1st SOW assets played major role in operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeff Michalke
  • 16th SOW History Office
This is the fifth in a series of Air Commando history articles leading up to the reactivation of the 1st Special Operations Wing here Nov. 16)

President George H.W. Bush ordered ground, sea and air forces to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf as part of a multi-national operation named Desert Shield on Aug. 6, 1990. Even with more than 500,000 troops, this massive and technologically superior force failed to convince Iraq President Saddam Hussein to withdraw form Kuwait and end his aggression.

In mid-January 1991, when all prospects for a peaceful solution had evaporated, President Bush ordered the execution of Operation Desert Storm to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. 1st Special Operations Wing personnel played a significant role in Desert Storm as part of Task Force Normandy.
Task Force Normandy consisted of 20th Special Operations Squadron MH-53 PAVE LOWs navigating a route for U.S. Army Apache helicopter gunships, which knocked out Iraqi early warning sites. This attack opened a hole in the air defense system to start the air war.

After Task Force Normandy, the PAVE LOWs served primarily in a combat search and rescue role and rescued a U.S. Navy flier, 1st. Lt. Devon Jones, on Jan. 21, 1991, resulting in the first successful combat rescue behind enemy lines since Vietnam.

The MC-130E Combat Talon crews dropped psychological operations leaf-lets on Iraqi forces and deployed a total of 11 15,000-pound BLU-82 bombs in combat.

The AC-130H Spectre gunships flew armed reconnaissance, destroyed targets identified by intelligence and provided close-air support of ground forces when requested.

The 55th SOS MH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters inserted Special Forces be-hind enemy lines and performed CSAR.

Also, the 9th SOS HC-130P Combat Shadow tankers flew deep into Iraq to refuel 1st SOW helicopters in a high threat environment.

By March 13, 1991, the 1st SOW aircraft flew more than 10,000 hours on more than 5,000 sorties.

The loss of Spirit 03, a 16th SOW AC-130H gunship, and its crew of 14, resulted in the largest single loss suffered by an Air Force unit in Operation Desert Storm.

The gunship, supporting U.S. Marines in a battle for the town of Khafji, remained in the area too long, and the morning light afforded the enemy the opportunity to shoot it down.

Heroism often has an extremely high price.

In this case, the aircrew of Spirit 03 certainly recognized the potential cost to them and benefit to the Marines and accepted the risk.