eight P-40E's and 14 of its former P-36A's back at Albrook.

As of mid-February 1942, the Group elements still stationed at Albrook had the following aircraft on hand but only had 11 pilots between them of whom only seven had more than one year experience on pursuit aircraft (the numbers in parenthesis indicate the number of each type operational):

  • Curtiss P-40C = 19 (15)
  • Curtiss P-40E = 8 (6)
  • Curtiss P-36A = 9 (7)
  • North American BC-1 = 1 (1)

As the squadrons of the group moved through their various deployments from the start of the war on, the group headquarters became less and less important in day-to-day operations and, finally, on 17 January 1943, the Group Headquarters was moved from Albrook to La Joya Auxiliary Airdrome No. 2 to attempt to get the men assigned at Group back into the midst of "field" operations that were being endured by the subordinate squadrons.

In actuality, the Group was disbanded on 31 October 1943, at which time the HHS still had a solitary Curtiss P-36A assigned. The Command and Control responsibilities of the surviving former Squadrons of the Group then came under the umbrella of the XXVI Fighter Command.

1st Air Commando Group

Emblem of the USAAF 1st Air Commando Group
P-47 Thunderbolts of the 1st Air Commando Group, 10th Air Force, taking off. Republic P-47D-23-RA Thunderbolt 42-228152 in foreground.

The next unit in the linage of the 1 SOW is the 1st Air Commando Group, which inherited the history and lineage of the 16th Fighter Group.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, amidst the Quebec Conference in August 1943, was impressed by Brigadier Orde Wingate's account of what could be accomplished in Burma with proper air support.[3] To comply with Roosevelt's proposed air support for British long range penetration operations in Burma, the United States Army Air Forces created the 5318th Air Unit to support the Chindits. In March 1944, they were designated the 1st Air Commando Group by USAAF Commander General Hap Arnold. Arnold chose Colonel John R. Alison and Colonel Philip Cochran as co-commanders of the unit.[4]

Alison was a veteran flight instructor of P-40 aircraft, and gained renown as a pilot with Major David Lee "Tex" Hill's 75th Fighter Squadron, part of Col Robert Lee Scott, Jr.'s 23d Fighter Group, the USAAF successor of the AVG's famed Flying Tigers in the China-Burma-India Theater. General Claire Lee Chennault lobbied to Arnold, who knew Alison from service at Langley Field, suggesting Alison be given the new command. Cochran was a decorated P-40 veteran pilot from the North African Campaign noted for his unconventional aerial tactics.[5]

As a result, the 5318th Provisional Air Unit was formed in India in late 1943. As a miscellaneous unit, the group was comprised until September 1944 of operational sections (rather than units): bomber; fighter; light-plane (and helicopter); transport; glider; and light-cargo. The 1st Air Commando Group consisted of a squadron of 30 P-51 Mustangs led by Lt. Col. Grattan M. "Grant" Mahony, a squadron of 12 B-25H bombers led by Lt. Col. Robert T. Smith, 13 C-47 air transports led by Major William T. Cherry, Jr., 225 Waco CG-4A military gliders led by Captain William H. Taylor, Jr., and 100 L-1 and L-5 Sentinel liaison aircraft led by Major Andrew Rebori and Lt. Col. Clinton B. Gaty.[6] The group tested the United States' first use of a helicopter in combat, six Sikorsky R-4s led by Lt. Col. Clinton B. Gaty, in May 1944.[7]

A tragic accident occurred where 2 CG-4 gliders towed by one of the unit's Dakotas collided killing several American and British Chindits. The commander of the British unit, Lt. Col. D.C Herring restored confidence in the Americans who were worried whether the Chindits would trust them to fly them on operations by sending the Air Commandos a message that became the unit's motto; "Please be assured that that we will go with your boys any place any time anywhere"[8]

The unit was redesignated the 1st Air Commando Group on 25 March 1944. It provided fighter cover, bomb striking power, and air transport services for the Chindits (Wingate's Raiders), fighting behind enemy lines in Burma. Operations included airdrop and landing of troops, food, and equipment; evacuation of casualties; and attacks against enemy airfields and lines of communication. Converted from P-51 Mustang to P-47 Thunderbolt fighters and eliminated its B-25 Mitchell bomber section in May 1944.

