KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --
After 24 years of service in the Pacific region the last of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft returned to Hurlburt Field, Fla. Dec. 4, 2019.
The earliest variant of the MC-130, the MC-130E Combat Talon, first flew in 1966 and saw extensive service in Southeast Asia, including the attempted rescue of Americans held at the Son Tay prisoner-of-war camp in 1970.
In 1966, the 1st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) began flying the MC-130E Combat Talon under a project known as STRAY GOOSE, which would later become the call sign for its original six crews. The Talon era continued for 29 years and 99 subsequent crews, flying proudly under the STRAY call sign before transitioning to the Talon II in 1995. Over the next 24 years, the 1st SOS would create 92 crews flying under the GOOSE call sign.
The 1st SOS will continue the STRAY legacy as the unit transitions to the MC-130J Air Commando II this spring. The 353rd Special Operations Group (SOG) will reorganize its two MC-130 squadrons transitioning the aircraft and personnel from the 17th SOS to the 1st SOS and standing down the 17th SOS.
The Airmen who fly and maintain the Talon II are proud to be part of this specialized mission.
“As one of the last Air Force squadrons with legacy C-130’s, we were part of a very unique mission in the (U.S. Indo-Pacific) Command area of responsibility due to the aircraft’s specialized capabilities,” said Tech. Sgt. Peter O'Donoghue, MC-130H Dedicated Crew Chief (DCC). “Maintaining these aircraft provided us with immense job satisfaction and made the Talon II maintainers a special breed. We poured our blood, sweat, and tears into the aircraft daily and worked countless hours but we loved every minute of it crewing this amazing aircraft! As a MC-130H DCC, having the privilege of working with such a dedicated group of maintainers made my years on the Talon II some of the most memorable in my career.”
O’Donoghue has served two tours with the 353rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and has worked with three variants of AFSOC C-130 aircraft, the MC-130P Combat Shadow, MC-130H Combat Talon II, and now the MC-130J Air Commando II.
“The Talon II aircraft have been absolute workhorses during their lifetimes, although they have left (the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command), their presence continues to be seen and their mission continues to be fulfilled,” said O’Donoghue. “It’s been bittersweet watching the Talon II’s leave this area of responsibility, but they will forever live in the hearts of the crew that flew them and the maintainers that kept them airborne.”
The Talon II carries so much equipment the design of the aircraft is a little different from most variations of the C-130. The nose of the aircraft juts out sharply compared to other AFSOC C-130s, almost like the bill of their namesake Stray Goose.
“The Talon II is not a glamorous aircraft, some may even say they are ugly,” said O’Donoghue. “I grew to love these dirty, worn, and ugly aircraft like only a mother could or more accurately, like only a dedicated crew chief could!”
Lieutenant Col. Joshua Petry, Commander of the 1st SOS, gave a nod to this particular attribute in his remarks at a ceremony before the final Talon II departure from Kadena Air Base.
“Admittedly, the Talon II brings with it a unique and unmistakable look, but over the years, its presence has established a level of respect that sends a clear signal to our adversaries,” said Petry. The Talon II is distinctive in appearance but the character of this aircraft has much more to do with the partnerships the 1st SOS has created in the Pacific region and the mission it has carried out.
“After decades in the Indo-Pacific, the Talon II has enabled the United States to create strong bonds with many critical, regional partners through flight and maintenance training with their H-model C-130 counterparts, including: Royal New Zealand Air Force’s 40th Squadron, Republic of Korea Air Force’s 255 SOS, Royal Thai Air Force’s 601st Squadron, Philippine Air Force’s 220th Squadron and Royal Malaysian Air Force’s No 20 Squadron.”
The Talon Mission: Secret and Dangerous
The Talon IIs first arrived at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 29, 1992, and after acceptance testing, began official flying operations Oct. 17, 1992. Since then, the Talon II has played a vital role in AFSOC operations by providing infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces and equipment in hostile or denied territory and accomplishing secondary missions including psychological operations and air-to-air refueling.
The Talon II carries terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radars capable of operations as low as 250 feet in adverse weather conditions. Structural changes to a basic C-130 include the addition of an in-flight refueling receptacle, and strengthening of the tail to allow high-speed and low-signature airdrop. Their navigation suites include dual ring-laser gyros, mission computers and integrated global positioning system. They can locate, and either land or airdrop on small, unmarked zones with precise accuracy day or night.
An extensive electronic warfare suite enables the aircrew to detect and avoid potential threats. If engaged, the system will protect the aircraft from both radar and infrared-guided threats. The Talon II is also equipped with aerial refueling pods to provide in-flight refueling of special operations forces and combat search and rescue helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft.
The 1st SOS, and the 353rd Special Operations Wing, were moved to Kadena Air Base, Japan from Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines Feb. 5, 1992. The 1st SOS flew a mixed fleet of Combat Talon I and II aircraft at Kadena until the last MC-130E Combat Talon I assigned departed Oct. 2, 1995. Nearly two weeks after the last E model left, the 1st SOS received their final Combat Talon II for operational use.
Some of the Talon II’s most notable operations include the evacuations of non-combatant Americans and other civilians from conflicts in Liberia in 1996. In 1998, a Talon II aircrew was awarded the Mackay Trophy for their involvement in the evacuation of civilians from the Republic of the Congo; and they participated in combat operations in the Balkans during Operation Allied Force.
In 2001, Talon II’s were employed to seize an airfield in southern Afghanistan delivering U.S. Army Rangers to begin ground operations in Operation Enduring Freedom and later in 2003, a Talon II was the first US aircraft to land at Baghdad International airport to initiate missions supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Since Oct. 2001, this aircraft has been used extensively in combat and humanitarian operations worldwide – operations Enduring Freedom and Inherent Resolve, Resolute Support, Tomodachi in Japan, Unified Response in Haiti, and Sahayogi Haat in Nepal.
The day after Christmas in 2004, an earthquake measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale occurred in the Indian Ocean generating a tsunami that killed over 275,000 people throughout the region. The 1st SOS and 17th SOS flew nearly 1 million pounds of relief supplies and cargo to support recovery and aid efforts. The flying squadron's ability to land on short unprepared strips helped distribute over 600 aid workers into some of the hardest to reach areas.
On Sept. 26, 2008, members from the 1st SOS, 320th Special Tactics Squadron (STS), and the 18th Wing's 31st Rescue Squadron conducted a complex rescue operation at night to save two mariners who were injured in a crane accident aboard a cargo vessel, the Occam's Razor. A joint team of Pararescuemen and Combat Controllers were flown to the vessel situated 750 nautical miles from Guam onboard a Talon II from the 1st SOS. Both men were treated on board the vessel until they reaching a hospital on Guam.
Operation Damayan followed the landfall of Super Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 8, 2013 near Leyte and Samar Islands in the Republic of the Philippines. The 1st SOS were among the first to respond to the humanitarian relief efforts. Members of the 353rd SOG arrived with four MC-130s and three Special Tactics Assault Zone Reconnaissance teams. They established operating locations at Clark, Mactan, Tacloban, Ormoc, Guiuan, and Borongan Airfields and conducted 188 sorties to deliver 721,300 pounds of aid and evacuated 3,278 residents to safety.
“So, I’ll conclude by saying thank you,” said Petry. “Thank you to all of the men and women who’ve been a part of the Indo-Pacific Talon legacy. I also tip my hat and say thank you to all of the Talon aircraft that have rotated through this theater, served us well, and brought us and our supported forces to their objectives and back home safely, via landing zone or drop zone, day or night...you’ve always done it with precision and style.”