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USASOC Year in Review: 2011-2012

75th Ranger Regiment

Col. Michael E. Kurilla relinquished command of the regiment to Col. Mark W. Odom on July 26, while Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt turned over his responsibilities to Command Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Bielich on Jan. 11, 2012. The regiment remained engaged throughout 2011 as it had in 2010, indicated by the number of combat decorations awarded. On Jan. 26, 2011, approximately 80 Rangers from the 75th’s 1st Battalion received medals for their recent combat actions in Afghanistan. But the regiment’s most important award ceremony of 2011 came on July 12, when President Barack Obama presented the first Medal of Honor to a Ranger since Vietnam. The decoration, only the second to a living recipient since 1975, went to Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry, who lost his right hand to an enemy grenade he had grabbed and was trying to throw away from his fellow Rangers. His act no doubt kept fellow Rangers from being severely wounded or killed by the grenade.

Today Petry, with the aid of a prosthetic hand, continues to serve on active duty with the Rangers, who began to celebrate their 70th anniversary in 2012.


Army Special Operations Aviation Command (Provisional)

The long-awaited christening of the Army Special Operations Aviation Command (Provisional) – ARSOAC took place March 25, 2011. ARSOAC is the result of the continued growth of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the development of USASOC unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities, and the need for infrastructure necessary to provide USASOC with its own highly specialized training, attack, and transport capabilities.

Army Special Operations Aviation Command Activation

Lt. Gen. John Mulholland Jr., USASOC commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Parry Baer unveil the Army Special Operations Aviation Command colors during an activation ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., March, 25, 2011. U.S. Army photo by Trisha Harris

A result of the Department of Defense (DoD) 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), both SOCOM and USASOC sought and received approval to create a one-star (O-7) Army SOF aviation command. ARSOAC will provide the appropriate command and control, manning, and training for the complex and sensitive tasks required of expanded ARSOF aviation units and organizations. ARSOAC will be composed of four component units spread across the country. In addition to the existing 160th SOAR, ARSOAC will also have a U.S. Army Special Operations Command Flight Detachment at Fort Bragg, along with the new Systems Integration Management Office and Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion, both at Fort Campbell. Two new companies of the 160th SOAR will operate the new MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs.

The names of ARSOAC’s first command team reads like a 160th SOAR history of the past several decades, with Brig. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum (an alumni of Task Force 160 back in the 1980s) standing up the command with ARSOAC’s Command Warrant Officer Five CW5 David F. Cooper, holder of the Distinguished Service Cross. In addition, ARSOAC in 2011 got its first senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. David Leamon, previously the command sergeant major of the 160th SOAR.


160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment

On Oct. 16, 1981, the DoD formed a special helicopter unit drawn from elements of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), dedicated to providing aviation support to the nation’s special operations forces. That small formation has today evolved into the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Thirty years later, with a reputation second to none, the “Night Stalkers” are justifiably considered among the most elite flying units in all of aviation history. On Oct. 21, 2011, veterans of the regiment gathered at Fort Campbell, Ky., including more than 50 Task Force-160 plank holders who were called to the stage individually and recognized for their role in shaping and defining the essence of “Night Stalking.”

MH-60M Black Hawks

The first two MH-60M Black Hawks assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) arrive at Fort Campbell, Ky. U.S. Army photo courtesy of 160th SOAR

“I couldn’t think of a better forum to reflect on our roots and traditions than to provide a venue for our first and current generations of Night Stalkers to connect,” said current 160th commander, Col. John W. Thompson. “The standards that [plank holders] set 30 years ago are still embedded in every Night Stalker today. The future is sound because of the foundation [they] established. We take personal pride in furthering [their] legacy as we continue to lead and force change to maintain our ability to deploy worldwide and hit a target plus or minus 30 seconds.”

The 160th SOAR also got a new senior enlisted advisor when Leamon turned over his duties to Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Chambers on June 10.

Other celebrations and ceremonies followed in 2011, including an awards presentation for the record books. On April 11, eight Night Stalkers were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses for individual acts of heroism in a single night mission in Afghanistan flying MH-47 Chinooks. In addition, the 160th SOAR, along with the rest of the Fort Campbell military community, played host to Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on May 8, 2011. The visit followed the successful execution of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, about which the president said, “I want to acknowledge the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Night Stalkers, for their extraordinary service. On behalf of a grateful nation, welcome home.”

ARSOAC’s emerging UAV capabilities turned operational in 2011, with the first overseas deployments of the 160th SOAR’s first unmanned aviation company: QRC 2. QRC 2 is composed of an MQ-1C system with four MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs, and two control stations. The first combat engagements of QRC 2 took place in early 2011, with spectacular success.

In addition, early 2011 was full of important milestones for the 160th’s manned helicopter fleet. On Feb. 2, the first two new-production MH-60M Black Hawks arrived, beginning the badly needed replacement of the existing -K and -L model Black Hawks. By mid-September, the first full company of -M model Black Hawks had been formed into C Company, 2/160th SOAR. “This aircraft is a real game changer,” said Night Stalker test pilot CW4 Tracy Stapleton of the new aircraft. “This is good for everybody. It will provide an immense tactical advantage to the aviators and crews as well as the ground forces we support.” Likewise, on Feb. 10, 2011, the last of the remanufactured MH-47Gs, built from existing -D and -E model Chinooks, was delivered to the regiment.

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