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AFSOC squadron hits historical century mark

The 3rd Special Operations Squadron, first created during World War I to process aerial photographs, will hit the century mark tomorrow as a key contributor to the United States’ surveillance, reconnaissance and special operations efforts during war and inter-war times.

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N. M. --

An Air Force Special Operations Command squadron will be celebrating its 100th Anniversary as a squadron here April 4, 2018.

The 3rd Special Operations Squadron, first created during World War I to process aerial photographs, will hit the century mark tomorrow as a key contributor to the United States’ surveillance, reconnaissance and special operations efforts during war and inter-war times.

During its first 35 years, including both world wars, the squadron strictly engaged in the processing of aerial observation work. It wasn’t until 1953, under the Strategic Air Command, when it received its first aircraft to start conducting long-range missions. Using Boeing RB-47E Stratojet aircraft, the squadron made flights into the Soviet Union airspace to record crucial information on attacking bombers.

In the Vietnam War, as the 3rd Air Commando Squadron, the unit flew combat missions in Douglas AC-47D aircraft providing flare illumination and cover fire for ground troops. Senior Airman John L. Levitow, the loadmaster who became the lowest ranking serviceman in the Air Force to receive the Medal of Honor, was part of this squadron’s mission set. In 1969, he selflessly jumped on top of a loose flare after his gunship was struck by North Vietnamese mortar shell so that the surrounding 19,000 rounds of ammunition would not ignite inside the aircraft. He was able to toss the flare out saving his entire crew from destruction. 

Today, the squadron is home for MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance which also has lethal capabilities. The aircraft is monitored and controlled by aircrew on the ground anywhere around the world.

Celebrating this rich history came at an opportune time as the 3rd SOS recently won the General Atomics MQ-1 and MQ-9 trophy for 2016. It is awarded to the Top RPA squadron in the Air Force. The General Atomics President is travelling to present the trophy to the squadron this Friday.