Story by Senior Airman Vernon Walter, 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 551st Special Operations Squadron took an AC-130W aircraft for one last flight here, April 29, 2021.
The flight commemorated the drawdown of the 551 SOS. The squadron will be officially made inactive June 15, 2021, but the flight marked the end of mission qualification training at the 551 SOS.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” said Lt. Col. Kris Aikens, 551 SOS commander. “I was here in 2009 when the unit stood up from a detachment to a squadron. I have seen almost 12 years of training gunships at the 551st, and now I get to see it end. Over a decade of training ends with that flight.”
The squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 492nd Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, has been at Cannon since July 24, 2009, after its reactivation. The 551 SOS has a long legacy of training AFSOC personnel, having previously trained MH-53 aircrews at Kirtland Air Force Base. Since being activated at Cannon, it has provided aircrew training on the AC-130W aircraft and a wide array of other aircraft to ensure Cannon can carry out its specialized mission.
“The AC-130W is going to be retiring in the next couple years, so our mission to train new AC-130W crew members is done,” Aikens said. “Now, our personnel will be focused on refresher and continuation training for the wing’s operational units.”
While the 551 SOS is coming to a close, there are still units to train.
“Our mission isn’t going away,” Aikens said. “The Operational Support Squadron will just pick up where we left off. We were deeply involved with operational training at Cannon, and I’m proud of what the squadron accomplished here.”
As the aircraft touched down, it signified the end of the qualification training for the 551 SOS, and the sunset of the squadron began.
“From the beginning, I saw a large focus on quality,” Aikens said. “We wanted to make sure that the individuals that came here left even better. As we look to inactivate the squadron, and reflect on our years of training here at Cannon, I hope that every individual that came through the 551 feels that we met that goal.”