CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, NM. --
“Alright, just push the button and send it all the way.” “...all the way?” “All the way.”
I did as instructed, and razed a field of unsuspecting steel targets with hundreds of bullets from an M134 minigun. As the smoke cleared and my adrenaline settled, I heard a man say “Best job you ever had, eh Storer?”
Indeed it was. At least, best volunteer job. Over the course of a few weeks, I was embedded with Special Operations Forces members, acting as a Host Nation Partner Force. They had requested a large number of Airmen as volunteers in a training exercise designed to refresh and ensure SOF mission readiness. I was fortunate enough to also be selected as part of a 5-man team of Airmen who worked hand in hand with some of the SOF members. We were taught multiple facets of combat by some of the best in the world, and put our newfound knowledge to the test during a nighttime full mission profile.
With limited introductions the first day, myself and four other Airmen rode out to Melrose Air Force Range to start training. After arriving at a machine gun range, we all watched with excitement as the SOF guys set up multiple weapons systems and explained how they are operated. A few quick lessons later and they let us line up and fire the M240 “machine gun” and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Soon after, we could hear the violent “whirring” of a vehicle mounted minigun. A SOF member saw our eyes widen and joked, “yea, nobody stays around once they hear that thing.”
The next day we were able to see the SOF members in more of an active environment, as they practiced emergency mobility training. The HNPF was told we would participate, but were not hooked up to any sort of communications. Being left in the audible darkness was actually enjoyable however, as it allowed us to witness the efficiency with which SOF members operate. Seeing the operators fly around with urgency, protecting each other while engaging the “enemy”, was like watching a symphony come to life. The harmony of all different assets and individuals working together, set to a backdrop of rolling hills and a setting sun lighting the sky ablaze with pinks and oranges. The silhouettes moving like wraiths as their shadows towered over the plains felt like a scene from the greatest war movie ever directed.
This was real life however, and a chilling reminder as to why the United States Special Operations Forces is the greatest in the world.
As the moon rose into a starry night sky, we travelled to a different live fire range, this one for aircraft. The SOF members were training to call in airstrikes during nighttime operations. I sat inside a building with Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hinton, our group’s Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge. We both sat in awe as the landscape around us was illuminated by starbursts of death, followed by a rhythmic concussion rattling the building. Once again, after a particularly daunting display of Air Force firepower, Hinton looked over with a grin and said, “Best job I ever had.”
Over the next couple of days, we were involved in additional combat arms training, combat medical training, and close quarters battle training, culminating in a nighttime FMP at MAFR. With a disappointing lack of night vision equipment, but armed with paintball-esque simulated munitions and less than two full weeks of practice, we performed squad combat maneuvers while taking enemy fire for roughly two hours. Although running off of limited practice, I felt we were very well prepared for the ensuing combat. Our team eliminated an Opposing Force within seconds of receiving contact, did not lose a single soldier, and provided security for all other teams while maneuvering through the darkness. Moving from building to building, it again felt like a scene from a war movie with our covert operations backed by a soundtrack of shouts, gunfire and explosions. The cold night air did nothing to quench the fire pumping through my veins as our team received direct enemy contact and aided in the retrieval of a fellow downed American. Although it was just an exercise, the feeling of raw exhilaration that emanated from the entire group was infectious as we carried a wounded teammate back to safety on the trucks via a litter, proving no man will ever be left behind. We received more enemy fire en route back to “base”, but suffered no more casualties, ending the mission, and my time with the SOF members, in success.
Despite the disappointment of my time with special forces coming to an end, a solid handshake from a few real American heroes, accompanied by “Great job, Storer. We appreciate it”, reminded me that this was, indeed, the best job I ever had.
Well, best volunteer job at least.