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Taking care of wingmen - It's a family affair

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Phil Locklear
  • Former 1st SOSS commander
What does family mean to you? Over the past five years, I've had the opportunity to witness some incredible exploits by our 1st Special Operations Wing personnel; our family. The intent of this editorial is to reveal and tell the story of how our wingmen performed in a specific combat scenario, hopefully highlighting what makes being in the Air Commando family special. Of note, there's nothing better than sitting around and reminiscing with your family about events and stories from the past.

Sometime ago, I was deployed to a location that is considered sacred ground by special operation force aviators; a place that has defined the history of Air Force Special Operations Command aviation's past and future. An incredible number of Hurlburt Field assets were bedded-down on this airfield with elements from our sister organizations.

The airfield was an impressive sight to behold with fifty-plus diverse special operations airframes and little remaining parking ramp. Aircraft parking was tight, to include temporary parking locations in the dirt off the main taxiways and enough ramp space in the main hangar area for two transient C-5s and C-17s. During the days and nights that preceeded the kick-off of the Global War on Terrorism, wingmen from the 1st SOW family internalized what had happened to America - it was personal, and it would show in the coming days with their actions.

Deployed maintainers from the Navy, Army, Air Force and especially the 1st SOW, integrated together on the line - sharing tools, efforts, sweat; building a team, a family. Ground troops and aviators met with intent, planning throughout the daily 24 hours in order to seek the satisfaction of revenging what had occurred to our nation on Sept. 11, 2001. There was no doubting the resolution of this military family, or the 1st SOW's integral contributions.

With a duty-first attitude, this team came together and built intricate sand models with the smallest details, followed by relentless rock-drills which left no branch or sequel plan deficient. The 1st SOW wingmen crowded shoulder to shoulder with our joint warriors in order to define and refine a plan that would strike deep into the terrorist sanctuaries.

This was a time of apprehension, the unknown, and it could be seen on the faces and heard in the dialogue of our wingmen with questions like, "What's the threat?" "Can we communicate?" "Are we deconflicted?" We all internalized the ultimate question - are we ready? However, the over-arching fortitude, purpose and drive to deal a lethal blow against our enemy helped alleviate the concerns that arose. This family had a mission, and we were ready.

As the time for execution approached, the 1st SOW personnel carefully prepared all resources; intelligence, survival/evasion, life support, special tactics, maintainers and aviators painstakingly refined the details within their individual areas, each dependent on the other with the overall purpose of developing and executing one of the most complex combat plans our SOF operators had ever attempted. In the end our family was prepared, ready and motivated for our first combat operation in support of the GWOT.

At approximately 3 p.m. on the day of initial combat operations, the airfield awoke as our wingmen "strapped-in." The normal minor maintenance issues occurred as engines roared - ultimately every aircraft launched 100 percent.

If you've never witnessed 50 plus aircraft depart an airfield within one hour - that'll get your blood pumping, it's an extreme motivator. I stepped outside the operations center with numerous other wingmen and watched in awe as aircraft after aircraft departed to the northeast with the sun setting at their backs, leaving behind a cloud of burnt jet propellant.

Within the next 10 hours, the 1st SOW family delivered America's enemies a clear, unmistakable message both physically and psychologically. That message was; we'll strike those that harm America whenever and wherever we choose. A message was also sent to our country via the national news services. The sight of American forces flying, parachuting and engaging terrorists on their soil evoked a deep pride in our countrymen. Let it be known that the 1st SOW wingmen were ready to defend the nation.

Overall, there were more than 100 Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force aircraft supporting the initial combat operations that night. The 1st SOW provided the preponderance of those assets with the ability to launch, deconflict and plan this complex, successful combat operation.

So, why is it so important to take best care of our wingmen, families and resources? When our nation calls, the 1st SOW must be ready to prosecute the mission. The past successes will be expected in the future, and there's no doubt that with the drive and resolve of 1st SOW resources, wingmen and family - we'll be ready.

Editor's note: Colonel Locklear relinquished command of the 1st SOSS March 23.