“Having Hurlburt Field on a set of orders does not make you an Air Commando– you have to earn it.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of that phrase when Vincent Milioti, former director of the Combat Aviation Advisor Qualification Course, told me it in October 2009. I was fresh out of technical school and reported here, my first duty station, a few weeks before. Its opening formula was simple, but the conclusion was vague.
PHOTO: Senior Airman Joe McFadden salutes the Air Commando tablets at the airpark at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
What exactly did it take to be an “Air Commando?”
Yet, the significance of those words – the challenge to earn a title – remained fresh in my mind throughout my story on CAAMQC then and even to my last day here this week. I’ve made it a central point in every story I write to convey just what it means to claim lineage to the 1st Air Commando Group and its founding fathers Cols. Phil Cochran and John Alison.
However, after four years here, I’ve determined that no words I could ever write would appropriately measure up to the meaning and legacy of what it means to be an Air Commando. Rather, it has always been seen in the heroic actions and selfless sacrifice carried out by the men and women of Team Hurlburt any time, any place. I’ve been privileged to work for, with and beside them, and it’s been an honor to say it’s been my job to write about their deeds.
With that in mind, I asked eight fellow Air Commandos–ranging from a three-striped airman to a three-star general–to answer the question, “What does being an Air Commando mean to you?” Their diversity of experiences and careers offer just as varied answers to this single question. However, I feel the underlying themes of courage, dedication and family run deep throughout their responses– just as they do throughout all Air Commandos and their families who call Hurlburt Field their home.
“Air Commandos are among the best Airmen, wingmen and warriors in today’s Air Force. They push boundaries and constantly challenge themselves to reach their full potential, while bringing out the very best in others. Driven by their strong values, Air Commandos are always hungry for excellence, for freedom and for justice. They do not rest until the job gets done… a job they accomplish with great pride and honor. While displaying absolute humility, these silent warriors protect our nation and all it stands for. Simply put, being an Air Commando means to be at the tip of the spear, and then taking it a step even further.” -Senior Airman Stefanie Simon, 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron contracting specialist (pictured right as an Airman 1st Class visiting a resident of the Hawthorne House in Shalimar, Fla.)
“Being an Air Commando to me is an honor. Even though my job as a dental technician is not on the front lines, I feel privileged to be able to help care for those who are. Being assigned to the Irregular Warfare team for Air Force Special Operations Command has been a great opportunity to assist in providing dental care and training in austere locations. Working side-by-side with host nation counterparts is what our mission is all about.” -Tech. Sgt. Leah Potter, 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron NCO in charge of Dental Records and Reception (pictured left assisting a local dentist with a patient in West Africa)
“To me, being an Air Commando means I am part of an exceptional team made up of talented, energetic and devoted Airmen. The result of being a part of the world’s most respected and capable special operations force in the most feared and lethal Air Force in history is the emerging of heroes among us. Working alongside these heroes every day gives me a tremendous sense of pride. This has never been about one person — it has always been about working as a team; the people you are elbow-to-elbow with every day. Whether in a firefight on a MH-53 Pavelow or while loading up 105mm rounds in an AC-130U for a dangerous close-fire mission, I have always been part of a team. It takes teamwork from every Air Commando to have a successful mission. As Air Commandos, we are defined by our mission but driven by our warrior ethos, our tenacity and our approach to the mission. Air Commandos have a reputation and culture for strength, courage, motivation and innovation. When we face challenges or difficulties, rather than seeing a problem, Air Commandos see an opportunity, and we work to find a solution or better way of operating. Being an Air Commando isn’t just a job; it is a way of life.” -Master Sgt. Corey Fossbender, 4th Special Operations Squadron Commander’s Action Group superintendent (pictured right as a technical sergeant in front of an AC-130U gunship at Hurlburt Field, Fla.)
“When I think of being an Air Commando, I immediately think of the Air Force Core Value, ‘Service before Self.’ On any given day, we can find ourselves in harm’s way to protect and serve without fail. In the past six years, I have seen our Airmen give themselves over and over again, and a few have made the ultimate sacrifice. To me, it’s not just what this command can do for me, but what we all can do to make this command better and serve our nation.” -Chief Master Sgt. Jacinda Rivers, Air Force Special Operations Command command and control functional manager (pictured left at her promotion ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla.)
“An Air Commando gets the job done. There is less of the bureaucratic nonsense here — AFSOC Air Commandos assess, plan and execute. I have worked within several other major commands, and I would say they organize, train and equip quite well. But mission execution is unparalleled when Air Commandos are involved. My observation these past few years is that Air Commandos are extremely efficient, capitalizing on the experience and networking that is possible in an elite Command. I am very proud to be a part of the AFSOC team.” -Susan Cotten, 1st Special Operations Wing commander’s secretary (pictured right singing the national anthem at the 1st SOW change of command ceremony on Hurlburt Field, Fla.)
“Being an Air Commando means being part of a very relevant team. My tour as a wing executive opened my eyes to how relevant everyone is. Everyone at Hurlburt Field is busy, contributing and relevant to the fight. As a maintainer, I realize how much it takes for our troops to get the airplanes ready for operators to employ them. I see how much effort, enthusiasm and dedication it takes our Airmen to launch aircraft on time. We train hard because success is a combination of preparation and opportunity. Air Commandos always stay prepared, waiting for another opportunity to answer our nation’s call.” -Capt. Myron Chivis, 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant operations officer (pictured left, exiting an MC-130 Combat Talon behind Col. Jim Slife, 1st SOW wing commander)
“It’s difficult to describe the pride I feel in being an Air Commando. It’s humbling when I think about the true American heroes whom I get the privilege to work with day-to-day and overwhelming when I think of their sacrifices. Being an Air Commando means saying ‘yes’ to the grave challenges of today when most would say ‘no.’ It means giving 110 percent, leaving it all out on the battlefield and getting up the next day to do it all over again. It means remaining humble, credible, approachable and teaching others to do the same. It’s an honor to call myself an Air Commando.” -Maj. Allison Black, 319th Special Operations Squadron director of operations (pictured right speaking at an American Legions conference about her experiences in Afghanistan)
“Air Commandos have always been distinguished by their ingenuity. They think outside-the-box and challenge how things have been done before to ensure success. No matter where the fight has taken us, our history shares a common thread of a relentless mission-focus and the resilience to turn any potential setback into an opportunity to excel. From the heroics of the World War II-era Chindits, to the lessons of Operation Eagle Claw, to the deserts and mountains of today’s fight, our AFSOC Airmen do amazing things every day to keep our country safe. Their dedication, professionalism and service are the hallmarks of being an Air Commando, and I am honored to serve as their commander.” -Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander (pictured left presenting a Silver Star Medal to Ray and Pat Forester on behalf of their son, Senior Airman Mark Forester, who died in combat in Afghanistan)