'You Were in the Situation Room, We Were High-Fiving:' Airmen Brief DoD Chief on Sporty Hostage Rescue Support Mission
RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom - Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller was impressed on Monday when he received new information in late October about support for an Air Force unit to safely rescue an American hostage in Nigeria.
Miller, who was visiting the base as part of a pre-Christmas trip, was briefed here by members of the 100th Air Refueling Wing about how they had tossed tankers into the air at short notice to overcome technical setbacks and achieve the flawless antenna refueling mission that made it a Navy SEAL team made it possible to achieve its goal.
On October 31st, members of SEAL Team Six were drafted into Nigeria via CV-22 Ospreys and MC-130J Commando II special aircraft to rescue Philip Walton, who had been kidnapped from his farm on the Niger border days earlier. The mission was an unqualified success: Walton was safely recovered and the SEALs killed all but one of his seven kidnappers without suffering any loss.
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The 100th, sometimes called "the only gas station in town" because of its capabilities are unique in the region, delivered five of its 15 KC-135 Stratotankers to the mission and supported the special aircraft of the 352nd Special Operations Wing, based in the same location is located in Mildenhall. The aircraft was forward positioned in Rota, Spain before departing for Nigeria, more than 2,000 miles away.
"With the combat radius of in-flight refueling in collaboration with our 352nd Special Operations Wing partners, we can reach and touch anyone in Europe and Africa. And I'm proud of that, sir," said Lt. Col. Ryan Ferdinandsen, chief security officer of the 100th, Miller said as they stood in the shadow of one of the massive Stratotankers.
While the high profile mission was praised by President Donald Trump and other senior officials, and even highlighted the role of the air refueling team, Ferdinandsen offered new details on what the squadron had to overcome to complete the mission.
"I want to praise one of my crew members, Captain Will Carroll, sir," he said, indicating a young pilot by his side. "He was on one of the missions that late evening when he took off. The weather wasn't great. They basically had an emergency ... a power outage. At high speed they stopped. ... In the meantime here an AC-130 gunship on its way across the Atlantic. So it has to happen again and talk about the priority of the mission. It can't fail. "
The squadron's maintenance team had stepped in to solve the technical problem and obtain a waiver, which was necessary for the restart with minimal equipment. They made the tank window. Days prior to the mission, the 100th Maintenance Group received the 2020 Secretary of Defense Maintenance Effectiveness Award, presented by Miller during the engagement.
Miller, who had barely a month in his role and served as the head of the National Counter-Terrorism Center before being tapped on Nov. 9 to replace the dismissed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, gushingly described how he had watched the mission from within his previous one Role without being aware of all the challenges.
"I didn't know you had to make a quick change," Miller said. "We didn't know from the Situation Room of the White House. You think it went like magic, you know, easy day. But that's the fog and friction that I'm talking about that we often don't appreciate."
Carroll was reluctant to take on his role, but he was warm to the enthusiasm of the incumbent SecDef. "It was great," he said to Miller. "At first it was a little annoying ... that's what we train for."
Colonel Troy Pananon, commander of the 100th, who continued speaking with Military.com and other reporters about the mission, said the long haul involved "multiple, multiple refueling" with the KC-135 fueling the MC-130, which was possible Then refuel the CV-22.
"Trying to balance all of that in the air, going about 300 miles an hour and having planes 10 to 12 feet apart at night. And you know, in arduous conditions, it's a challenge," he said. "As the secretary said, we made it look so simple, but it's not that simple."
Ferdinandsen, noting that the 100th accounts for about 4% of the Air Force's in-flight refueling capacity, but completing 23% of the service's Priority 1 and 2 no fail missions, underscored the unit's pride in getting the job done.
"Just so you know you're watching in the Situation Room," he said. "And we're high-fiving when we start jets here because we can make it and support the team, which is a great opportunity."
The rescue mission took place just a month after participating in Operation Wolff Pack 100, a proof-of-concept training project in which the unit took off all but one of the aircraft. As part of the Air Force's Agile Combat Employment effort, the exercise demonstrated how the wing can mobilize rapidly and operate forward from a wider range of locations.
It is not uncommon for a unit to bow down for a successful mission when a senior leader visits. However, the event and conversation provided insight into the thinking of Miller, a former Army Special Officer who has a narrow window to make his mark: he will likely head the Department of Defense for another month before President-elect Joe Biden is late will be inaugurated in January.
"There's no other military in the world that could have done that," Miller said. "The problem, and [Chairman General Mark Milley] and I talk about it all the time, and I also talk to the commander of the [Joint Special Operations Command], is that you guys make it so damn easy that the American public just goes automatic Assume, "Oh yeah, you know, you hit the US military button and you'll be fine. ... That's why it's so important to get out of here and listen to you. "
- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Hope.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.
Related: Armed Forces Rescue Kidnapped Americans in Niger
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