20th Special Operations Squadron [20th SOS]
The 20th Special Operations Squadron, located at Hurlburt Field Fla., is one of eight flying squadrons within the 16th Special Operations Wing. Known as the "Green Hornets," the 20th SOS flies the MH-53J Pave Low IIIE, the Air Force's most sophisticated helicopter.
The 20th SOS was formed as the 20th Helicopter Squadron in 1956, to perform traditional helicopter missions with H-21s for the Tactical Air Command. In 1965, the unit's CH-3E helicopters were transferred to Southeast Asia and the squadron began unconventional warfare and special operations as the Pony Express. In 1967, when joined by the UH-1F/P helicopters formerly assigned to Project Lucky Tiger, they became the "Green Hornets." It was on one of these 20th HS missions that Captain James P. Fleming earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism during combat. The Green Hornets continued to do unconventional warfare missions for seven distinguished years, until deactivation of the 20th Helicopter Squadron in 1972.
Reactivated in 1976 at Hurlburt Field, the unit mission remained unconventional warfare and special operations using UH-1N gunships and CH-3Es. The HH-53H Pave Low replaced the CH-3E in 1980, providing a long range, heavier lift helicopter capability. The crews used the Pave Low avionics to arrive over target, on time and undetected - where they performed terminal operations wearing night vision goggles. In 1983, the UH-1Ns began two years of outstanding support as part of then Vice President George Bush's South Florida Drug Enforcement Task Force, participating in Operation Bahamas, Antilles and Turks. The Op BAT Hueys flew hundreds of daring over-water missions from the Bahamas before transferring to Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., in 1985.
In 1986, the Green Hornets flew the specially equipped and highly capable MH-53H Pave Low and have been flying the new MH-53J Pave Low III since 1988. The new Pave Low "J-model" features new integrated avionics, enhanced cockpit controls and displays and improved weapons systems. In December 1989, members of the 20th SOS were mobilized as part of a joint task force for Operation Just Cause, successfully restoring democracy in Panama.
Among the first units to deploy to Operation Desert Shield in August 1990, 20th SOS crew members and aircraft led U.S. Army AH-64 Apaches in the air strike, opening the air war in Operation Desert Storm. A 20th SOS crew rescued Navy Lt. Devon Jones, logging the first successful combat rescue of a downed airman since the Vietnam War. The crew deservedly earned the MacKay Trophy for their accomplishments. Most recently, 20th SOS personnel deployed in support of Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, providing support to yet another National Command Authorities resolution. Members of the 20th SOS, participating in operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, went into harms way in attempting a rescue of two downed French crewmen, receiving two Purple Heart Medals and the coveted Cheney Award. Most recently, Green Hornet crews were involved in the search and rescue operations resulting from the CT-43 crash in which the Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and his party lost their lives. These same crews deployed shortly thereafter to support the American Embassy evacuations in Monrovia, Liberia - airlifting more than 2,000 evacuees to safety. Most recently, in February 1998, the squadron deployed crews and aircraft to Southwest Asia in support of Central Command and Operation DESERT THUNDER. Pave Low gave the theater commander a night, all-weather personnel recovery capability, unparalleled in the US inventory.
The primary mission of the 20th SOS is to conduct day or night low level penetration into hostile enemy territory, to accomplish clandestine infiltration and exfiltration, aerial gunnery support and resupply of special operations forces throughout the world. These operations involve tactical low-level navigation, night vision goggle operations, airland and airdrop techniques and over-water operations. The unique capabilities of the MH-53J Pave Low allow the 20th to operate from unprepared landing zones in any type of terrain and from otherwise inaccessible areas.
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