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73d Special Operations Squadron

Graphic of a squadron's official emblem. Yellow, blue, black and green are the colors present.

The 73d Special Operations Squadron is home of Air Force Special Operations Command's first AC-130J Ghostrider gunship. (Courtesy graphic)

Photo of an aircraft on a flightline with clouds in the background.

The 73d Special Operations Squadron is home of Air Force Special Operations Command’s first AC-130J Ghostrider gunship. The AC-130J Ghostrider represents the 5th generation of fixed wing gunships and will continue the legacy of the gunship fleet of AC-130H Spectre, AC-130U Spooky, and AC-130W Stinger gunships. (Courtesy photo)

The Mission
The 73d Special Operations Squadron is home of AFSOC’s first AC-130J gunship.  The AC-130J Ghostrider represents the 5th generation of fixed wing gunships and will continue the legacy of the gunship fleet of AC-130H Spectre, AC-130U Spooky, and AC-130W Stinger gunships.  The squadron plans, prepares and executes AC-130J Ghostrider gunship missions, providing precise delivery of 30/105mm and precision guided munitions supporting joint conventional and special operations forces.  It directly supports theater commanders conducting close air support, armed reconnaissance, armed escort and air interdiction.

Emblem Significance
Blue represents the sky, the primary theater of Air Force operations.  Yellow refers to the sun and the excellence required of Air Force personnel.  A green crescent moon pays homage to the prominent symbol of the gunship community since the Vietnam War.  The shadow figure on horseback gives reverence to the robust heritage of legacy gunship Ghostriders and the combat lineage of the AC-119G Shadow.  It also alludes to the bond between man and machine as the unit flies into battle to take the fight to the enemy.  Black signifies the clandestine nature of the unit’s operations while white signifies the blank canvas upon which the next chapter of gunship history will be written.  The four yellow stars symbolize the previous gunship variants.

Organized as 73 Aero Squadron on 22 Feb 1918.  Demobilized on 4 Jul 1919.  Reconstituted and consolidated (16 Oct 1936) with 73 Headquarters Squadron which was constituted on 18 Oct 1927.  Redesignated as 73 Pursuit Squadron on 8 May 1929.  Activated on 15 Jul 1931.  Redesignated as: 73 Attack Squadron on 1 Mar 1935; 73 Bombardment Squadron (Medium) on 17 Oct 1939.  Disbanded on 1 Nov 1943.  Reconstituted and consolidated (19 Sep 1985) with the 3 Strategic Support Squadron, which was constituted on 26 Oct 1950.  Activated on 16 Nov 1950.  Inactivated on 15 Jun 1961.  Redesignated as 73 Special Operations Squadron on 19 Sep 1985.  Activated on 1 Oct 2006.  Transferred to Hulburt Field, Florida on 23 Feb 2018.

The 73d dates to the formation of the 73d Aero Squadron at Rich Field, Waco, Texas on 22 February 1918.  When the unit arrived at Aviation Camp there were 150 privates assigned under the command of 1st Lieutenant Loren W. De Motte.  Once organized into a unit, the 73d was transferred to Call Field, Wichita Falls, Texas, where the unit underwent basic indoctrination training.  The men were also trained in aviation mechanic work.  A few months later, the unit got orders to serve overseas.  A short time thereafter the unit was reassigned to the Second Army where it operated the 6th Air Park.  It remained in France after the Armistice in November 1918, returning to the United States in June 1919 where it was demobilized at Hazelhurst Field, New York, on 4 July 1919.

On 8 May 1929, it was redesignated the 73d Pursuit Squadron.  The unit was activated on 15 July 1931 by the Army Air Corps as an active-duty squadron.  It was assigned to the 17th Pursuit Group at March Field, California, and equipped with Boeing P-12 fighters. In 1934 it received new Boeing P-26 Peashooters but retained the P-12s.  It was reorganized and redesignated as the 73d Attack Squadron on 1 March 1935.  In 1935 the squadron was awarded the Frank Luke Trophy, having the highest gunnery score in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

It received Northrop A-17 aircraft, replacing the Boeing fighters.  The squadron flew reconnaissance flights in support of flood relief in southern California.  On 17 October 1939 the squadron was reorganized and redesignated as the 73d Bombardment Squadron (Medium) and was re-equipped with Douglas B-18 Bolos.  It moved to McChord Field, Washington, 26 June 1940.  The 73d was relieved from assignment to the 17th Bombardment Group on 3 May 1941 and assigned to the 28th Composite Group.

The squadron moved to the new Elmendorf Field near Anchorage, Alaska on 14 March 1941. It was one of the first Air Corps units assigned to the Alaska Territory.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the squadron flew anti-submarine patrols over the Gulf of Alaska.  When the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands in June 1942, the squadron was reassigned to Fort Glenn Army Air Base on Adak Island.  It began flying combat missions over the captured islands of Kiska and Attu Islands.  The squadron flew combat missions with Martin B-26 Marauders and later with North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers during the Aleutian Campaign, returning to the United States in August 1943.  The squadron was transferred to Pyote Army Air Field, Texas, on 6 October, and was disbanded there on 1 November 1943  Its personnel retrained as replacement crews for Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and its aircraft redeployed as replacement aircraft to overseas combat units.

The 73d Bombardment Squadron and the 3d Strategic Support Squadron were consolidated as the 73d Special Operations Squadron in 1985, but was not activated.  It was activated in 2006 to operate the new MC-130W Combat Spear aircraft.  The 73d was the first flying special operations squadron to move to Cannon Air Force Base, NM, after the fighter squadrons left.  In April 2012, due to a change in the mission the MC-130W was re-designated as the AC-130W Stinger II.  On 12 June 2015, the squadron was left empty, and its mission, personnel and aircraft were transferred with those of the 16th Special Operations Squadron.  The squadron was transferred on 23 February 2018, AFSOC reassigned the 73 SOS from the 27 Special Operations Group to the 1st Special Operations Group, Hurlburt Field, Florida to operate the Air Force’s newest gunship the AC-130J Ghostrider in support of joint, conventional, and special operations ground forces.

