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6th Special Operations Squadron

The 6th Special Operations Squadron

Enter the 6th SOS with its combat aviation advisors (CAA) dedicated to “assess, train, advise, and assist foreign aviation forces in airpower employment, sustainment, and force integration.” To execute this mission statement, the CAA “operate with, by and through indigenous/foreign forces to bring foreign airpower into play.” While such short phrases may appear straightforward, they in fact mask the extremely complex and politically sensitive arena encompassing the advisors as they labor to perform discreetly in three key functional areas: employment, sustainment, and force integration.

Each of these areas offers the American advisor a minefield rich with cultural, political, and legal challenges all too ready to explode in his face with the simplest of missteps. And often the most difficult step is the last: Even when success is realized at the host-nation level, how can this success be integrated into the overall U.S. strategy for the Global War on Terrorism? Fortunately, precedent can be found.


We Have Been Here Before

Contemporary FID-Aviation missions trace their roots directly back to the Air Commando heritage established during the 1960s in Southeast Asia. It was in fact March 1964 when then-Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara approved the deployment of a Special Air Warfare Center detachment from Hurlburt Field to Thailand.

Weeks later, Detachment 6, 1st Air Command Wing, hung its “Open for Business” sign out in the hot Thai sun. It was dubbed “Operation Water Pump,” and the training of Thai pilots to fly propeller-driven AT-28 fighter-bombers proceeded quickly. But it was whom the Air Commandos next trained in nearby Laos that bordered on the astonishing.

“How do you teach … an illiterate Hmong … the theory of flight? You don’t! You tell him, ‘When you push the stick this way, Buddha makes that wing go down, and that turns the aircraft.’”

The rugged Hmong mountain tribesmen in Laos were already proving themselves America’s most reliable ground ally in that “secret war” when, during a tour of the United States, their leader Gen. Vang Pao made a most-unexpected request to his American hosts: Train some of his tribesmen to fly fighter-bombers. No small request considering that few Hmong were literate and fewer still had even driven an automobile!

In his official Air Force memoirs, Air Commando Brig. Gen. Harry “Heinie” Aderholt, originator of the Water Pump concept, describes the challenge:

“How do you teach … an illiterate Hmong … the theory of flight? You don’t! You tell him, ‘When you push the stick this way, Buddha makes that wing go down, and that turns the aircraft.’”

Incredibly, 19 Hmong graduated from Water Pump to fly the AT-28, and the best of them, Lee Lue, became one of the most well-known strike pilots in Indochina.

6th SOS Twin Huey

Famed for its rugged simplicity and resultant ease of maintenance,the UH-1 helicopter series is an ideal rotary-wing platform for emerging countries with limited ressources. The 6th SOS air crewmen qualified in the UH-1 are also trained to fly the Mi-17. Photo by Col. Michael E. Haas, USAF-Ret.

Elsewhere around the globe, the Air Commandos were pushing their advisory role with equal vigor. In deployments ranging from six to 12 weeks in duration, their training missions included Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, El Salvador, Chile, Portugal, Ethiopia, the Congo, and Saudi Arabia. In 1963, the United States responded to a call for help from Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi by sending a joint Air Commando/Green Beret FID team to train Iran’s counterinsurgency forces that were then engaging rebellious Kurdish forces in northwestern Persia.

With the FID-Aviation-cum-CAA concept thus set in motion, the staff planning began that led ultimately to the aforementioned establishment of the 6th SOS – at Hurlburt Field naturally. And as with their Air Commando predecessors, today’s combat aviation advisors also have passports filled with some exotic names: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Yemen, Korea, and Qatar. And of particular note, add the Philippines.

Following September 11, the United States transferred a number of UH-1H transport helicopters to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines. The PAF certainly needed the aircraft to bolster its counterinsurgency campaign against Abu Sayyaf Islamic extremists, but it also needed assistance in tactically employing the aircraft. In response, the 6th SOS sent multiple deployments in support of Joint-Special Operations Task Force 510, the U.S. military contingent assisting and advising their counterinsurgency effort.

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