33rd SOS celebrates 100-year anniversary

Col. Stewart Hammons, 27th Special Operations Wing commander, looks at a painting depicting the aircraft the squadron has flown during its 100-year history during the 33rd Special Operations Squadron 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, June 9, 2017. The painting was done by Rodney Bohner, father of Lt. Col. Ryan Bohner, 33rd SOS commander. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

Col. Stewart Hammons, 27th Special Operations Wing commander, looks at a painting depicting the aircraft the squadron has flown during its 100-year history during the 33rd Special Operations Squadron 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, June 9, 2017. The painting was done by Rodney Bohner, father of Lt. Col. Ryan Bohner, 33rd SOS commander. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

Campaign streamers line the walls on display in the auditorium room of the 33rd Special Operations Squadron during the 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, June 9, 2017. The squadron has roots dating back to 1917 during World War I and since then has had a presence in nearly every major U.S. conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

Campaign streamers line the walls on display in the auditorium room of the 33rd Special Operations Squadron during the 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, June 9, 2017. The squadron has roots dating back to 1917 during World War I and since then has had a presence in nearly every major U.S. conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

A painting containing all the aircraft the squadron has flown during its history is revealed during the 33rd Special Operations Squadron 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, June 9, 2017. The squadron has roots dating back to 1917 during World War I and since then has had a presence in nearly every major U.S. conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

A painting containing all the aircraft the squadron has flown during its history is revealed during the 33rd Special Operations Squadron 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, June 9, 2017. The squadron has roots dating back to 1917 during World War I and since then has had a presence in nearly every major U.S. conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

A painting depicting the aircraft used during the 33rd Special Operations Squadron’s 100-year history is revealed during the 33rd SOS 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, June 9, 2017. The painting was done by Rodney Bohner, father of Lt. Col. Ryan Bohner, 33rd SOS commander. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

A painting depicting the aircraft used during the 33rd Special Operations Squadron’s 100-year history is revealed during the 33rd SOS 100-year ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, June 9, 2017. The painting was done by Rodney Bohner, father of Lt. Col. Ryan Bohner, 33rd SOS commander. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Washburn/Released)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- A long military ancestry emanates from the command section hallway of the 33rd Special Operations Squadron. Oil paintings of past aircraft adorn the walls along with pictures and stories of the aircraft themselves. The lineage of the squadron is vast, dating back to 1917 during World War I. Since then, the squadron has played a part in nearly every major conflict in U.S. history.

On June 12, 2017, the squadron celebrated that history as they reached their 100-year anniversary.

“Coming up on our 100-year hallmark has re-envigored and renewed our sense of purpose,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Bohner, 33rd Special Operations Squadron commander. “We can reflect on what this squadron has really done and I’m very proud to think about all the firsts the squadron has been a part of and the notable Airmen involved.”

Those firsts Bohner mentioned are numerous. Among other accolades, the 33rd was the primary American flight and technical school during World War I. They are the oldest squadron in Air Force Special Operations Command, the first squadron overseas to the European Theater during World War II and the first Air Force F-16 kill.

The distinguished Airmen from the 33rd are equally as numerous as the accomplishments the squadron has achieved.

In Issoudun, a commune in France, members of the 33rd trained Quentin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s son, as a pursuit pilot during WWI. Frank Luke and Eddie Rickenbacker were trained there as well. Luke, known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster”, destroyed 14 heavily-protected observation balloons and four aircraft in a 17-day period. Rickenbacker, known as “America’s Ace of Aces”, had the most aerial victories over the Germans during World War I with a staggering 26. Rickenbacker was also the first Airman to receive the Medal of Honor.
After World War I, the Air Force’s and 33rd’s history with “Air Commando” heritage really began.

“The 33rd’s ties to Air Commando heritage goes back to one of the two founding fathers of Air Commandos, Col. Philip Cochran, who went from an Air Cadet to Captain in the 33rd before WWII,” said Steven Frank, 27th Special Operations Wing Historian. “That’s where he cut his teeth, where he learned to fly and where he learned his leadership. He was the foundation of Air Commandos and our lineage to AFSOC.”

During WWII, Cochran developed many tactical air combat, air assault and air transport techniques. At the time, he was the co-commander of the 1st Air Commando Group. Cochran had a reputation of “getting the job done” and had little respect for those who hindered him, no matter what rank they were.

Often in the military, the phrase “adapt and overcome” is said. The 33rd, like many other squadrons with a lengthy lineage, has adapted to the conflict of the time or the needs of the Army Air Service and Air Force.

They began as the 33rd Aero Squadron, then redesignated to the 33rd Pursuit Squadron, Pursuit Squadron (Fighter), Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor), Fighter Squadron, Fighter Squadron single engine, Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Fighter-Day Squadron, Tactical Reconnaissance Training Squadron, Tactical Fighter Squadron, Fighter Squadron and finally the 33rd Special Operations Squadron that they are today.

Since 2009, the 33rd has been operating the MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft. This has propelled them to win Air Force Special Operations Command’s Special Operations Squadron of the Year in 2012, despite having the lowest manning for a Remotely Piloted Aircraft squadron in the Department of Defense.

They’re still living up to that level of excellence today.

“The 33rd is leading the fight not only for the Air Force, but for the entire armed service, regarding getting after the current conflict,” Bohner remarked. “There’s no other squadron in AFSOC or really the Air Force that’s taking it to the enemy like we are daily. In the operations center, our men and women are working 24/7, rain or shine, holiday or not, going after the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world.”

Bohner says that the 33rd SOS supports combatant commander requirements across the globe, in three or four areas of responsibility depending on the day they fly. Primarily, they support special forces on the ground across the globe.

During the ceremony that marked the squadron’s historic century-long career, stories were shared that cemented the facts about what an influence it’s made on the Army Air Service, the Air Force and the DoD. With the squadron fully planted with the Reaper, its impact will be felt by our enemies for decades to come.

“The squadron is the tip of the spear,” Bohner said. “Wherever the next fight is or wherever the next threat originates, our squadron will be the first and front-most in taking care of business. Whether that’s a new weapon, a new sensor or a new aircraft, the 33rd will be leading the charge.”