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193rd Special Operations Wing [193rd SOW]

The 193rd Special Operations Wing is part of the Air Force Special Operations Command and retains is mission of Psychological Operations as it supports exercises and operations all over the world. The Wing is responsible for over 1,800 military and civilian personnel in 28 subordinate groups, squadrons and flights. The 193rd SOW provides trained men and women to perform the Psychological Operations missions, flying the EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft.

The 193rd's mission of worldwide airborne radio and television broadcasting has taken its aircraft and personnel to places such as South Korea, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Norway, Kuwait, England and Germany. The unit's unique mission and aircraft continue to be a vital part of the total force of the United States military.

In 1998, the 193rd assumed command of several geographically separated units throught the commonwealth making the wing the third largest Air National Guard unit in the United States. Regional Support units of the 193rd include the 201st RED HORSE Flight, 203rd Weather Flight, 211th Engineering Installation Squadron, 271st Combat Communications Squadron and Detachment-One Bomb Range at Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville; the 112th Air Control Squadron, State College; 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron, Johnstown; and the 553rd Air Force Band, Middletown.

The unit has reorganized four times since its mission assignment, and the unit grew from 150 officers and enlisted men to its current strength of over 1850 men and women.

The 193rd Special Operations Wing was the first Air National Guard flying squadron to be formed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania after World War II. Initial federal recognition was granted as the 148th Fighter Squadron at Reading PA Municipal Airport on February 27, 1947.

The first aircraft was the P-47 "Thunderbolt" fighter, which was flown for three years. Fighter pilots from the 148th became highly acclaimed at national gunnery prowess by winning a four squadron meet at Dover. Delaware.

The 148th was called into active Air Force service in February 1951 for the Korean War, and many of the pilots served with distinction in combat operations. Three 148th officers were killed flying in Korea. The unit was reestablished in Reading after the war. F-51 "Mustang" fighters were flown until 1956 when the unit was redesignated the 140th Aeromedical Transport Squadron. C-46 transport planes replaced all fighter aircraft. Two years later, the 140th received C-119 "Flying Boxcars" to enhance medical airlift capability.

In 1961, the 140th relocated from Reading, PA to Olmsted AFB (Harrisburg International Airport), Middletown, PA and the unit received C-121 "Super Constellation" aircraft. In February 1964, the unit was redesignated the 168th Military Air Transport Group and until 1967 flew airlift missions to all points of the globe for Military Airlift Command.

In September 1967, the unit was redesignated the 193rd Tactical Electronic Warfare Group and transferred to Tactical Air Command. Four C-121s started modifications to the new one-of-a-kind electronic warfare mission.

In 1962, the United States was threatened by a build-up of medium range ballistic missiles on the Soviet-loyal island of Cuba. As military leaders prepared for the possibility of war, provisions for psychological warfare were established as a military requirement. Since the threat came from the inhabitants of an island surrounded by water, the U.S. Navy was considered the logical choice to carry out the mission of transmitting radio broadcasts from ships anchored a safe distance away. Once the emergency subsided, little effort was made to further develop this technology.

In April 1965, the United States airlifted military forces to the Dominican Republic, attempting to stabilize conditions on the island and prevent a takeover by Marxist-oriented rebels. The efforts of U.S. military forces, operating alongside Dominican Republic governmental troops, were hindered by a rebel-operated radio station, which continually broadcast information to resistance forces.

Upon conclusion of this military action, the Joint Chiefs of Staff once again set their sights on psychological warfare. This time the Air Force was tasked to create a mobile broadcast station on an airborne platform, which would include television transmission.

Air Force and Navy already operated C-121 aircraft, used for early warning and control purposes. They had proven effective in broadcasting information to American forces in Vietnam. Attention then shifted to the C-121 Constellations, or "Connies," as the airborne psychological warfare aircraft of choice.

By 1966, the Air Force was making progress in developing plans for a psychological warfare capability, which it named "Coronet Solo." Though progress was made at a steady pace, the question arose as to whether the mission scope was large enough to justify the time and monies necessary to fund a full-time active duty unit.

Threatened by the closure of their host base and by the downsizing of all conventionally powered transport aircraft in the active, reserve and National Guard force, the National Guard Bureau volunteered the 168th MAG for the "Solo" mission.

Although the concept was widely accepted, the approval for this program change was held in abeyance by the Defense Department since the total cost of modifying four C-121s to the electronic warfare mission was in excess of $8 million.

With the outbreak of the Arab-Israel War in June 1967, the need for psychological warfare and intelligence monitoring capability was once again a priority. Approval was given to convert the 168th Military Airlift Group to the 193rd Tactical Electronic Warfare Group in June 1967 as a Tactical Airlift Command unit. Although the "Solo" mission was to remain consistent over the course of the more than 30 years that would follow, the capabilities of the 193rd remained shrouded in secrecy until it was (partially) declassified in 1989 when budgetary concerns compelled the unit to market its unique capabilities.

