Our Air Force Special Operations Forces: From ‘Operation Rice Bowl’ to ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’
Do you remember Operation Enduring Freedom? How about Operation Desert Storm?
Of course we all know the first military “operation” above. It is the still ongoing and longest military conflict the United States has ever been involved in: The Afghanistan War. The second one is clearly the “code name” given to the offensive phase of the so-called First Gulf War (17 January 1991 – 28 February 1991).
We all remember Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But how about Operation Odyssey Dawn?
Although a beautiful, exotic name, some may have already forgotten that this was the U.S. code name for the recent (19-31 March 2011) US participation in the international military operation in Libya to oust Gadhafi.
It is interesting to note here that Operation Odyssey Dawn continued after those dates under NATO command as Operation Unified Protector and that the British used the name ELLAMY while the French and Canadians used the names Operation Harmattan and MOBILE, respectively.
And how about Operation Blue Spoon?
Well, that is not really a fair question because at the last minute the code name for one of the shortest, most complex and most successful U.S. military operations — the invasion of Panama in December 1989 — was changed from Operation Blue Spoon to Operation Just Cause.
How this happened is part of the extremely interesting story of how the U.S. (and other countries) have historically come up with code names for their military operations and how and why even this facet of warfare has changed drastically in recent years.
We’ll save that story for another time.
This perhaps lengthy introduction is meant to share with you a set of photographs released by the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command that graphically show how our Air Force Special Operations Forces (SOF) have participated in so many of these “Operations,” in combat, combat support, rescue and in humanitarian and other roles.
Operation Rice Bowl. After thousands of Iranian militant students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, 66 Americans were seized and held hostage. The attempt to rescue them ended in disaster at the Desert One refueling site in April 1980. As a result, the Holloway Commission convened to analyze why the mission failed and recommend corrective actions. This led to the gradual reorganization and the birth of United States Special Operations Forces.
A group of U.S. Army Rangers gather their gear at Point Salines airfield during Operation Urgent Fury. In October 1983, 23rd Air Force participated in the seven-day operation that led to the successful rescue of Americans from Grenada. A 1st Special Operations Wing Combat Talon crew earned the Mackay Trophy and a Spectre crew earned the Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Award for their efforts.
Manuel Noriega, Panamanian leader, general and dictator, is taken on board an MC-130 Combat Talon during Operation Just Cause in December 1989. He was flown to the United States to stand trial. During Just Cause, special tactics combat controllers and pararescuemen integrated into combat units. The MC-130 pictured is presently displayed in the Hurlburt Field Air Park.
Following the Gulf War, coalition forces provided humanitarian aid to Kurds on the Iraqi/Turkish border in 1991 during Operation Provide Comfort. In addition, Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft stood alert for personnel recovery and various other missions in support of Operation Southern Watch. During July 1992, AFSOC units began participation in Operations Provide Promise and Deny Flight, the humanitarian relief effort and no fly zone security in the Balkans.
During Operation Assured Response, Special Operations Forces successfully evacuated more than 2,000 people out of the United States Embassy in Liberia, Africa in 1996. Operating in a hostile fire environment, SOF personnel conducted dozens of rotary wing evacuation flights using MH-53Js and overhead fire support sorties in AC-130H Spectres, often vectoring friendly aircraft through small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire.
Two refugee children watch as relief supplies are unloaded from U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters at Camp Hope near Fier, Albania, on May 13, 1999, during Operation Sustain Hope. Sustain Hope brought in food, water, medicine, relief supplies, and established camps for refugees fleeing from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. The Sea Dragons airlifted supplies from the USS Inchon (MCS 12) which was operating in the Adriatic Sea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michelle Leonard)
An MC-130 participates in Mozambique flood relief effort in March 2000 during Operation Atlas Response. Relief operations focused on providing food, water and medical supplies to more than 650,000 people in Africa. Joint Task Force personnel mapped “hot spots” where people were at risk. They also used infrared cameras to identify road and rail breaks that could be repaired quickly to expedite aid delivery instead of relying almost solely on airlift.
Hurricane Katrina. Although not “code-named,” AFSOC personnel participated in the rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Tech. Sgt. Lem Torres, 38th Rescue Squadron pararecueman, and a young boy are lifted to safety from the roof of the child’s flooded home after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
Air Force Special Operations Command combat controllers give a C-130 Hercules take off clearance and provide air traffic control during a mission to establish and assess an airfield at a forward deployed location in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. By the end of September 2001, AFSOC deployed forces to southwest Asia to help confront and remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, along with the Taliban-supported al Qaida terrorist organization headed by Osama Bin Laden. AFSOC air power delivered special tactics forces to the battle ground and they in turn focused U.S. air power and allowed Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance ground forces to dispatch the Taliban and al Qaida from Afghanistan. In addition to its support in Afghanistan, AFSOC personnel also deployed to the Philippines to help aid that country’s efforts against terrorism. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lock)
Tech. Sgt. Corey Fossbender, 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron aerial gunner, checks his mini gun prior to the last combat mission of the MH-53 Pave Low helicopter Sept. 27, 2008 during Operation Iraqi Freedom . The operation began in March 2003, when AFSOC deployed forces to Southwest Asia to remove Saddam Hussein from power and liberate the Iraqi people. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)
A U.S. Air Force combat controller contacts the special tactics operation center by radio while conducting a drop zone survey in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 24, 2010, during Operation Unified Response. After Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, combat controllers opened and controlled the International Airport at Port-au-Prince. Pararescuemen conducted search and rescue missions and recovered victims trapped in collapsed buildings and debris. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock)
Senior Airman Steven Nizbet, 320th Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman, looks for trapped survivors March 16, 2011, at Sendai Airport, Japan during Operation Tomodachi. After an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Japan on March 11, it triggered a tsunami. The disasters killed an estimated 16,000 people and destroyed coastal villages, towns and cities in the Tohoku region. Within hours of the devastation, combat controllers opened the airport to ensure personnel and cargo could enter the country. At the peak of the operation, the Defense Department had 24,000 personnel, 190 aircraft, and 24 Navy ships supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse)
Photos and captions: Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)
Article has been edited to clarify certain captions and to select more pertinent images