Schwartz Discusses Past, Present of Special Ops

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2011 — The Unit­ed States has the world’s most com­pe­tent and most capa­ble spe­cial oper­a­tions forces thanks to the self­less ded­i­ca­tion of count­less U.S. spe­cial oper­a­tions pro­fes­sion­als over the years, the Air Force chief of staff said here this week.

National Defense Industrial Association's 22nd Annual Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Symposium in Washington, D.C.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Nor­ton A. Schwartz dis­cuss­es spe­cial oper­a­tions forces dur­ing the Nation­al Defense Indus­tri­al Association’s 22nd Annu­al Spe­cial Oper­a­tions and Low-inten­si­ty Con­flict Sym­po­sium in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Feb. 9, 2011.
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Gen. Nor­ton A. Schwartz dis­cussed the past and present of spe­cial oper­a­tions forces Feb. 9 at the Nation­al Defense Indus­tri­al Association’s 22nd Annu­al Spe­cial Oper­a­tions and Low-inten­si­ty Con­flict Sym­po­sium.

The event’s theme was “Defense, Diplo­ma­cy and Devel­op­ment: Trans­lat­ing Pol­i­cy into Oper­a­tional Capa­bil­i­ty.” Schwartz addressed his audi­ence from expe­ri­ence, hav­ing joined the ranks of spe­cial oper­a­tions forces in 1980.

In the past, spe­cial oper­a­tions per­son­nel some­times had to oper­ate in ways quite dif­fer­ent­ly from how they and Air Force units gen­er­al­ly oper­ate today, Schwartz said.

“For instance, in the 1980s, C-130 assault land­ings and low-lev­el oper­a­tions using night-vision gog­gles required spe­cial­ly qual­i­fied [spe­cial oper­a­tions] air­crews who, as a mat­ter of rou­tine, would duct-tape ‘chem-sticks’ to their instru­ment pan­els and tape over warn­ing lights to allow safe oper­a­tions on night-vision gog­gles,” Schwartz said.

Today, he said, near­ly every Air Force air­frame is con­fig­ured, and most air­crew mem­bers are qual­i­fied, for night-vision gog­gle oper­a­tions.

By 1996, spe­cial oper­a­tions had evolved from clock-to-map-to-ground nav­i­ga­tion to using mov­ing maps and GPS-based pre­ci­sion nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems, he said.

Not long before that, Schwartz said, he had spo­ken with great pride at his brigadier gen­er­al pro­mo­tion cer­e­mo­ny about his spe­cial oper­a­tions team­mates and their oper­a­tional achieve­ments.

“Con­sid­er­ing how far we’d come since I’d first joined this band of broth­ers, I declared my belief that we had entered a ‘gold­en age’ of spe­cial oper­a­tions,” Schwartz said.

Through­out the 1990s, mis­sion sets from peace­keep­ing and non­com­bat evac­u­a­tions oper­a­tions to coun­tert­er­ror­ism and inte­grat­ed major com­bat oper­a­tions all ben­e­fit­ted immense­ly from the pro­gres­sive­ly bet­ter orga­nized, trained, and equipped spe­cial oper­a­tions team.”

Those mis­sions, he said, and the fur­ther devel­op­ment of spe­cial oper­a­tions forces helped to pre­pare the pow­er­ful U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist attacks on the Unit­ed States.

“After 9/11, the [spe­cial oper­a­tions] team was also able to launch itself on a tra­jec­to­ry of fur­ther devel­op­ment that, I believe, ensured the exten­sion of the gold­en age … through to the present and well into the future,” Schwartz said.

The nature of the con­flicts that lat­er ensued in Afghanistan and Iraq helped spe­cial oper­a­tions evolve into a force that was able to meet the need for time­ly and accu­rate intel­li­gence in order to pur­sue an elu­sive and embed­ded adver­sary, the gen­er­al said. These devel­op­ments are seen in the efforts of Air Force Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand joint ter­mi­nal attack con­trollers, who today bol­ster the crit­i­cal inter­face between SOF ground forces and the deci­sive effects that air pow­er can pro­vide, he added.

“That pio­neer­ing group of air­men has evolved into a cul­tur­al­ly attuned, elite force of lethal war­riors, for­ti­fied with an abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate fire­pow­er on the ground with air­pow­er effects when­ev­er and wher­ev­er need­ed,” the gen­er­al said.

As a result of all these efforts and accom­plish­ments, “our nation has in its ser­vice today the world’s most com­pe­tent, and cer­tain­ly the most capa­ble, spe­cial oper­a­tions force any­where,” Schwartz said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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