24th Special Tactics Squadron

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The 24th Special Tactics Squadron is the secretive Tier 1 unit and one of the Special Missions Unit of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). It is the U.S. Air Force Tier 1 component to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) alongside with SEAL Team 6 – DEVGRU, Delta Force and Intelligence Support Activity (ISA).

Capabilities

The unit HQ is at Pope Field, North Carolina. The operators from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron are generally elite forward air controllers who accompany the ST6, Delta Force, etc. and coordinate the delivery of air support and their extraction if necessary. Because they need to accompany the “operators” they need to master the same skills.

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24th Special Tactics Squadron emblem (Photo: USAF)
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As such, 24th Special Tactics Squadron operators are also trained in conducting classified and clandestine operations such as direct action, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, hostage rescue, and special reconnaissance.

The unit has some of the best trained, most experienced personnel that can direct close air support and administer combat medicine in the field. In fact, many other Special Missions Units do not have their own JTACs or Combat Medics – they rely on the Airmen that are with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.

Selection and training

The selection and training pipeline for 24th Special Tactics Squadron is incredibly long and difficult, with attrition rates exceeding 95%.

The operators are roosted from other AFSOC units, so basically, the unit is comprised of the Combat Controllers and Pararescuemen. CCT specializes in providing Joint Terminal Attack capabilities by coordinating with close air support, as well as providing information to establish landing zones and insertion routes. Both of these skills are critically important to battlefield success. The Pararescuemen specialize in going behind enemy lines to recover downed aircrews, as well as extract and provide medical care for Special Operations personnel. They’re trained in immediate combat trauma care, as well as recovery methods and combat skills.

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Members from the U.S. Air Force 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Fort Bragg, complete helo, fast rope and hoisting training during exercise (Photo: USAF)

Both of these specialties usually work to augment existing forces. CCTs are attached to Special Forces ODAs, SEAL Teams, as well as teams from Delta and DEVGRU. They primarily work individually as part of another unit.

Pararescue can operate individually as a combat medic, or they can operate as a combat trauma team aboard dedicated air assets.

How special they are, there are some inside stories that most Tier 1 units, when are deployed to certain mission, want to have the 24 Special Tactics Squadron for any rescue they would need.

History and engagement

The 24th Special Tactics Squadron was formed on 14 October 1941 as 24 Air Corps Interceptor Control Squadron. The unit was activated on 21 October 1941. Through the years, the unit has changed many names and forms, until it was constituted in its today form. On 31 March 1992, the unit finally was redesignated as 24th Special Tactics Squadron.

In recent years the 24th Special Tactics Squadron has been heavily involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan where the unit was part of the JSOC groupings Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26 and Task Force 145.

In 2003 members of the unit were involved in two combat jumps in the initial phases of the Iraq War alongside the 3rd Ranger Battalion. The first combat jump was on 24 March 2003 near the Syrian border in the Iraqi town of Al Qaim where they secured a small desert landing strip to allow follow-on coalition forces into the area.

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Pararescueman Senior Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez wearing the artifacts now displayed on a mannequin at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (Photo: USAF)

The second combat jump was two days later near Haditha, Iraq, where they secured the Haditha Dam.

After the initial phase of Afghanistan and Iraq operations, they fought alongside other Tier 1 units in dozens publicly known and unknown missions.