In September 1944, after the original unit was consolidated with the headquarters component of the new establishment (also called 1st Air Commando Group), the sections were replaced by a troop carrier, two fighter, and three liaison squadrons. The group continued performing supply, evacuation, and liaison services for allied forces in Burma until the end of the war, including the movement of Chinese troops from Burma to China in December 1944. It also attacked bridges, railroads, airfields, barges, oil wells, and troop positions in Burma and escorted bombers to Burmese targets, including Rangoon. Switched back to P-51 Mustangs in May 1945. Left Burma in October and inactivated in New Jersey in November 1945.

Cold War

Emblem of the USAF 1st Air Commando Wing
4400th CCTS North American T-28A-NA Trojan Serial 51-3579 wearing South Vietnamese Air Force markings flies over Vietnam
Repainted U.S. Navy RH-53Ds in sand camouflage and without markings aboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68) used in 1980 as part of Operation Eagle Claw.

In April 1961 General Curtis Lemay directed HQ Tactical Air Command to organize and equip a unit to train USAF personnel in World War II–type aircraft and equipment; ready surplus World War II-era aircraft for transfer, as required, to friendly governments provide to foreign air force personnel in the operation and maintenance of these planes develop/improve: weapons, tactics, and techniques.

In response to Lemay's directive, on 14 April 1961 Tactical Air Command activated the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The provisional unit had a designated strength of 124 officers and 228 enlisted men. The 4400th CCTS consisted of World War II aircraft: 16 C-47 transports, eight B-26 bombers, and eight T-28 fighters. The declared mission of the unit would be to train indigenous air forces in counterinsurgency and conduct air operations. The 4400th CCTS acquired the logistics code name "Jungle Jim," a moniker that rapidly became the nickname of the unit.

As the military conditions in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate, United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara actively began to consider dispatching United States military forces to test the utility of counterinsurgency techniques in Southeast Asia. In response, Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay pointed out that the 4400th was operationally ready and could serve as an Air Force contingent for that force.

On 11 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy directed, in NSAM 104, that the Defense Secretary "introduce the Air Force 'Jungle Jim' Squadron into South Vietnam for the initial purpose of training Vietnamese forces." The 4400th was to proceed as a training mission and not for combat at the present time. "Jungle Jim" was a code name and nickname of the original 4400th CCTS and Air Commandos. Members wore an Australian-type green fatigue slouch hat in the style Johnny Weissmuller wore in the Jungle Jim films.[9]

The mission was to be covert. The commandos were to maintain a low profile in-country and avoid the press. The aircraft were painted with South Vietnamese Air Force insignia, and all pilots wore plain flight suits minus all insignia and name tags that could identify them as Americans. They also sanitized their wallets and did not carry Geneva Convention cards.

Elevated to group level as 4440th Combat Crew Training Group, 20 March 1962. The provisional TAC group was replaced by AFCON 1st Air Commando Wing in Apr 1962 and assumed air commando operations and training responsibility. Trained United States and South Vietnamese Air Force aircrews in the United States and South Vietnam in unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency, psychological warfare, and civic actions throughout the Vietnam War.

Between 11 January and 30 June 1974, the USAF Special Operations Force and 1st Special Operations Wing merged their operations, and on 1 July 1974, concurrent with its redesignation as the 834th Tactical Composite Wing, the wing assumed responsibility for operating the USAF Air Ground Operations School, which trained personnel in concepts, doctrine, tactics, and procedures of joint and combined operations until 1 February 1978, and the USAF Special Operations School, which trained selected American and allied personnel in special operations, until March 1983.

Elements of the wing participated in the attempt in April 1980 to rescue US hostages held in Tehran, Iran. Thereafter, continued to work closely with multi-service special operations forces to develop combat tactics for numerous types of aircraft and conduct combat crew training for USAF and foreign aircrews. Conducted numerous disaster relief; search and rescue; medical evacuation; and humanitarian support missions.

Supported drug interdiction efforts in a coordinated program involving multiple US and foreign agencies, 1983–1985. Conducted airdrop and airlift of troops and equipment; psychological operations, close air support, reconnaissance, search and rescue, and attacks against enemy airfields and lines of communications in support of the rescue of US nationals in Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury), October to November 1983, and the restoration of democracy in Panama (Operation Just Cause), December 1989 to January 1990.

Modern era

Beginning Aug 1990, deployed personnel and equipment to Saudi Arabia (Operation Desert Shield/Storm). These forces carried out combat search and rescue, unconventional warfare, and direct strike missions during the war, including suppression of Iraqi forces during the Battle of Khafji, January 1991.

