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Deadly Blue is a look into the often covert world of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSCOC). It is a collection of battlefield experiences of today’s air commandos. From the first “boots on the ground” to the gunships overhead, these are the stories of the unsung heroes of America’s war on terrorism.
During the course of this book, you will often read of CAS missions. CAS is an acronym for “close air support.” The official Department of Defense definition, as stated in Joint Publication 3–09.3, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Close Air Support (CAS), is “air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and which require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of
those forces.” This publication further describes the fundamentals of CAS as being: conducted at any place and time friendly forces are in close proximity to enemy forces. The word “close” does not imply a specific distance; rather, it is situational. The requirement for detailed integration because of proximity, fires, or movement is the determining factor. At times CAS may be the best means to exploit tactical opportunities in the offense or defense. CAS provides firepower in offensive and defensive operations to destroy, disrupt, suppress, fix, harass, neutralize, or delay enemy forces.
CAS may be used to mass the effects of combat power, in order to exploit opportunities in the offense and defense. Each
Service organizes, trains, and equips to employ CAS within its roles as part of the joint force. As a result, a variety of aircraft are capable of performing CAS. The joint force commander (JFC) and his staff must be capable of integrating all CAS capabilities into the operation plan.
The rudimentary application of CAS goes back to 1911, when the Italians at war with Turkey would drop hand grenades from airplanes. During WW I, the planes also served as an intimidating weapon of war, albeit the dropping of hand-held bombs was far from accurate. With the onset of WW II, the concept of close air support became more viable, and air-to-ground fire crossed over to the practical. However, it was not until the Vietnam War that CAS became the bread-and-butter mission for U.S. aviators. Pilots from the 1st Air Commando Squadron, flying the A-1E Skyraider, referred to as
a “Sandy,” and C-47 transports converted into AC-47 “Spooky” gunships, were on station. Fighters and bombers from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines would drop so low to the deck that the Green Berets on the ground could make out the artwork on the pilots’ helmets.
With the advancement of today’s sophisticated technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), gunships, and stealth bombers, CAS has risen to a most deadly science. Fast movers are great, bombers have the payloads, but there is no more lethal combination than an AC-130 gunship overhead and an AFSOC Special Tactics Team on the ground. This is CAS at its finest, and the combat controllers have raised this to an art form.
Certain ground-combat capabilities are part of the airman’s responsibilities, and so they require unique surface operations that are integral to the application of air and space power. To provide those capabilities, the Air Force has organized, trained, and equipped a force of battlefield airmen with the distinctive expertise to deliver unequaled
firepower with accuracy, responsiveness, flexibility, and persistence. The battlefield airman of the Air Force Special Operations Command come from the Special Tactics Squadrons and consist of combat controllers (CCTs), pararescuemen (PJs), and Special Operations Weather Teams (SOWTs). These highly trained professionals provide a skill set not commonly found across the Air Force, and they typically operate in combat zones, outside the perimeter of
Air Force bases.
During Operation Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan, Special Tactics Squadron team members routinely carried over 160 pounds of equipment. Some of this equipment was outdated, and occasionally they had difficulties communicating with one another. For this reason, the Air Force created an ongoing development program called the Battlefield Airman Operations (BAO) Kit. The purpose of the kit is to lighten the load of the STS team as well as provide them with stateof-
the-art technology in radios, lighter batteries, integrated targeting devices, wearable computers, portable UAVs, plus the weapons, clothing, and other gear necessary to prosecute their vital missions. New tactics, techniques, and procedures are constantly being inserted into the BAO toolkit.
For example, as part of the SOF Warfighter Information Process Enhancements (SWIPE) Initiative, during the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX), the STT used Panasonic Toughbook computers—new information technology that enables the team to encompass a target from various positions. These wireless computers form a network through which team members can send information to the team leader, or “hub.” The intelligence, digital photos or video, and
reports that are gathered in the field can then be shared with other teammates or sent via burst transmission over SatCom to combatant commanders for review.
General Robert Holmes, who served as Deputy Commander, Joint Special Operations Task Force-South (Task Force K-Bar), was responsible for directing and conducting joint combat operations in southern Afghanistan. As testimony to the value of special operations, General Holmes reported that combat controllers were responsible for roughly 85 percent of all air strikes in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Similarly, the Commandant of the Advanced Training Skills School at Hurlburt Field, stated that, for every one kill a Special Tactics operator made with his M4 carbine, he made 168 kills using close air support.
What does it take to be a member of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command? What kind of a person pushes himself beyond normal human endurance? What is it that drives that man to push on, no matter what the circumstances? It takes someone who places the mission before himself, the welfare of the team above his own welfare, and his love of freedom over life itself. These are the warriors of AFSOC, the aircrews in the skies and the Special Tactics Teams on the ground, who exemplify the traits worthy of the title Air Commando.
In these pages, I have tried to offer a limited window onto their world. It was indeed an honor to have been permitted to enter this world, if only via interviews. By recounting their experiences—in their own words—I have shone a light on a few of the many men who operate in the shadows—the covert world of special ops. Fittingly, some of their names have been changed, for purposes of operational security. But their stories of heroism and bravery, as well as quick reactions and solid thinking, are the afterglow of America’s best efforts to bring peace and freedom to the world.
Excerpted from Deadly Blue: Battle Stories of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command by Fred Pushies. Copyright © 2009 Fred Pushies. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission.
All rights reserved. http://www.amacombooks.org.