The 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24th STS) is one of the Special Tactics units of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and is the Air Force component to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). It is garrisoned at Pope Field, North Carolina.
The 24th Special Tactics Squadron participated in the United States invasion of Panama in 1989. The 24th STS deployed 11 personnel including the unit commander, Lt. Col. Jim Oeser, as part of JSOC’s Task Force Ranger during Operation Restore Hope in 1993. Due to their actions during the Battle of Mogadishu multiple decorations were awarded to the airmen. Pararescueman (PJ) TSgt Tim Wilkinson received the Air Force Cross and fellow PJ MSgt Scott Fales received the Silver Star, both for providing lifesaving medical care to wounded soldiers. Combat Controller (CCT) SSgt. Jeffrey W. Bray also received the Silver Star for coordinating helicopter attack runs throughout the night around their positions.
From 15 to 20 September 2000 the 24th STS with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron took part in the annual Canadian military exercise, Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX). This was the first time Special Tactics units took part in SAREX.
In recent years the squadron has been heavily involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan where the unit was part of the JSOC groupings Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26 and Task Force 145. In 2003 members of the unit were involved in two combat jumps in the initial phases of the Iraq War alongside the 3rd Ranger Battalion. The first combat jump was on 24 March 2003 near the Syrian border in the Iraqi town of Al Qaim where they secured a small desert landing strip to allow follow-on coalition forces into the area. The second combat jump was two days later near Haditha, Iraq, where they secured the Haditha Dam.
On 8 April 2003 Combat Controller Scott Sather, a member of the 24th STS, became the first airman killed in combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom near Tikrit, Iraq. He was attached to a small team from the 75th Ranger Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment (RRD). The RRD team and Sather were operating alongside Delta Force, under Lieutenant Colonel Pete Blaber, west of Baghdad. They were tasked with deceiving the Iraqi army into believing the main U.S. invasion was coming from the west in order to prevent Saddam Hussein from escaping into Syria. Sather Air Base was named after him.
The 24th STS was a part of JSOC’s Task Force 145 which was a provisional grouping specifically charged with hunting down high-value al-Qaeda and Iraqi leadership including Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in June 2006.
The squadron lost three members – PJs John Brown and Daniel Zerbe and CCT Andrew Harvell – in 2011 when the Chinook in which they were flying was shot down in Afghanistan. To honor the three 24th STS members who died in the 2011 Chinook shootdown, 18 members of AFSOC marched 800 miles from Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio Texas to Hurlburt Field, Florida in their memory.
- Constituted as 24 Air Corps Interceptor Control Squadron on 14 October 1941.
- Activated on 21 October 1941.
- Redesignated as 24 Fighter Control Squadron on 15 May 1942.
- Disbanded on 31 March 1944.
- Reconstituted, and consolidated (1 March 1992) with the 1724 Combat Control Squadron which was designated, and activated, on 1 May 1987.
- Redesignated as: 1724 Special Tactics Squadron on 1 October 1987.
- Redesignated as: 24 Special Tactics Squadron on 31 March 1992.
- Fourth Air Force, 21 October 1941
- 24th Pursuit Group, 15 January 1942
- Fourth Air Force, 15 January – 7 July 1942
- IV Fighter Command, 8 July – 14 October 1942
- San Francisco Air Defense (later, San Francisco Fighter) Wing, 15 October 1942 – 31 March 1944
- Twenty-Third Air Force, 1 May 1987;
- 1720th (later, 720th) Special Tactics Group, 1 October 1987 – 29 April 2011
- 724th Special Tactics Group, 29 April 2011 – Present