USAFSOS celebrates 50 years of CIWC

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Holt
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
For 50 years, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Schoolhouse, here, has taught the Department of Defense’s longest running course on Irregular Warfare.

The Contemporary Irregular Warfare Course is a five-day educational program that presents irregular warfare theory, doctrine, concepts, and examples from the tactical to strategic level through presentations, lectures, case studies, and guided discussions.

The CIWC was the founding course for USAFSOS when it was created at Hurlburt in 1967. Back then, the schoolhouse was named the Special Air Warfare School. The school was created to educate Air Commandos enroute to Southeast Asia.

“As an American military, we were used to fighting traditional force-on-force warfare, like World War I, WWII, and Korea,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Ziemann, the IW Department Chair for USAFSOS. “Fighting counter-insurgency was something new to us, something we were not well prepared for.”

Though Air Force special operations forces were already active in Southeast Asia by 1967, there was a need to more formally educate Air Commandos for this new type of warfare. President Kennedy called it “new in its intensity, ancient in its origin.”

Greg Jannarone was a student in the second iteration of the course, which at the time was named Counter Revolutionary War Course, and later became an instructor at the schoolhouse. He now serves as an adjunct professor with the Joint Special Operations University.

“Most of the 70 or so folks in the course were headed directly to Vietnam, so we paid attention,” Jannarone said. “There were several memorable instructors, among them Lt. Col. Jim Keating, a navigator, and guest instructors from the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department and elsewhere. I still regard the course as a valuable scene setter and thought-provoking experience for what we were to encounter.”

The overall intent of the CIWC is to provide U.S. Special Operations Command members a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the types of missions that special operations forces conduct on a daily basis. The course is designed to intellectually prepare Air Force, sister service, and partner nation SOF to consider the complex social and political forces that underlie operations in IW environments.

“We review the Air Force and Joint Doctrine for Irregular Warfare then examine contemporary issues through the lens of historical examples,” said Capt. Daniel Jasper, the course director for CIWC. “To do so, we rely on the expertise of both academics and operators. A combination of informal lecture, guided discussion, and tabletop exercises are employed by academics and special operators alike to deliver the fundamentals of IW.”

The course also fosters the application of critical thinking to IW enabling activities such as intelligence, culture, law, and interagency cooperation. Students will relate key concepts during end of day guided discussions and discuss the future of US IW policy challenges during a final course review and guided discussion.

The five core activities of IW (counter insurgency (COIN), foreign internal defense (FID), counterterrorism (CT), unconventional warfare (UW), and stability operations (SO)) as well as Air Commando culture are woven through all lessons and reinforced during end of day and end of course guided discussions.

The instruction and information provided to Air Commandos in 1967 remains relevant to Air Commandos today.

“Human nature is unchanging, and the factors that lead to irregular warfare aren’t going away—especially with the number of fragile and failing nations around the world and the continued growth of terrorist organizations that often thrive in those environments,” Ziemann said. “Not only has IW existed since the beginning of time, it’s been on the uptick for about five years now, and is currently the only form of warfare actually being engaged in around the world. Across the U.S. government, we are increasingly working with partner nations by conducting FID to increase their capacity to fight internal and irregular threats, and stability operations to help the local populace and strengthen host-nation legitimacy. Irregular Warfare isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Currently, USAFSOS is the only Air Force or Department of Defense school that offers a dedicated IW course available to all ranks, and all services.

For more information on the course, visit