General Schwartz talks past, present of special ops


By Tech. Sgt. Jess Harvey

The U.S. has the world’s most competent and most capable special operations forces thanks to the selfless dedication of countless U.S. special operations professionals over the years, according to the Air Force Chief of Staff.

Gen. Norton Schwartz discussed the past and present of SOF at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 22nd Annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium Feb. 9 here.

The event’s theme, “Defense, Diplomacy and Development: Translating Policy into Operational Capability,” allowed General Schwartz to speak from personal experience, having joined the SOF ranks in 1980.

“Over the last three decades, the SOF story has been one of selfless dedication and collective efforts — not only on the battlefield, but also in the countless days and nights spent building and preparing the SOF team,” the general said.

In the past, SOF personnel sometimes had to operate in ways quite differently from how they and Air Force units generally operate today, General Schwartz said.

“For instance, in the 1980s , C-130 (Hercules) assault landings and low-level operations using night-vision goggles required specially-qualified SOF aircrews who, as a matter of routine, would duct-tape ‘chem-sticks’ to their instrument panels and tape over warning lights to allow safe operations on night-vision goggles,” General Schwartz said.

Today, nearly every Air Force airframe is configured, and most aircrew members are qualified, for night-vision goggle operations, according to the general.

By 1996, SOF had evolved from clock-to-map-to-ground navigation, to using moving maps and GPS-based precision, navigation and timing, he said.

Not long before that, General Schwartz said he spoke with great pride at his brigadier general promotion ceremony about his SOF teammates and their operational achievements.

“Considering how far we’d come since I’d first joined this band of brothers, I declared my belief that we had entered a ‘golden age’ of special operations,” General Schwartz said. “Throughout the 1990s, mission sets from peacekeeping and noncombat evacuations operations, to counterterrorism and integrated major combat operations, all benefitted immensely from the progressively better organized, trained, and equipped special operations team.”

He added it was those missions, and the further development of SOF, that helped prepare the U.S. to respond powerfully to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“After 9/11, the SOF team was also able to launch itself on a trajectory of further development that, I believe, ensured the extension of the golden age of SOF through to the present and well into the future,” General Schwartz said.

The nature of the conflicts that later ensued in Afghanistan and Iraq helped SOF evolve into a force that was able to meet the need for timely and accurate intelligence in order to pursue an elusive and embedded adversary, the general said.

These developments are seen in the efforts of Air Force Special Operations Command joint terminal attack controllers, who today bolster the critical interface between SOF ground forces and the decisive effects airpower can provide, he said.

“That pioneering group of Airmen has evolved into a culturally-attuned, elite force of lethal warriors, fortified with an ability to concentrate firepower on the ground with airpower effects whenever and wherever needed,” General Schwartz said.

As a result of all these efforts and accomplishments, “our nation has, in its service today, the world’s most competent, and certainly the most capable, special operations force anywhere,” General Schwartz said.

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