20th SOS faces present, future challenges

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Lauren Johnson
  • 16 SOW Public Affairs
With the stature and capabilities of the MH-53 PAVE LOW - the Air Force's most powerful and technologically advanced helicopter - sometimes it's easy to forget the people behind the machines.
The nature of the Global War on Terrorism demands on-site special operations forces, and consequently, the Airmen of Hurlburt Field's 20th Special Operations Squadron.
"Where we accomplish [our] missions, and who and what we're carrying have changed," said Lt Col. Scott Howell, 20th SOS commander. "But the intense mission focus and flexibility of the crews remain unchanged."
The squadron has been deployed almost constantly throughout the Global War on Terrorism, Colonel Howell said. Even time off was spent reorganizing and simultaneously dealing with hurricanes and their effect on the local area.
"(Last year), two-thirds of our squadron deployed for the Global War on Terrorism while the other third were flying humanitarian missions in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina," Colonel How-ell said. "It was an amazing effort by our Airmen."

Despite the strain, the commander said humanitarian missions are very satisfying for the troops. "They get immediate feedback and clearly see the results of their efforts."

"I like that the Air Force gives me the tools to help out people who need help when they need it," said Airman 1st Class Paul Santilli, 20th SOS aerial gunner.

In addition to the present challenges facing the 20th SOS, the future brings struggles of its own. With the MH-53s expected retirement, Colonel Howell explains, "the biggest challenge is the uncertainty for everyone's future."

"This is still an outstanding place for a young Airman to start a career," said Maj. Steven Strawbridge, 20th SOS Command Flight Commander. Major Strawbridge credits the squadron's appeal to its unique mission, supportive community and mentoring opportunities.

Additionally, Colonel Howell is optimistic about the new technology entering the Air Force inventory. "The CV-22 brings a whole new and vastly different capability to the fight. Anytime you can double the speed of your aircraft, you minimize the amount of time the good guys are exposed to the threat. That's a good thing."

Recently, the 8th SOS, soon to be the CV-22 squadron, moved into the same building as the 20th SOS.

"I'm not sure if we'll be able to fly together," Colonel Howell added, "but I would love to see it - the end of one era and the beginning of another."