CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, NM – Special Operations Forces truth number four states, “Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.” Those forces must already be trained, prepared and ready to respond to any contingency at a moment’s notice.
After being called to deploy to support Operation Enduring Freedom for six months with just 72-hours notice, the 20 Special Operations Squadron at Cannon AFB, N.M., can attest to that truth firsthand.
The primary mission of the 20 SOS is to conduct low-level penetration of hostile enemy territory to accomplish infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces throughout the world.
The short-notice nature of last summer’s tasking did not deter the “Green Hornets” of the 20 SOS from providing crucial SOF air support when it was needed most. While deployed, the unit conducted 832 sorties and logged more than 1,140 flight-hours with a remarkable 99.9 percent mission effectiveness rate.
Reflecting on the deployment, Maj. Christian Helms, 20 SOS chief of standardization and evaluation, said the battle rhythm was, in a word, unrelenting.
“As the nights went on, the amount and accuracy of direct ground fire we received and the level of contact operators on the ground were faced with escalated rapidly,” said Helms. “Aircraft were coming back with battle damage and the teams were mounting up some convincing EKIA numbers.”
The squadron was more than ready for the challenge, and the 20 SOS’s commitment and determination was evident.
“What most impressed me was the American Fighting Man’s dedication to our cause, his ability to close on and destroy the enemy and his inability to fail. I will never forget that,” said Helms.
Some of the highest praise came straight from the ground forces the squadron supported in theater. One ground force commander remarked that the unit had some of the most professional crews, and one of the most capable aircraft he’d worked with to date.
That “most capable aircraft” the commander referred to is the CV-22 Osprey. The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that combines the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft.
“I flew MC-130s for about five years before coming to the CV-22,” said Helms. “The Osprey is nothing like a fixed wing aircraft, and aside from the ability to hover, almost nothing like a helicopter. It is a quantum leap forward in aviation technology.”
The CV-22 is equipped with integrated threat countermeasures, terrain-following radar, forward-looking infrared sensor and other advanced avionics systems that allow it to operate at low altitude in adverse weather conditions and medium-to-high threat environments.
Crews are specially trained on alternate insertion and extraction, or AIE, devices which offer an alternative to an air-land scenario when taking on a mission. One such example is the “fast-rope” method of insertion. The 20 SOS flight engineers can deploy a 90-foot long, 3-inch thick rope that weighs about 150 pounds. Operators will slide down the rope to infiltrate an objective.
Part of what makes the 20 SOS so effective is the detailed planning and preparation that goes into every training mission.
The majority of the large-scale planning takes place the day before the mission is even scheduled to happen. This includes determining things like the sequence of events, what ranges will be flown and which crew members may need specific training.
On the day of the mission, crews show up four hours prior to takeoff to build briefing slides and calculate takeoff and landing performance data. They then print all of the necessary in-flight products like navigation logs, charts and landing zone diagrams.
“We brief three hours prior to takeoff,” said Helms. “The briefing goes over every single aspect of what we are doing that night. From the moment we leave the briefing room to the moment we get back to the squadron, it is all laid out for everyone to eliminate any ambiguity.”
Crews step to the aircraft about one and a half hours prior to takeoff. The flight engineers conducts a “power-off” preflight check both inside and outside the aircraft, as well as a “power-on” preflight inside the aircraft. Pilots are in their seats 30 minutes prior to takeoff to run checklists that will eventually lead to departure.
The Green Hornets have a legacy that dates back more than 60 years. Over the decades, they have flown direct assaults on numerous high-profile targets and affected the rescue and exfiltration of hundreds of U.S. and allied soldiers. Today, the men and women of the 20 SOS at Cannon AFB are proud to carry on that mission.