US Army Special Operations Forces

160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR)

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s (160th SOAR) mission is to organize, equip, train, resource and employ Army special operations aviation forces worldwide in support of contingency missions and combatant commanders. Known as Night Stalkers, these Soldiers are recognized for their proficiency in nighttime operations. They are highly trained and ready to accomplish the very toughest missions in all environments, anywhere in the world, day or night, with unparalleled precision. They employ highly modified Chinook, Black Hawk and assault and attack configurations of Little Bird helicopters.

The Distinctive Unit Insignia of the 160th.
The Distinctive Unit Insignia of the 160th.

Soldiers of the 160th have been actively and continuously engaged in the combat operations since October 2001. Today, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment continues a sustained and active forward presence in the U.S. Central Command area of operations at multiple locations in support of operations Enduring Freedom. Our crews also provide support to U.S. Southern, Pacific, Africa, and European commands.

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s mission is to organize, equip, train, resource and employ Army special operations aviation forces worldwide in support of contingency missions and warfighting commanders. Known as Night Stalkers, these Soldiers are recognized for their proficiency in nighttime operations. They are highly trained and ready to accomplish the very toughest missions in all environments, anywhere in the world, day or night, with unparalleled precision.

Soldiers of the 160th have been actively engaged in the War on Terror since October 2001. Today, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment continues a sustained and active forward presence in the U.S. Central Command area of operations at multiple locations in support of operations Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn, in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively. Our crews also provide support to U.S. Southern and Pacific commands.

Organization

An MH-6 Little Bird drops Rangers off an their objective.
An MH-6 Little Bird drops Rangers off an their objective.

The 160th SOAR(A) is comprised of a regiment headquarters, four battalions and a dedicated training company. The regiment headquarters is collocated with the 1st and 2nd battalions and the Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion at Fort Campbell, Ky.; 3rd Bn. is located at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.; and 4th Bn. is located at Fort Lewis, Wash. This strategic organizational structure postures the regiment to support special operations forces mission and training requirements well into the future.

Each battalion also has a strategic composition of light, medium and heavy helicopters, all highly modified in designed to meet the unit’s unique mission requirements. Regiment reorganization modifying the 160th fleet composition was approved in October 2007 and will be implemented over the next several years. Currently, 1st Bn. has one AH-6 Little Bird helicopter company, one MH-6 Little Bird helicopter company and three companies of MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters; 2nd Bn. has two MH-47 Chinook helicopter companies; and 3rd and 4th bns. each have two MH-47 Chinook helicopter companies and one MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter company. Each battalion also has a Headquarters and Headquarters Company and a maintenance company.

Assessment, Selection and Training

A casualty extraction exercise during Green Platoon selection.
A casualty extraction exercise during Green Platoon selection.

The 160th SOAR actively seeks and assesses the best-qualified aviators, crew members and support personnel in the Army. Members of this unit are three-time volunteers: for the Army, for airborne training and for the regiment. Upon selection, commissioned and warrant officers and enlisted Soldiers complete respective Basic Mission Qualification courses, known as Green Platoon, which are facilitated by the Special Operations Aviation Training Company.

The professionalism and capabilities of Army special operations aviation are developed through a “train as you fight” mentality. Rigorous training continues upon assignment to the line units. The regiment is exceptionally resourced for extensive and realistic training conducted regularly in a variety of environments. This extensive, realistic training is the foundation of unit combat readiness.

History

Originally created as Task Force 160, the unit was formed from Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. In October 1981, the unit was officially designated the 160th Aviation Battalion. The regiment then became an airborne unit in October 1986 and was re-designated the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group (Airborne). The modern day 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) was officially activated in June 1990. Most recently, in July 2006, the regiment provisionally stood up a fourth battalion to meet growing special operations forces requirements.

