Defense Media Network

The AFSOC Wing Commanders Speak

In addition, there is the MC-130J. Although it looks just like an earlier-model C-130, it is not the same C-130 that I grew up flying. It’s got a lot of power and a lot of new modern avionics similar to what’s in the CV-22. I really enjoy the airplane. It can go farther, faster, higher and at a significantly more reliable rate than our previous C-130-based platforms. And I look forward to seeing some of the new platforms, like the AC-130J, roll out, because I think the J model C-130 brings a host of capabilities that are very welcome when compared to the older, heavier gunships or C-130s.

How do you feel about your Special Tactics Squadron and what kinds of things are they doing day-to-day that are exciting over there?

Well, I love the 321st STS here. I had Special Tactics personnel that worked for me when I was deployed in theater for a year, and I say in theater, in CENTCOM for a year. I’ve grown to have a lot of trust in them. I care a lot for that community. They do some very exciting training, just like our other aircraft. We do some training out in the mountains out in Wales. They’re not like the Rocky Mountains, but they do offer a lot of training capability up in Scotland. We do a lot of mountain training up there. In addition, the Brits actually have a pretty good capability to provide things like wind tunnels, some pool training where you have the big wave pools. That’s really good training for them. They also do some high angle training, and then we go out and we do a lot of over-water and in the water, in the ocean training in the North Sea, which is an extremely cold environment. So our guys get some really, really good training out there.


Lt. Col. John S. Trube – 353rd SOG

(Kadena AB, Japan)

The smallest and most distantly based AFSOC combat unit is the 353rd SOG based at Kadena AB on Okinawa, Japan. Part of the biggest collection of U.S. airpower in the Far East, the 353rd is literally on the front lines of several international tension spots including Korea and China. But the Pacific Theater has its own unique challenges for air operations, including vast distances, extreme weather variations, multiple yearly disaster scenarios (earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, tsunamis, etc.), and a complex interaction of military/political dynamics. It is, to say the very least, an interesting place to conduct special warfare aerial operations.


The MC-130P Combat Shadow team responsible for plane 0225 performs the final checks before takeoff on Kadena AirBase, Japan, April 15, 2015. The 17th Special Operations Squadron sent off the final two MC-130P Combat Shadows in the Pacific Air Forces to retire to the aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen G. Eigel

At the time of this interview, the 353rd SOG was being headed by acting commanding officer by Lt. Col. John S. Trube, another high-time AFSOC MC-130 Talon/Combat Shadow pilot, and the group’s deputy commanding officer. The 353rd SOG is now led by Col. William C. Freeman.


The Year in Special Operations: What were your initial impressions of Kadena as a base, and the Far East theater? That is a big ocean and operating area out there!

Lt. Col. John S. Trube: Well, this is actually my second time out in the Pacific, and you hit the nail on the head perfectly. The tyranny of distance is really a good way to describe some of the challenges that we face out here in the Pacific. So, you’ve got Kadena Air Base, which is a huge facility, and it’s in a very good position for us to execute our mission requirements both for Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) and Special Operations Command – Korea (SOC–K). In terms of some of the opportunities that the Pacific presents, you’ve got a huge map. But what you’re looking at out in the Pacific is a huge diversity of training opportunities, and a large number of joint and multinational partners that we work with. Really that speaks to the capabilities of the Air Commandos in the Pacific, that we’re able to interface with so many host national and joint partners to successfully execute the mission. It’s a very big area and really it presents a challenge as to how you effectively present and employ SOF airpower in an area that large, and you make every flying hour count.

How is it having to share ranges, airspace, and such – at least in and around Kadena and Okinawa – with virtually every other kind of unit in the world? You’ve got Korea, Japan, the PRC are sniffing around, and of course you’ve got other Air Force and Army Special Operations Aviation Command (ARSOAC) units in the area. Does that make for a very crowded and busy airspace management problem or do you guys have enough room to work?

Well, if you look at it from a theater perspective, all the different countries that we visit each provide their own flavor of training opportunity, so across the span of a year, all of our squadrons basically get what they need in terms of requirements to maintain not only currency but proficiency as combat-ready mission forces. In terms of Kadena proper, it gets busy sometimes, but really, as you said, you’re forced to integrate and de-conflict the local training ranges. So, they are in high demand but really that gives the 353rd a continuous opportunity to constantly integrate with joint forces – and from all the different services. So we are routinely, on a daily basis, talking with Marine, Army, and Navy counterparts to make sure that everybody gets the opportunities to train. It gets busy. Definitely there are some challenges in terms of scheduling and execution, but we view it as an opportunity to work with the joint partners.

MC-130J Commando II

An MC-130J Commando II extends its landing gear above the flight line on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Dec. 21, 2014. The MC-130J will replace the MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Group’s 17th Special Operations Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexy Saltekoff


Presently you’re the acting 353rd SOG commander. Who will become the permanent boss out there, and when?

The plan right now is for Col. William C. Freeman to assume command of the 353rd SOG in May. That is a tentative date. I defer to the AFSOC leadership for the final date, but May is our tentative date on the calendar, and then I will revert back to the deputy commander position.

Can you describe the structure and organization of the 353rd SOG for our readers?

We’ve got five squadrons total in the group. On the support side we have the Special Operations Maintenance Squadron, which is basically our maintenance unit responsible for the generation of SOF air power. It’s also our largest squadron in the group, and they have responsibility now currently for three different weapon systems: the MC-130H, the MC-130P, and the MC-130J. So they are very busy and are top-notch maintainers. We also have the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron, and they’re the guys that act as our battle staff. They execute command and control functions for us. We also have security forces, medical personnel, and communicators, along with an intelligence flight. Really, without them we don’t have the coordination element and the support necessary to execute the mission and effectively command and control our assets, which then gets into the operational side.

On the flying side, we’ve got the 1st SOS, which flies the MC-130H Combat Talon II, and then we have also the 17th SOS, which is in the middle of transitioning from the MC-130P Combat Shadow to the MC-130J Commando II. Finally, we have our 320th STS with Combat Controllers, Pararescue Jumpers, SOWTs, as well as a flight of support personnel to keep them ready for missions.


How much are you working with joint SOF partners like the 1st SFG and the 160th SOAR?

I would say that we have habitual relationships with our SOF partners. 1/1st SFG is a good example. We also work with Naval Special Warfare Unit One based in Guam, along with joint and multinational partners in South Korea. Then as different exercises occur in the theater, we’ll work with all the joint SOF units. And when the opportunities present themselves, we try to integrate with our conventional force partners as well.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...