As the transformation of Olmsted Air Force Base to Olmsted State Airport reached completion, four C-121s were scheduled for modification to EC-121 configuration by Lockheed Aircraft Company. The first EC-121 was delivered to the 193rd Tactical Electronic Warfare Group in the summer of 1968. Along with it came a new mission, which has remained consistent to this day.

Armed with the ability to transmit radio and black and white television signals (U.S. standard only) from its aircraft to the ground below, the 193rd was able to broadcast psychological information anywhere in the world. Being airborne allowed transmission to cover a much larger area than a Navy ship broadcasting from a coastal position.

During 1970 the unit had more significant events take place, in January the unit enlisted its first female in the electronic mission era and in July the 193rd deployed to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand to participate in what would eventually become a six-month "volunteer training exercise". For excellent performance in Commando Buzz, the 193rd was awarded our first Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, this one with a "V" device for Valor.

The 193rd's real-world capabilities were first tested July 28, 1970, when two EC-121 Lockheed "Super Constellations" departed Olmsted State Airport for Korat, Thailand, 12,000 miles away. It was the beginning of Operation Commando Buzz, and the electronically equipped EC-121s were to perform psychological operations in support of U.S. forces in Vietnam.

Major General Robert E. Harris, commander of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, was one of the 250 Air Guard members who took part in the operation, recalled the circumstances surrounding their departure: "We were not told where we were going when we departed Harrisburg. The group commander knew, but we were not briefed until we flew to Clark Air Base. Once there, we received our mission brief and then we headed on to Korat." Reaching their destination after five days of flying, the 193rd would never miss a sortie during the 144-day operation. "We would rotate our two aircraft every other day: one day off, one day on. Still, it was the maintenance people that kept those planes flying. Because of them, we never even had a late takeoff; that's almost impossible to do [even] in a peacetime environment," Harris stated. "I didn't know what the [audio] tapes [that were broadcast] said; it was all in Cambodian. As far as I know they could have said 'Shoot down the first three-tailed aircraft you see," Harris said jokingly.

That never happened. The 193rd returned home with a perfect safety record. Plus, it was presented the USAF Outstanding Unit Award and commended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for its dedication and professionalism.

As word of the 193rd's unique mission spread throughout military circles, the unit became involved in Air Force, Navy and NATO operations and exercises. Soon the 193rd was being tasked with as many as ten deployments a year, more than any other unit in the Air National Guard.

In June of 1972, the 193rd was called upon to aid, in a less technical yet equally important capacity, in its first domestic crisis. Hurricane Agnes, a tropical storm that experts predicted would lose much of its momentum as it traveled inland from the Atlantic Ocean, collided with a cold front moving in the opposite direction. The result was a flood like Southcentral Pennsylvania had never known.

Members from the recently named Harrisburg International Airport provided security, controlled pedestrian and vehicular traffic and relocated truckloads of food from local grocery stores to locations on higher ground. On base, all military aircraft had successfully been evacuated except for three of the Connies, which were undergoing maintenance and were not flyable.

By the time the waters receded, the 193rd and the Air National Guard had proved to be valuable assets, not only to the security of the United States as a whole, but to the local population as well. During the flood, many of the same "citizen-soldiers" of the Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guard called upon to participate in war-time activities around the globe, worked along side neighbors, friends and family members in response to this domestic emergency.

1977 was significant to the 193rd: it changed aircraft from the C-121 Super Constellation to the newer C-130 Hercules. This exchange marked the seventh and final aircraft conversion for the unit from 1946 to present.

Less than five years after the shock of Hurricane Agnes, the 193rd SOG was thrust into another civil crisis, once again in its own backyard. At 4 a.m., Wednesday, March 28, 1979, a combination of human error and mechanical failure started a chain of events that would make the words "Three Mile Island" synonymous with disaster. Pellets of enriched uranium fuel overheated and melted through the containers in which they were held. Small amounts of radioactive vapor from the uranium were released for the next three hours. By 11:30 a.m. the official word from the nuclear generating facility was that everything was under control and that there was no danger to public health.

However, as the extent of the damage was further investigated, the 193rd's disaster preparedness team was asked to perform hourly radiation readings. On Friday, March 30, Harold R. Denton, director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was flown into HIA and driven to the site by Guard members. The 193rd Group Commander, Col. Nicholas Bereschak had authorized a 24-hour operation as materials, equipment and top nuclear scientists from around the world were flown to Harrisburg to prevent a possible meltdown. C-123s and 141s arrived with over 100,000 pounds of lead bricks to be used to build radiation shields, and a USAF C-5A delivered weather equipment to gather temperature, atmospheric pressure and wind speed readings to calculate radioactivity patterns. When President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn arrived at Harrisburg International Airport on Sunday, April 1, they were shown to the commander's briefing room at the 193rd Special Operations Group headquarters building.