Deployed personnel and equipment worldwide, performing combat search and rescue, and supporting contingencies, humanitarian relief, and exercises that included Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Kuwait, and Central America. Elements of the wing deployed to participate in Operation Provide Comfort in Iraq, 1991 to 1996 and Operation Deny Flight, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1993 to 1995.

It supported Operation Deliberate Force/Joint Endeavor, August to September 1995 and 14 to 20 December 1996, flying combat missions and attacking targets critical to Bosnian-Serb Army operations. Wing elements participated in operations Northern and Southern Watch in 1997 and again participated in combat operations in Desert Thunder, February to June 1998 and Desert Fox, 17 to 21 December 1998. It assumed an additional mission, supporting the Aerospace Expeditionary Forces in February 2000.

In 2001 and 2002 deployed elements to Afghanistan and Iraq and performed combat operations in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).


  • Authorized on the inactive list as 16th Pursuit Group on 24 March 1923
Activated on 1 December 1932
Re-designated: 16th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) on 6 December 1939
Re-designated: 16th Fighter Group on 15 May 1942
Disestablished on 1 November 1943
  • Reestablished and consolidated (1 October 1993) with the 1st Special Operations Wing
Constituted as: 5318th Provisional Air Unit late 1943
Re-designated: 1st Air Commando Group on 25 March 1944
Replaced the 1st Air Commando Group (a miscellaneous unit) that was constituted on 25 March 1944
Activated in India on 29 March 1944, and consolidated on 9 August 1944 with the headquarters unit of the new establishment
Inactivated on 3 November 1945
Disbanded on 8 October 1948
  • Established as: 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron, and activated by HQ TAC, 14 April 1961
Re-designated: 4400th Combat Crew Training Group, 20 March 1962
  • Provisional TAC 4400th CCTG inactivated and replaced by: 1st Air Commando Wing, which was established and activated on 1 June 1963
Re-designated: 1st Special Operations Wing on 8 July 1968
Re-designated: 834th Tactical Composite Wing on 1 July 1974
Re-designated: 1st Special Operations Wing on 1 July 1975
Re-designated: 16th Special Operations Wing on 1 October 1993
Re-designated: 1st Special Operations Wing on 16 November 2006


Original unit assigned to 9 August 1944, establishment assigned thereafter
Redesignated: Air Force Special Operations Command, 22 May 1990 to Present



  • 1st Special Operations (later, 16th Operations): 22 September 1992 to Present
  • 549th Tactical Air Support Training: 15 December 1975 to 1 January 1977
  • 930th Tactical Airlift (later, 930th Air Commando; 930th Special Operations): 1 June 1968 to 18 June 1969


Original unit: Asansol Airfield, India, 20 May 1944 to 6 October 1945 (original unit to 9 August 1944, establishment thereafter)
Detachment 1 deployed to Mali, West Africa (covername "Sandy Beach"), August 1961 (Dates undetermined)
Detachment 2 deployed to Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam (covername "Farm Gate"), November 1961 (Dates undetermined), placed under operational control of 2d Air Division. Detachment 2A would be the B-26 Invader unit; Detachment 2B would be the T-28 Trojan unit.

See also


  1. ^ Biographies : COL. WILLIAM P. WEST
  2. ^ Hurlburt Field – Fact Sheet (Printable) : 1ST SPECIAL OPERATIONS WING Archived March 9, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ p.176 Busch, Bryan Cooper Bunker Hill to Bastogne: Elite Forces and American Society 2006 Brasseys
  4. ^ "95 Year Old Air Commando Legend Shares History with Today's Special Operators". Archived from the original on 2013-11-04. 
  5. ^ "Remembering Colonel Philip G. Cochran". Archived from the original on 2012-02-14. 
  6. ^ Van Wagner, R.D. (1998), Any Place, Any Time, Any Where: The 1st Air Commandos in World War II, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military/Aviation History, p. 151,  
  7. ^ Sikorsky R-4 history Archived December 3, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ p.82 Y'Blood, William T. Air Commandos Against Japan: Allied Special Operations in World War II Burma Naval Institute Press, 2008
  9. ^ "Armed Forces: Operation Jungle Jim". Time. 29 June 1962. Archived from the original on 2013-08-23. Retrieved 21 April 2010. 

External links

  • Hurlburt Field (official site)
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Heritage Site
  • Historian revisits wing's past, 1st Special Operations Wing Office of History
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