8th Special Operations Squadron [8th SOS]
The 8th Special Operations Squadron is the second longest continuously operational active duty squadron in the U.S. Air Force. Since its inception in 1917, the 8th SOS has had more than 100 squadron commanders and flown 17 different types of aircraft. This list includes DH-4s, B-26s, B-57s, A-37s, MC-130Hs and the MC-130E Combat Talon I currently flown by the 8th.
The primary mission of the 8th SOS is insertion, extraction and re-supply of un-conventional warfare forces and equipment into hostile or enemy-controlled territory using airland or airdrop procedures. Numerous secondary missions include psychological operations, aerial reconnaissance and helicopter air refueling. To accomplish these varied missions, the 8th SOS uses the Combat Talon I, a highly specialized variant of the Lockheed C-130. The history of the Talon I stretches back to 1966 when the first C-130E was modified and a small squadron established at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Later that year four of these specially modified MC-130s were deployed to Nha Trang, Republic of Vietnam, in support of the war in Southeast Asia. During the Southeast Asia conflict, Combat Talon Is were extensively involved in covert/clandestine operations in Laos and North Vietnam. They routinely flew unarmed, single-ship missions deep into North Vietnam under the cover of darkness to carry out unconventional warfare missions in support of Military Assistance Command's Special Operations Group.
Since its initial development, major modifications have been made to the Combat Talon I to ensure its continued viability through technological superiority. Today's Combat Talon I with its state-of-the-art computer systems is capable of terrain following operations as low as 250 feet in all weather conditions. Crews from the 8th SOS can drop equipment or personnel on small, unmarked drop zones with pinpoint accuracy, day or night. Additionally, the Talon I gives the squadron a truly global reach with the ability to receive gas from Air Force tanker aircraft and transfer gas to special operations helicopters. The Talon I is equipped with an electronic warfare package to counter the threat of detection by enemy radar by deceiving or jamming many types of enemy radar. The aircraft also employs infrared jamming pods, chaff, and flares to combat the threat of enemy missiles. These updates ensure the Combat Talon I will remain a weapon of choice into the 21st Century. Combat Talon I forces have been tasked on numerous occasions to use their unique capabilities in the interest of national objectives. In 1970, Combat Talon Is led assault forces on the North Vietnamese Son Tay prisoner of war camp. During the raid they also functioned as an airborne jammer and command post, providing vectoring information for mission aircraft.
Members of the 8th SOS were deployed as part of a joint task force that landed in the Iranian desert in April 1980 in support of the American hostage rescue attempt. During that mission, five members of the squadron lost their lives. The squadron received its motto "with the guts to try" from this operation. The squadron was called on again in October 1983 to lead the way in the rescue of American students endangered on the island of Grenada. After long hours of flight, the aircrew members faced intense ground fire to airdrop Army Rangers on time, on target. They subsequently followed up with three psychological operations leaflet drops designed to encourage the Cubans to discontinue the conflict. Members of the 8th SOS were mobilized in December 1989 as part of a joint task force for Operation Just Cause in the Republic of Panama. Following the conflict, it was an 8th SOS Combat Talon I that flew General Manuel Noriega back to the United States to stand trial.
During Operation Desert Shield, the 8th SOS was deployed to Saudi Arabia as a deterrent against the Iraqi threat to its southern neighbor. In January 1991, when Iraq failed to comply with United Nations directives to withdraw from Kuwait, the skills of the 8th SOS were called on once again as Desert Shield escalated into Desert Storm. The 8th SOS played a pivotal role in the success of coalition forces as they liberated Kuwait by dropping eleven 15,000 pound BLU-82 bombs and 23 million leaflets and conducting numerous aerial refuelings of special operations helicopters. The U. S. Air Force relies on the proven abilities of the 8th SOS as evidenced by its recent deployments in support of Operations Provide Promise and Deny Flight in Bosnia, Operation Assured Response in Liberia and Operation Southern Watch in Saudi Arabia. Even Hollywood relied on the crews of the 8th in the 1997 hit movie "Air Force One".
In early spring 2000, the 8th SOS transfered to Duke Field with its Combat Talon I aircraft. The unit will combine its forces with the 711th SOS, which also flies the Combat Talon I aircraft.
Under the associate unit concept, an active-duty unit owns the aircraft and Reserve crews and maintainers augment the missions. In this case, however, the Air Force Reserve will own all the Combat Talon I aircraft as both units form an associate unit flying the Combat Talon I aircraft.
The move is part of an overall plan for Air Force Special Operations Command to combine Reserve and active-duty components onto common airframes. These changes result from mission changes, adjustments for efficiency, congressional directives and implementation of the expeditionary aerospace force concept.
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