Celebrating 20 years at Kadena

  • Published
  • By James D'Angina
  • 353rd Special Operations Group Historian
Aug. 1 marks the 17th Special Operations Squadron's 20th consecutive year stationed at Kadena Air Base.

The 17th Special Operations Squadron was activated on Aug. 1, 1989, utilizing personnel and equipment formerly assigned to the fixed wing elements of the 33rd Air Rescue Squadron. Although the squadron operated from Kadena, the 17th SOS was officially assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing, later re-designated the 353rd Special Operations Group, stationed at Clark Air Base, Philippines. At that time the 17th SOS was the only geographically separated unit assigned to the 353rd SOW. The 17th SOS operated eight HC-130P/N Combat Shadows, which were re-designated MC-130P in 1996. Their primary mission was to provide covert aerial refueling for special operations helicopters. Other missions included infiltrating, ex-filtrating, and resupplying of special operations forces.

The 17th Special Operations Squadron traces its heritage to the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron (Bombardment) which was stationed in the Ryukyu Islands during World War II. In late July 1945, the squadron began operating from Ie Shima, an island a few miles from the main island of Okinawa. The 17th flew reconnaissance missions over mainland Japan utilizing B-25 Mitchells. Toward the end of the war the 17th was utilized to assess allied bombing raids, locate prisoner of war camps and photograph enemy troop positions.

The Air Force activated the 17th SOS at Nha Trang, South Vietnam, June 1, 1969. Operating Fairchild AC-119G Shadow gunships, Shadow crews from the 17th played a vital role in providing base-defense, close-air-support for troops in contact with enemy forces and armed reconnaissance. The squadron inactivated Sept. 30, 1971.

During the 1990s, the 17th SOS participated in operations around the world. Squadron crews deployed to the Middle East in 1994 for Operation PROVIDE COMFORT II and augmented forces already established in Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Six months later, members from the squadron deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, for Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Within another two years, a 17th SOS Combat Shadow crew supporting Operation JOINT GUARD/ENDEAVOR from San Vito, Italy, logged the squadron's first combat time since the Vietnam War. And in 1997 a crew from the 17th SOS deployed to Incirlik Turkey in support of Operation NORTHERN WATCH.

Over the years, the 17th SOS has also played a crucial role in humanitarian relief efforts throughout the Pacific theater. On Dec. 26, 2004, a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a series of killer tsunamis that claimed the lives of nearly 230,000 people in the region. Members from the 17th deployed aircraft and personnel to Bangkok International Airport, Thailand, as first responders to aid relief efforts during Operation UNIFIED ASSISTANCE. The squadron's ability to land on short, unprepared airstrips helped distribute aid into some of the hardest to reach areas. In late October 2008, members from the 17th SOS supported a combined search and rescue effort to help locate the crew of the Katmai fishing vessel that went down in the Bering Sea.

The 17th SOS currently operates MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft. The 17th SOS has also been an active participant in Overseas Contingency Operations. The squadron consistently deploys aircrews to augment Combat Shadow squadrons serving in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.