Soldiers of the 160th pioneered the Army’s nighttime flying techniques. The unit became known as the “Night Stalkers” because of its capability to strike undetected during the hours of darkness and its unprecedented combat successes. Today, Night Stalkers continue to develop and employ new technology and tactics, techniques and procedures for the battlefield. Time and again, in every major combat operation since Grenada, Soldiers of this unit demonstrate that they live by their motto, “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit (NSDQ).”

After the 1980 Operation Eagle Claw attempt to rescue American hostages held in Tehran, Iran, failed, President Jimmy Carter ordered former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III to figure out how the U.S. military could best mount another attempt. At the time there were no U.S. helicopter units trained in this kind of stealthy, short-notice Special Operations mission.

The Army looked to the 101st Aviation Group, the air arm of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which had the most

A 160th AH-6 shot down in Panama.
A 160th AH-6 shot down in Panama.

diverse operating experience of the service’s helicopter units, and selected elements of the 158th Aviation Battalion, 229th Aviation Battalion, and the 159th Aviation Battalion. The chosen pilots immediately entered intensive training in night flying.

This provisional unit was at first dubbed Task Force 158 since the majority of the pilots were Blackhawk aviators detached from the 158th. Their distinctive 101st “Screaming Eagle” patches remained on their uniforms. The Blackhawks and Chinooks continued to operate around Campbell Army Airfield at the north of post, and Saber Army Heliport at the south. The OH-6 Cayuses, an aircraft that vanished from the division’s regular inventory after Vietnam, were hidden out by the ammunition holding area at a location still known as the “SHOC Pad”, for “Special Helicopter Operations Company”.

As the first batch of pilots completed training in the fall of 1980, a second attempt to rescue the hostages was planned for early 1981. Dubbed Operation Honey Badger, it was called off when the hostages were released on the morning of President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.

The capability gained was judged too important to future contingencies to lose. The new unit was quickly recognized as the Army’s premier night fighting aviation force, and its only Special Operations Aviation force. The pilots and modified aircraft would not be returned to the 101st. Original members of the Night Stalkers refer to it as “the day the Eagles came off”. The 101st’s patches came off, the personnel and equipment would be reassigned, and a new tradition was born. The unit was officially established on 16 October 1981, when it was designated as the 160th Aviation Battalion.

The 160th first saw combat during 1983’s Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

In 1986, it was re-designated as the 160th Aviation Group (Airborne); and in May 1990, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). As demand for highly trained Special Operations Aviation assets bloomed, the regiment activated three battalions, a separate detachment, and incorporated one Army National Guard unit, the 1st Battalion, 245th Aviation (OK ARNG).

In 1987 and 1988, its pilots took part in Operation Earnest Will, the protection of re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War. They flew from US Navy warships and leased oil barges in a secret sub-part called Operation Prime Chance, and became the first helicopter pilots to use night vision goggles and forward looking infrared devices in night combat.

In June 1988, the unit executed Operation Mount Hope III. Two MH-47 crews flew 490 miles (790 km) deep into Chad to retrieve a crashed Mi-24 Hind medium-attack helicopter.

The Night Stalkers spearheaded Operation Just Cause, the 1989 invasion of Panama, and they were also used in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

The crew of Super 64 one month before the Battle of Mogadishu.
The crew of Super 64 one month before the Battle of Mogadishu.

In October 1993 in Somalia, Night Stalkers became involved in the Battle of Mogadishu, which later became the subject of the book Black Hawk Down, and its film adaptation. Two Night Stalker Black Hawks, Super 6-1 (piloted by Cliff Wolcott), and Super 6-4 (piloted by Mike Durant), were shot down in the battle. Five of the eighteen men killed (not counting a nineteenth post-operation casualty) in the Battle of Mogadishu were members of the SOAR(A) Night Stalkers team, who were lost along with the two Black Hawks.

Afghanistan 2001: On 19 October an MH-47E carrying ODA 595 landed at Dehi. They flew over 150 miles from Karshi-Khanabad (K2) in Uzbekistan. A few weeks later ODA 595 and ODA 555 along with the Northern Alliance retook the city of Mazari Sharif from the Taliban.

