Special Tactics airmen are the keen edge of the U.S. Air Force’s spear and the 24th Special Tactics Squadron (STS), based out of Pope Field, NC, is the Air Force’s Joint Special Operations Command component.
The term Joint in this context denotes a unit that deploys and operates with members of sister-service units. As a Tier-1 asset, the 24th STS is the Air Force equivalent of the Navy’s SEAL Team Six or the Army’s Delta Force.
Air Force special tactics airmen are involved in air, ground, and cyber operations around the globe. Members of 24th STS are pararescue jumpers, combat controllers, and even battlefield surgeons. This unit is one of America’s Special Mission Units (SMU) tasked with operating behind enemy lines.
They have four main objectives: Global Access, Precision Strike, Personnel Recovery, and Battlefield Surgery.
Special Tactics airmen maintain the ability to open and control potential airfields in contested areas. Using reconnaissance assets and available intelligence, Combat Controllers (CCT) are able to assess the area, locate a suitable airfield, and either control an existing strip or prepare an area for infiltration.
Special Tactics airmen are highly-trained in aircraft drops, whether munitions, operators, or humanitarian aid. Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTAC), part of the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), embedded with special operation forces, direct strikes with pinpoint accuracy. Confining dropped munitions to precise targets minimizes civilian and collateral damage.
Pararescue jumpers (PJs) from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron are trained to operate in contested and hostile areas, fulfilling their creed of jumping into harm’s way to rescue others. The PJs of the 24th STS are notably portrayed in the movie Black Hawk Down, about the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. Ty Burrell plays PJ Tim Wilkinson in the film.
Battlefield surgeons are not a new concept. As far back as Alexander the Great, tourniquets were used to control bleeding, on the field, and after the battle. Advances made in medicine often result from wartime needs, and battlefield surgery has become increasingly responsible for saving civilian lives. The 24th STS deploys the Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST), made up of six members, instrumental in saving lives in the field.
24th Special Tactics Squadron, a Tier 1 Unit
As the USAF’s Tier 1 asset, the members of the 24th Special Operations Squadron are on call 24/7. They must remain ready to deploy anywhere, anytime, and into any conditions. STS airmen work closely with their Army, Navy, and Marine Corps brothers, as well as with allied forces around the world.
According to the Air Force Special Tactics fact sheet,
“Since Sept. 11, 2001, Air Force Special Tactics has been involved in almost every major operation and has seen a significant amount of combat. They are the most highly decorated community in the Air Force since the end of the Vietnam War.”
The motto for these highly-trained operators is succinct: Los Professionales (The Professionals).
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