Lt. Col. Robert Martin, then a captain, recalled the circumstances surrounding the President's arrival: "At 5 a.m. on Sunday the telephone rang. It was Sgt. Ferron from the Security Police. 'Sir, we just received notice that the Commander-in-Chief is coming today,' he exclaimed. 'Who?' I asked. 'The Commander-In-Chief! You know, the President!' I hung up the phone and took a cold shower to wake up before calling Sergeant Ferron for more details." Martin worked with the Secret Service to coordinate the President's arrival. "They needed a room to set up and store their communication gear. We showed them the old Safety Office in Building 26, which they used as command center."

More than a month passed before the men and women of the 193rd returned to normal operation and could reflect on the events that transpired. As is the case with most major historical events, many members of the 193rd today can still recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard about "the accident."

As technology continued to advance at an increased rate throughout the 1970s, televisions and radios became more common in the homes of people, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. As a result, the ability of the 193rd to effectively carry out its mission grew by leaps and bounds. Rather than fly over their destination with linguists and rely on live broadcasts to spread their message, further modifications to the EC-130 allowed technicians to broadcast previously edited video and cassette tapes. Known as "Volant Solo" while attached to Military Airlift Command and later "Commando Solo" under Air Force Special Operations Command, the 193rd adopted the motto "Never seen, always heard."

Once psychological operations information has been gathered and processed by Air Force and Army officials, it is converted to audio cassette, 10-inch reel-to-reel tape, 1/2-inch VHS tape, 3/4-inch U-Matic tape or written as a script for live transmission. The chosen medium is then broadcast via Medium Frequency, High Frequency, Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency ranges, FM radio or color television in a format consistent with that of the receiving population.

While jamming an enemy radio or television signal on one channel, technicians then transmit their material on an adjacent channel. Once the listener becomes frustrated and changes the channel, he or she is exposed to the PSYOP broadcast.

In March 1983, the unit was transferred back to Military Airlift Command and in November, the unit was redesignated as the 193rd Special Operations Group with no change in mission. The 193rd became the first Pennsylvania ANG unit to complete 100,000 hours of Accident-Free Flying in 1983.

On October 24, the 193rd responded to Operations Urgent Fury as U.S. forces entered the island of Grenada to rescue American medical students being detained by communist forces. Throughout the mission, the 193rd transmitted messages stating that all aircraft were to stay clear of Grenada airspace. Once ground radio stations were secured by U.S. forces, the 193rd broadcast "Spice Island Radio," which provided the island's inhabitants with information pertaining to U.S. intentions and updates on the progress of clean-up procedures that followed. The unit had the distinction of being the first reserve forces unit to land there. Members who answered that call received the Expeditionary Medal on November 16; the 193rd captured it fourth Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the period of 1981 to 1982.

In December 1989 during Operation Just Cause, the 193rd SOG disrupted President Manuel Noriega's ability to mobilize troops while urging the citizens of Panama to stay off the streets during the invasion.

In 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, President George Bush ordered Operation Desert Shield. The 193rd, among the first units called upon to participate in the operation, was to broadcast "Iraq the Betrayed," a specially recorded program that urged Iraqi forces to surrender. More than 50 percent of the Iraqi POWs indicated that the message influenced their decision to throw down their weapons. In addition to their wartime mission, the 193rd became known as the "Voice of the Gulf," broadcasting news and sports programs to allied forces stationed in Saudi Arabia.

On July 5, 1994, the "quiet professionals" of the 193rd began a humanitarian mission to help curb the massive reaction by the people of Haiti to President Clinton's safe haven policy. As thousands of Haitians took to the sea on makeshift rafts in an attempt to reach U.S. soil, the unit broadcast messages in Creole stating that "no one will be allowed entry into the United States, so don't take on the life-threatening journey." The U.S. Coast Guard reported the number of boats taking to the sea decreased steadily once the broadcasts started and soon fell to zero.

The men and women of the 193rd, now the 193rd Special Operations Wing, pride themselves on saving lives rather than taking them. While critics of the unit's mission dismiss it as nothing more than "broadcasting propaganda," it should be noted that the 193rd broadcasts information, often unavailable in closed societies, allowing the listener to arrive at his or her own conclusions.

As technology continues to advance, the scope of psychological warfare broadens. On June 16, 1997, a team of technicians from the 193rd was flown to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to collect data on the Phased Array Satellite Communication Antenna.

Created for the purpose of live television reception on board commercial airlines, the Phased Array is a prototype antenna, able to receive satellite transmission while airborne. Arrangements are being made for this progressive piece of equipment to be tested by the 193rd - using Commando Solo as a platform to test the antenna for its potential to rebroadcast PSYOPS.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:10:56 ZULU