Post Headquarters, Rich Field, 26 Feb-Nov 1918; 2 Day Bombardment Group, Nov 1918-1919; Eastern Department, 1919-4 Jul 1919.  17 Pursuit (later 17 Attack; 17 Bombardment) Group, 15 Jul 1931; 28 Composite Group, 3 May 1941; Second Air Force, 6 Oct-1 Nov 1943; Second Air Force, 15 Nov 1950; 4238 Strategic Wing, 1 Jul 1959-15 Jun 1961; 16 Operations Group, 1 Oct 2006; 27 Special Operations Group, 1 Oct 2007-22 Feb 2018; 1 Special Operations Group, 23 Feb 2018-Present.

Waco, TX, 26 Feb 1918; Call Field, TX, 1 Mar 1918; Garden City, NY, 16 Jul-13 Aug 1918; St Maixent, France, c. 5 Sep 1918; Delouze, France, c. 20 Sep 1918; Colombey-les-Belles, France, c. 5 Oct 1918; Ourches, France, c. 15 Nov 1918-1919; Hazelhurst Field, NY, 19 Jun-4 Jul 1919; March Field, CA, 15 Jul 1931; McChord Field, WA, 26 Jun 1940-10 Mar 1941; Elmendorf Field, AK, 14 Mar 1941 (detachments operated from Ft Randall, Umnak, Adak, and Amchitka, AK, 1942-1943); Umnak, AK, Apr 1943; Amchitka, AK, Jun-30 Aug 1943; Paine Field, WA, 14 Sep 1943; Pyote AAF Id, TX, 6 Oct-1 Nov 1943; Hunter AFB, GA, 16 Nov 1950; Barksdale AFB, LA, 5 Jan 1953-15 Jun 1961; Hurlburt Field, FL, 1 Oct 2006; Cannon AFB, NM, 1 Oct 2007-22 Feb 2018; Hurlburt Field, FL, 23 Feb 2018-Present.

None (Air Park Management Squadron), 1918-1919; P-l2, 1931-1934; P-26, 1934-1935; P-12, 1935-1936; A-17, 1936-1940; B-18, 1939-1942; B-26, 1942-1943; B-25, 1942-1943; C-124, 1950-1961; MC- 130 (later, AC-130W), 2006-2015; AC-130J, 2018-Present.

Managed an airpark with Second Army, c. 15 Nov 1918-1919.  Trained for pursuit and attack missions (1931-1939) and for bombardment missions (1939-1941).  Reconnaissance in support of flood-relief in southern California during Mar 1938. Combat in Northern Pacific, Dec 1941-Aug 1943.  Flew airlift support for SAC bases in CONUS and overseas from 1950-1961.  Operated MC-130 (later, designated as AC-130W) aircraft in support of special operations, 2006-2015.  Operated AC-130J aircraft in support of special operations, 2018-Present.

Service Streamers
World War I: Theater of Operations

Campaign Streamers
World War II:  Aleutian Islands; Air Combat, Asiatic-Pacific
Afghanistan:  Consolidation II; Consolidation III
Iraq:  OPERATION New Dawn

Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat “V” Device
1 Oct 2006-30 Jun 2007

Meritorious Unit Award
1 Oct 2008-30 Sep 2009
1 Oct 2011-30 Sep 2013
1 Oct 2013-30 Sep 2015

Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards
4 Apr 1956-31 Dec 1957
1 Oct 2007-30 Sep 2008

1 Lt Loren W. De Motte, 26 Feb 1918-c. 4 Jul 1919.  Unkn, 15 Jul 1931-1932.  1Lt Hugh C. Minter, 1932; Unkn, 1932-1936; Maj Louie C. Mallory, 1936-unkn; Unkn-26 Mar 1941; Capt Jack N. Donohew, 27 Mar 1941; Maj Henry S. Taylor, 15 Dec 1942; Capt Warren E. Beth, 13 Apr-1 Nov 1943; Maj Hugh B. Vail, 16 Nov 1950; Lt Col James R. Wiley, 8 Dec 1950; Lt Col Joseph W. Donovan, Apr 1951; Lt Col Robert E. Copley, by Jan 1952; Maj Fred Q. Stalker, 18 Aug 1953; Lt Col Carroll B. Markel, 1 Sep 1953; Lt Col Elmer T. Harshbarger, 6 Apr 1956; Maj Vinson S. Huegele, 1 Jul 1956 (temporary); Lt Col Elmer T. Harshbarger, 20 Aug 1956; Maj Vinson S. Huegele, 1 May 1958 (temporary); Lt Col Frank M. Newman, 23 Jun 1958; Maj Vinson S. Huegele, 25 Jul 1958; Col Frank M. Newman, 24 Sep 1958; Lt Col Courtney A. Remele, by Jul 1960-c. 15 Jun 1961; Lt Col Thomas A. Markland, 1 Oct 2006; Lt Col William S. Wolfe, 15 Feb 2008; Lt Col Kevin A. Cabanas, 23 Oct 2009; Lt Col Donald D. Purdy, 10 Jun 2011; Lt Col Chester M. Dooly, 20 May 2013-12 June 2015; Lt Col Tracey L. Iverson, 23 Feb 2018; Lt Col Jeff McMaster, 21 Feb 2019-1 July 2020;  Lt Col Cliff Johnson 2 July 2020 - Present