In December the same year Night Stalker crews were essential in resupplying over 150 Delta Force, British SBS and CIA SAD operatives during their hunt for Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountain complex.

Afghanistan, 2005: Eight Night Stalkers were lost along with eight Navy SEALs on a rescue mission for Marcus Luttrell, after their MH-47 Chinook helicopter was hit by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade). They were sent out to look for Luttrell after Operation Red Wings, in which he was involved with three other SEALs, was compromised and Luttrell’s teammates killed. The Night Stalkers lost on the search and rescue mission included:

  •     SSG, Shamus O. Goare, 29, of Danville, Ohio
  •     Chief Warrant Officer, Corey J. Goodnature, 35, of Clarks Grove, Minnesota.
  •     SGT, Kip A. Jacoby, 21, of Pompano Beach, Florida
  •     SFC, Marcus V. Muralles, 33, of Shelbyville, Indiana
  •     MSG, James W. Ponder III, 36, of Franklin, Tennessee
  •     MAJ, Stephen C. Reich, 34, of Washington Depot, Connecticut.
  •     SFC, Michael L. Russell, 31, of Stafford, Virginia
  •     Chief Warrant Officer, Chris J. Scherkenbach, 40, of Jacksonville, Florida

The 160th provided aviation support during numerous special operations raids during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. One of them was the rescue mission of PFC. Jessica Lynch taken prisoner in 2003, the raid in Al Qadisiyah, as well as the rescue of three Italian contractors and one Polish businessman held for ransom by Iraqi insurgents in 2004.

Night Stalker helicopters were present during the 2008 SOCOM counter-terror exercises in Denver.

On 24 April 2008, Company D, 160th SOAR was inactivated at a ceremony conducted at Hunter Army Airfield, GA, as part of an overall regimental transformation plan.

The 160th SOAR also took part in the 2008 Abu Kamal raid.

On 19 August 2009, four Night Stalkers from D Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR lost their lives in a MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash in Leadville, Colorado, during a mountain and environmental training.

On 22 October 2009, a 3rd Battalion helicopter crashed into the USNS Arctic during a joint training exercise involving fast roping about 20 miles off Fort Story, Virginia. The crash killed a soldier, Sergeant First Class James R. Stright, 29, and injured eight others, three seriously.

The Night Stalkers provided insert and cover for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011.

As of November 2013, the 160th has added Echo Company based out of Fort Huachuca. This Support and Maintenance company will be flying UAVs. (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) The types of drones are unknown. They are currently taking in 15W MOS.

On 15 January 2014, a MH-60 Black Hawk of the 160th performed a hard landing at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. One soldier was killed with another two injured.

Creed

A 160th Crew Chief.
A 160th Crew Chief.

Service in the 160th is a calling only a few will answer for the mission is constantly demanding and hard. And when the impossible has been accomplished the only reward is another mission that no one else will try. As a member of the Night Stalkers I am a tested volunteer seeking only to safeguard the honor and prestige of my country, by serving the elite Special Operations Soldiers of the United States. I pledge to maintain my body, mind and equipment in a constant state of readiness for I am a member of the fastest deployable Task Force in the world, ready to move at a moment’s notice anytime, anywhere, arriving time on target plus or minus 30 seconds.

I guard my unit’s mission with secrecy, for my only true ally is the night and the element of surprise. My manner is that of the Special Operations Quiet Professional, secrecy is a way of life. In battle, I eagerly meet the enemy for I volunteered to be up front where the fighting is hard. I fear no foe’s ability, nor underestimate his will to fight.

The mission and my precious cargo are my concern. I will never surrender. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy, and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

Gallantly will I show the world and the elite forces I support that a Night Stalker is a specially selected and well trained soldier.

I serve with the memory and pride of those who have gone before me for they loved to fight, fought to win and would rather die than quit.

Night Stalkers Don’t Quit!

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