Since the 9/11 terrorist attack 19 years ago, the men and women of the 17th Special Tactics Squadron have had no breaks in deployments or combat operations for more than 6900 days.
U.S. service members have seen an increased spike in deployments since the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism. These deployments have been kept at a sustained high tempo for almost 20 years.
Their initial response to the GWOT started in October of 2001 and they haven’t slowed down since. They supported combat operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support.
Members of this unit are scattered all around the globe, bringing the fight to the enemies front door. These day in and day out never-ending actions are some of many that directly reflect the testament of the heritage, courage and sacrifice of the unit.
“The 17th STS members have single handedly removed (thousands) of (high value targets) from the battlefield and therefore severely degraded terrorist networks that pose a threat to U.S. interest. Most importantly, our operators are consistently providing desperately needed close air support at the most critical times in combat, while also coordinating insertion, extraction, and medical and casualty evacuation lift for critically wounded teammates,” said Lt. Col. Travis Deutman, 17th STS commander.
Within the Air Force the 17th STS is unique in the special tactics community as they are spread across the globe.
Their primary mission is to provide Air Forces Special Operations Commmands, special tactics TACPs to the 75th Ranger Regiment. This pairs the DOD’s most lethal joint terminal attack controllers with the most premier direct-action raid force.
The 17th STS operators direct precision strike munitions while delivering destructive ordnance on enemy targets in support of the Ranger ground scheme manuever.
In addition the unit provides special reconnaissance Airmen, combat controllers, special tactics officers and combat mission support Airmen to the 75th Ranger Regiment, enhancing its precision strike and global access capabilities.
The squadron isn’t in one location. They are geographically separated in three different locations so the unit can train and deploy alongside all five of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s 75th Ranger Regiment battalions.
The squadron is headquartered in Fort Benning, GA alongside the Regimental Headquarters, 3rd Ranger Battalion, Regimental Special Troops Battalion, and Regimental Military Intelligence Battalion.
The two operational detachments are located at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, alongside the 1st Ranger Battalion, and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, alongside the 2nd Ranger Battalion.
“No other unit in the (USAF) offers the opportunity to close with and destroy enemies of the United States like those of us selected to support the Ranger Regiment,”“The Ranger Regiment is its own legend-generator and the opportunity to serve alongside one of the most lethal light infantry forces on earth is humbling,” said an ST TACP operator with the 17th STS.
There is an inimitable bond between the 17STS and the 75th Ranger Regiment, as the respective units are geographically located together. They conduct entire training cycles with the exact team that they deploy with, building trust and respect among the units.
“The 17th STS promotes what I would argue is the foremost example of joint service relationships. This unit has an extremely proud lineage and comes with the responsibility for each member to uphold and/or surpass the standard that has been set by those before us,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Inch, an ST TACP operator with the 17th STS.
The Special Tactics community has an ongoing involvement in combat that brings valor to the team. The Special Forces community is the most highly decorated community in the Air Force since the end of the Vietnam War. The 17th STS has played a large hand in that statistic. Their members have received more than 80 high valor medals for courageous actions in combat.
The 17th STS operations superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Steve Reedy, shared his thoughts on the unit, “The foundation of this unit is the heritage of warriors that distinguished themselves in combat before we walked these halls. Every member of this organization earns their right to be a member every day in keeping with that heritage.”
When the quiet professionals of this prestigious squadron receive an award, it is common for the battlefield operator to credit their success to their entire team. The team spends days,weeks and months training to forge that trust and competency to take downrange.
Both the the physical and mental challenges the operators undergo for at least 275 days out of the year equips and prepares them for the demanding environment they will encounter downrange.
Aspiring conventional TACP Airmen undergo undergo a harrowing week-long assessment at Hurlburt Field, Florida before they can be welcomed into the special tactics community.
The assessment is designed to test the candidates limits, while dtermining if the have what it takes to join the ranks within ST. Then candidates are then hand-selected into the 17th STS.
Every aspect of the operators training is important, but that isn’t the primary concern shares an ST TACTP operator with the 17th STS.
“Technical competency matters, professionalism matters, but your mental fortitude and intellectual flexibility might be the most important attributes. The training to get here and working with (the Ranger Regiment) prepares you for the realities of combat.”
The operators are highly skilled and trained in a fast paced environment. This prepares them to save lives, if not their own, then their teammates.
“The training that we provide simply adds different layers and different (tactics, techniques and procedures), seeing that the Ranger Regiment conducts operations in a very specific way. All of our training is fast paced and complex, and although the basics do not change, the level and repetition at which we do the basics is what sets us apart. As a team, we push each other beyond what we have all seen in combat. We do this because we understand that if this training does not save their own life, it will allow them to save the lives of the Rangers around them, “ said 1st Lt. Evan Patoray, 17th STS, Detachment 2 flight commander.
The special tactics Airmen, along with their families sacrifice a great deal. The high speed operations tempo can be both brutal and toxic. They need to have the proper training and decompression time, according to Staff Sgt. Ryan Duhon, an ST TACP operator with the 17th STS.
In order to be part of something bigger than themselves, the operators miss many celebrations, from missed birthdays, holidays and anniversaries.
“The team will push you to be the best version of yourself on and off the battlefield. The missions you will be on have (an) impact felt at a national strategic level, and the legacy you will be of will be some of your proudest accomplishments in life,” said Tech. Sgt. Joey Hauser, an ST TACP operator with the 17th STS.
When asking members of the 17th STS what it means to them to be a part of the combat-proven unit, the most common answer you will hear is humbling.
“We fight, bleed and laugh beside (the Rangers). We win as a team or fail as a team,” Duhon said. “When we are downrange, there is no deviation or segregation between Air Force and Army. We are one team fighting daily together to overcome adversaries,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Duhon, an ST TACP operator with the 17th STS.