Special Operations work under cover of dark

CNJ Staff Photo: Andy DeLisle
Tech. Sgt. Erik Thompson shows pictures in the stairwell of the 15th Special Operations Squadron building Wednesday at Hurlburt Field.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of reports from Hurlburt Field, Fla., which is home to Air Force Special Operations Command. The 16th Wing of AFSOC has been assigned to Cannon Air Force Base beginning next year.

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — The world of those in the 15th Squadron is often awash in green.

The success of this squadron, a component of the Air Force 16th Special Operations Wing headed for Cannon Air Force Base next year, hinges on stealth. So the cover of night is preferred.

Members peer through night vision goggles during most operations, which soak up ambient light and illuminate the darkest of black.

“Our mission in life is to get American elite Special Operations forces to the bad places they need to go,” said 15th Special Operations Commander Tony Bauernfeind.

“Weather does not bother us,” he said; “enemy lines, we can penetrate.”

Their mode of transportation is the MC-130H Combat Talon II, a monstrous airplane that can unleash roughly 35,000 pounds of heavy equipment from its bowels.

In addition to night-vision goggles, a melange of advanced computer and radar systems lends members of the 15th the superhuman ability to see clearly in the night.

“We can basically not see anything and deliver our forces through the mountains on time and on target,” said Tech. Sgt. Erik Thompson of the 15th Squadron.

The Talon II drops weapons, parachuters, pamphlets and supplies over medium-threat, and with assistance, high-threat environments, according to unclassified Air Force documents that describe their mission. The planes also remove troops from combat zones and refuel other aircraft.

Typically, a Combat Talon II crew consists of eight members.

The support maintenance group for the plane is the largest in the Air Force.

Maintenance crews buzz around the 15th Squadron brick building at Hurlburt Field. They prepare the air crews’ equipment and plot their daily schedules, among a host of other duties.

In the life-support unit of the squadron, up to 200 life-support kits, helmets and goggles are prepared for use every day, squadron officials said.

“They have quite the Herculean task,” Thompson said.

“There is a lot more to our squadron than its air crew.”