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3rd SOS "Dragons" breathe fire for many years

  • Published
  • Courtesy 3rd SOS
Located at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the 3rd Special Operations Squadron, 1st Special Operations Wing, is the first Unmanned Aerial System squadron in Air Force Special Operations Command. 

The 3rd SOS traces its heritage back to World War I when it was activated as Photographic Section I on April 4, 1918. Over the years, as the squadron was activated, deactivated, and reorganized, its members flew a variety of aircraft, including the P-39, RB-47E, and AC-47 gunships. 

On October 28, 2005, AFSOC reactivated the 3rd SOS to fly the MQ-1 Predator aircraft in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Even before the official "stand-up" date, a handful of crews from the 3rd SOS had flown more than 1,000 hours - all combat, with no support staffing, and flying borrowed aircraft. The 3rd SOS seamlessly stood up while flying continuous 24/7 combat operations. 

"Dragon" crews come to the 3rd SOS from MH-53s, MH-60s, MC-130s, AC-130s, "slick" C-130s, B-52s, F-15s, F-16s, B-1s, the V-22 and the list goes on with intelligence, weather, maintenance, and various other specialties filling out the ranks. The experience gained from these diverse platforms and a singular mission focus allows the Dragons to offer an unprecedented level of support to special operations forces teams on the ground. 

Since its reactivation, the 3rd SOS has become one of the most requested air asset in both the Afghan and Iraqi theaters. 

The unit has been involved in more than 300 operations and provided persistent intelligence coverage for more than 400 objectives, resulting in over 1,100 enemies detained or killed in action, 63 of which were high value individuals. In 2006, with an average of only 14 line crews and two borrowed aircraft, the 3rd SOS flew as many combat hours as the rest of AFSOC, combined. 

Dragon crews contributed directly to the successful engagement of numerous high value targets in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom during this time-frame. 

At 3:15 p.m. on May 31, the 3rd SOS nearly doubled in size and tripled its wartime tasking by absorbing Air Combat Command aircraft, equipment, and personnel into AFSOC. This major acquisition provides sufficient resources to support six MQ-1 Predator combat air patrols - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. 

While unusual, this event isn't unprecedented. During the Vietnam War, the 3rd Air Commando Squadron (later 3rd SOS) absorbed the assets of the 14th Air Commando Squadron in May 1968, as that version of the 3rd SOS stood up to employ the AC-47 gunship. It was during this period of the Dragons' history that Airman 1st Class John Levitow, of the 3rd SOS, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Airman Levitow flew on "Puff the Magic Dragon" gunship, giving the squadron its nickname of the Dragons. 

Later on May 31, Lt. Col. Gary "Chainsaw" McCollum, the unit's first commander, relinquished command to Lt. Col. Paul Caltagirone. 

With the transition complete, SOF operators engaged in the GWOT receive Air Commando Predator support "Any time, Any place."