Special Ops Pentagon priority

Airmen with a Special Operations squadron from Hurlburt Field, Fla., train Philippine airmen to use a rope ladder. (Air Force photo)

By Marlena Hartz : CNJ Staff Writer

Eastern New Mexico inherited a mission that military officials have sketched as a premier weapon in the fight against terrorism when officials announced Tuesday that the 16th Wing of Air Force Special Operations had been assigned to Cannon Air Force Base.

Congress mandated the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command in 1987, according to a Department of Defense document.
The command, which has Army, Navy, Air Force and most recently Marines branches, shoulders the responsibility of conducting special operations in the civil arena, as well as psychological operations abroad, according to the document.

“We all know what special operations forces do,” said Randy Harris, a Cannon advocate who helped steer the local effort to find a mission for Cannon.

“They fight terror around the world in small units.”

Harris said the mission will have a long life at Cannon, as it is a top military priority, and a staple in the fight against terrorism.

The 16th wing, currently housed at Hurlburt Field in the Florida Panhandle, boasts a force strength of 9,000, including active duty and civilian personnel, according to Maj. Erin Dick of AFSOC public relations.

The exact number of personnel that will be transferred to Cannon is uncertain, and Dick stressed the current total force strength of the wing at Hurlburt doesn’t correspond, necessarily, with the total force strength to be established at Cannon.

As a result of the wing transfer, Hurlburt Field will once regain its designation as the 1st Special Operations Wing, according to a press release from the office of Sen. Pete Domenici, R.-N.M.

Fort Walton Beach, in the Florida Panhandle, will bid adieu to a wing that has been tethered to it since 1993. But expansion at that site was impossible, as traffic is already congested in the area, and nearby Eglin Air Force Base stands to gain 12,000 personnel in the next few years, according to the mayor of Fort Walton Beach.

“We have had a very good relationship with special ops. It has been very positive,” Fort Walton Beach Mayor Mike Anderson told the Clovis News Journal.

Other special operations units have already been established within a 200-mile radius of Clovis, including at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo.

Specializing in unconventional warfare, the 16th wing’s motto is “Any Time, Any Place,” according to its Web site, www.afsoc.af.mil. It is the largest Air Force unit assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command, a command responsible for conducting special operations worldwide, the Web site reports.

“Special operations are often undertaken in enemy-controlled or politically sensitive areas and can cover a myriad of activities.

“The wing stands ready to go worldwide to conduct unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency, or psychological operations. Through special operations, the United States is able to protect its interests in low-intensity conflicts throughout the world,” the Web site reports.

Special operations forces usually deploy at a low cost, and with a lower, less intrusive profile than conventional forces, the document reads.