What about your flying squadrons?
We like to get our squadrons into mission sets, so we’ve got CV-22s that represent our primary special operations mobility assault force. They bring unique tilt-rotor capability to the fight that allows us with the speed of an aircraft to get in and off target, but also with the flexibility of a helicopter using tilt-rotor capability to land in traditional helicopter-size landing zones. We also have what I would call more traditional special operations mobility platforms represented by MC-130H Combat Talon IIs, and their roles are combat infiltration, exfiltration, air drop resupply, helicopter air refueling. We’ve also got the on-demand intelligence, surveillance, [and] reconnaissance (ISR) piece represented by U-28s that act as battlefield controllers to the ground force commander as well as managing large aircraft “stacks” overhead of our objectives. Finally, we’ve got precision strike that’s resident at our AC-130U gunship squadron that provides close air support, overwatch protection, and battlefield reconnaissance.
Do you have an organic remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) capability of your own?
Not within the 1st SOW. However, our installation hosts the 919th’s Reserve RPA unit, the 2nd SOS [Special Operations Squadron].
How would you describe the reception of the CV-22, and how is it working out overall for you?
I think the CV-22 has really matured quite well. I think where we’re at in that process is our supported user, or what some people would call our customers, have a better understanding of what the CV-22 tilt-rotor brings to the fight. I think there was a misperception that tilt-rotor capability was vying for mission sets that are currently being filled by the 160th. And what we’ve found is if you try to put a tilt-rotor on a traditional helicopter mission, it’s not a good apples-to-apples comparison. There are some things that they both do well, but there are some things absolutely that helicopters do better than tilt-rotors. And, there are some things that tilt-rotors do absolutely better than helicopters. What we found is it’s an analysis of the mission and the capability required, and once you pair the right asset to that mission, then that’s where you start to gain some real efficiencies on the battlefield.
What do you expect the benefits as a wing commander to be when you have an all C-130J force?
I think the reason we have begun a recapitalization for and within AFSOC is because our aircraft are old. We’ve got a detachment now of MC-130Ps that are in excess of 40 years old. So those aircraft needed to be recapitalized. And, when you start talking about the gunship capabilities that the AC-130J can bring on line, it’s a very good marriage of a Precision Strike Package that we see right now on the AC-130W, with capabilities that our legacy gunships bring with large caliber weapons. So, I’m very excited about bringing on board a bomb truck with guns that is able to both utilize a deep magazine with persistent fires alongside precision weapons.
Col. Matthew Wolfe Davidson – 24th SOW
(Hurlburt Field, Florida)
The 24th SOW is the newest and most unusual of AFSOC’s combat organizations. Created specifically to provide a wing-level home for AFSOC’s ST community and personnel, the 24th SOW is composed of AFSOC’s small but highly respected force of Combat Controllers and Pararescue Jumpers. Today, the 24th SOW is home to the most decorated collection of U.S. Air Force personnel since the end of the Vietnam War. The various Special Tactics Squadrons (STSs) of the 24th are among the most requested and tasked units in all of SOCOM.
Col. Matthew Wolfe Davidson has spent his entire Air Force career as a member of the ST community. Davidson is the second commander of the 24th SOW, and is hard at work standing up the various STSs that will represent the structure of his wing worldwide.
The Year in Special Operations: You’ve been a part of the ST community for almost two decades now. What lessons did you learn along the way that you are applying today as commander of the 24th SOW?
Col. Matthew Wolfe Davidson: I feel very honored that I was able to come in and stay in this community for the majority of my career. Having been able to spend that very significant amount of time at the squadron level, you gain a very close appreciation for the airmen that make this special – for the professionalism, the competence, the camaraderie, the commitment, and the sacrifice of the folks in the unit. As we move on and we gain different perspectives, it is sometimes easy to forget that. I think that very strong foundation has been very critical, and it drives all of my thinking every day. Because in the end, until you’ve had that opportunity to sit in these squadrons, see what these folks do and how hard they work, and what they and their families are willing to do for the nation over and over again, it’s very difficult to comprehend it. I would say that’s the basis of how I think. I really think about it from their level, the folks that fight and win wars for Special Tactics who are at the squadrons, and I use that as my grounding point for everything as I go forward.
The other thing that I think is of value is the way that Special Tactics is very operationally focused versus … I would say tactically focused. From very early on, our senior airmen and lieutenants are out there, employing air power, and they’re looking at it from a different perspective than our SOF and Air Force brothers in many cases. They’re putting joint [forces] “pieces” together from their very first days in [ST], learning how to employ air power, which brings them a much better understanding operationally and a more joint perspective. This has been reflected by leaders in the [SOF] community, like [former SOCOM commander] Adm. [William] McRaven, who have highlighted the success of ST because of this.
Some very fine people in other U.S. SOF communities, particularly the Army Special Forces, always want one or more of your people along whenever they send a team downrange. They look upon your ST guys like their American Express cards, don’t they?
I’ve been fortunate enough to live through that, [though] I will tell you that it hasn’t always been that way. Our SF brothers are the best our nation can provide as well, and we’re very honored to serve alongside with them. But, I’ll tell you that the nature of small special operations teams is a very tightly formed team. So to be able to take a [ST] individual and put him in from the outside is not something that’s natural to this way of organizing. That [barrier] was broken down by ST airmen, who showed up at [SOF] teams with a level of professional competence, courage, and commitment that would earn a reputation for the [ST] guys who would follow them. We value the reputation of our organization a little bit more because at the most tactical level we understand the challenge that an airman has walking into a Special Forces team room or a SEAL team room, and trying to fit in to a bunch of guys his first time there. He becomes acutely aware of the role of the reputation in achieving what he is looking for, which is his success in supporting that mission. So, we work very diligently to preserve that reputation for our folks. I think it’s an important part of our DNA from very early on.