CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, New Mexico --
With the upcoming departure of the 524th Special Operations Squadron from Cannon Air Force Base “we’re losing the last squadron that has original ties to the 27th when it was formed,” remarks Steven Frank, 27th Special Operations Wing historian.
Frank utters these words as he reviews a slide show and educates on the impact it’s had. Since World War II when it received five distinguished unit citations or how it’s been a staple of Cannon Air Force Base ever since the base was part of New Mexico, the 524th Special Operations Squadron has had a staggering history with the 27 SOW.
The 524th SOS will continue, just no longer at Cannon, AFB. The unit is being transferred to Duke Field, also known as Eglin AFB Auxiliary field #3, in Florida. Once there, the command will change hands from the 27th SOW to the 492nd SOW.
The 524th has a long and varied history dating back to 1941 before the squadron was designated the 524th. At the time it was the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron, flying B-18 Bolo Bombers. Later in the year, the squadron was re-designated the 91st Bombardment Squadron and was assigned directly under the 27th Group. A couple of years later, the 91st Bombardment Squadron was re-designated the 524th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, flying A-36 Apache dive bombers.
Since then, the squadron continued to change throughout the years, with only the numerical designation of 524 staying constant. The squadron’s mission continuously evolved along with the aircraft they were utilizing. They evolved from the Fighter-Bomber Squadron to the Fighter Squadron, Fighter-Escort Squadron, Strategic Fighter Squadron, Tactical Fighter Squadron, Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, and finally to the 524th Special Operations Squadron of present day.
The number of different aircraft platforms the squadron has used is equally varied: the B-18 Bolo, A-20 Havoc, A-24 Banshee, A-36 Apache, P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt, F-82 Sabre, F-84 Thunderjet, F-101 Voodoo, F-100 Super Sabre, F-111 Aardvark, F-16 Fighting Falcon and the squadron’s current C-146 Wolfhound were used during its 76-year history.
The significance of this move is affecting more than those currently at Cannon or in the squadron. (Ret.) Colonel John “Rushman” Rush, an F-111 instructor pilot with 524th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron from 1986 to mid-1987, who was a captain at the time, reminisces about his time in the squadron.
“At the time, the 524 was a training squadron,” Rush said. “One of two F-111 training squadrons in the Air Force, the other was at Mountain Home, Idaho. We trained brand new pilots from undergraduate pilot training and weapon systems officers graduating from undergraduate navigator training. In 1988, the F-111 division of the Fighter Weapons School moved to Cannon and while it was a separate unit, they shared the 524th’s aircraft. The 524 flew the F-111D, the F-111G and the F-111F.”
For Rush, it’s about the squadron’s history with the F-111.
“Legacy and history is usually pretty important in the Air Force,” Rush said. “For me, it is closing a chapter on the F-111 history which is kind of sad, but there are several squadrons still flying that were part of the F-111 legacy, so we have to move on.”
This move to Duke Field was a long time coming. According to Lt. Col. Derick Steed, 524th SOS commander, the first discussions happened over four years ago. Steed, who has been in the Air Force for 20 years and most of it in special operations, says the movement of people has been incremental.
“We intentionally spread the move over an entire year to ensure we were able to move the squadron members and their families to Duke Field without causing major disruptions to our downrange operations,” Steed said.
Steed says the squadron will be located at Duke Field because they will be a classic association total force integration effort with the 859th SOS from the 919nd SOW of Air Force Reserve Command.
“The move allows us to co-locate with our total force integration partner unit, the 859th SOS,” he said. “We will continue to fly and deploy alongside reserve component members around the globe and at home station just as we have been doing since 2015. (The integration) increases the capability we bring to the table every day, any time, any place, anywhere.”
For Steed, the position of commander for a unit with such a wealth of history is not lost on him.
“It’s been a great honor to serve in this position,” he said. “Members of the 524th were in the Philippines when WWII started, and they have fought in the air and on the ground in every major conflict since. We continue today in five theaters across the globe every day. We fly, on average, 63 hours a day moving U.S., allied, and partner nation special operations forces to further national objectives.”
The 27th Special Operations Wing celebrated the history and heritage of the 524th Special Operations Squadron and the C-146 Wolfhound in an end-of-mission ceremony at Cannon Air Force base on May 31st, 2017.