HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --- Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen joined personnel from U.S. Special Operations Command to celebrate USSOCOM's 20th anniversary held April 23-27 at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
USSOCOM, made up of about 48,000 Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps special operators, specializes in counterterrorism and unconventional warfare missions. The command leads America's war on terrorism.
To celebrate its birthday, USSOCOM officials gave local and national media outlets a rare glimpse into the shadow world of special operations through access to special operators, their weapons and other unique gear.
AFSOC's contributions to the party included a display manned by a special tactics officer, special operations weathermen, combat controllers and pararescuemen from the 720th Special Tactics Group at Hurlburt Field. Special operations Airmen provided information on the CV-22 Osprey, AC-130U Spooky and MC-130W Combat Spear aircraft on static display from the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt.
The Osprey proved to be particularly popular, flying reporters around the Tampa area to demonstrate the tilt-rotor versatility of AFSOC's newest and most transformational aircraft.
While every passenger got to experience the CV-22's impressive takeoff performance and speed, a lucky few skipped the landing by tandem-jumping at 5,000 feet from the Osprey's back ramp while firmly strapped to an Army Golden Knights jumper.
Melissa Bunting, an executive producer with a Tampa radio station, was one of those who took the fast way down.
"This was my first jump. (My show host) called me one afternoon and said, 'Wanna jump out of a plane next week at MacDill?' How could I say no to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?" she said.
She said she was a bit apprehensive about jumping out of an aircraft. "I am not going to lie," Ms. Bunting said, "I was scared to death. But it turned into one of the best experiences of my life. Jumping out of the Osprey and feeling that feeling of flying was so incredible, and it's hard to put into words what it feels like. You have to actually do it."
But did the experience hook her on skydiving? "I would definitely do it again, although nothing will top jumping with the Golden Knights and out of the Osprey," she said.
Special operators, too, were impressed with the Osprey's ability to hover like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing airplane.
"I have been on every helicopter in the inventory," said one Army Ranger. "This is the best ride I've ever had."
Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley highlighted the role of the air commandos in the war on terrorism. "One of the great things that happened in Tampa was the focus on people. SOF Week is a great opportunity to showcase the capabilities and professionalism of all of America's SOF warriors," the general said. "Our special operators are at the tip of the spear, taking the fight to terrorists and their supporters every day and night.
"AFSOC air commandos are in the air and on the ground all around the world," he said, "making sure America's enemies are looking over their shoulders and constantly wondering 'Am I next?'"