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SOFEX students practice mission planning, execution

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Lauren Johnson
  • 1st SOW Public Affairs
Approximately 300 miles north of Hurlburt Field nestled in a valley of the Appalachian foothills lies a fictional place called "Alabamaland." 

It was there the 14th Special Operations Weapons Squadron conducted their annual Special Operations Forces Exercise May 10-17. 

The SOFEX is geared toward four weapons undergraduate students who are responsible for planning the missions as part of their "final exam." 

The goal is to allow students to "plan and lead a large scale SOF mission and understand the capabilities and limitations of each asset and ground force," said Capt. Nathan Colunga, 14th WPS weapons undergraduate student. The exercise was a coordinated effort between many squadrons and incorporated EC-130H, AC-130U, MC-130P, MH-53, CV-22 and MQ-1 aircraft. 

The Army Special Forces Soldiers also lent their expertise. In the dim moonlight, geared up in body armor, donning helmets and night vision goggles, the differences in uniforms were blurred. 

"The nature of the Global War on Terrorism is so joint," said Capt Adam Moore, 14th WPS director of operations. "It's always good to practice how we fight." 

Captain Colunga said he enjoyed working with the different players one-on-one.
"Learning their capabilities and limitations first hand versus in a class was invaluable information," he said. 

During execution, one of the students is given the responsibility of air mission commander, controlling all the air assets. 

First, joint forces seized an airfield at Anniston, Ala., in the vicinity of the fictional "Alabamaland." During the mission, two people were captured, so the second mission involved recovering the two prisoners from a hospital. The final mission was a direct action to seize high value individuals involved in terrorist activities. 

During each mission, one of the students serves as air mission commander.
"A lot of effort goes into it," said Lt. Col. John Murphy, 14th WPS commander. "It helps us see what worked, what didn't work so well and why." 

As with all exercises, the goal is to fine tune techniques and procedures and fix the things that don't work before participants experience similar circumstances in a real world situation. 

However, SOFEX is unique in its size and scope. 

"I've participated in missions similar in scale in Korea and in the Pacific, but this is the first time I have ever been given direct responsibility in the planning and execution of a package this large," Captain Colunga said. "I expect that it will be a long time before I get this opportunity again once we graduate."