By Mona Moore
The first decade of the new millennium was marked by efforts to restructure the military and by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The decade began with fears that new Base Realignment and Closure Commission hearings could mean losing missions at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field.
Tech. Sgt. Ian Cabral, an airman at Hurlburt Field since 1996, did not share those fears.
"I didn't really worry too much about it due to the fact that I'm part of Hurlburt, which is AFSOC HQ," Cabral said. "I knew it was never gonna get chopped."
The fears were squashed with the 2005 announcement that Eglin not only would retain most of what it had but would host two new missions: the Army 7th Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, N.C., and a training center for the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Eglin has been involved with the war efforts from the beginning. The Air Armament Center provided munitions and expeditionary combat support in Operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
By 2008, the 728th Air Control Squadron had deployed to Iraq five times.
Eglin performed its first live test of the Massive Ordnance Air Blast munition in March 2003. The 21,600-pound MOAB — nicknamed the Mother of All Bombs — was in Iraq by the following month. Although the MOAB was never launched, it was used as psychological warfare against Saddam Hussein.
Duke Field activated more than 600 919th reservists in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. The 919th Security Forces Squadron was the first Air Force Reserve unit to activate for the operation. By 2002, nearly 550 Duke reservists were deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Hurlburt's special operations forces had deployed to Southwest Asia by the end of September 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In March 2003, Air Force Special Operations Command again deployed forces to support what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom. The command's personnel and aircraft teamed with special ops and conventional forces to bring down Saddam Hussein's government in May 2003.
Eglin's first casualty came 11 days after President George W. Bush formally declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ceased. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Griffin of the 728th Air Control Squadron was killed on May 13, 2003, when his convoy was ambushed en route to Baghdad. Griffin, the married father of two young children, was mourned at Eglin and throughout the community.
He would not be the last casualty of the conflicts that still linger years later. As of July 2010, Eglin had lost four airmen in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Hurlburt Field had buried 13 airmen.
Cabral said the casualties have affected things on and off base.
"There is more respect for what we do," he said.
The community has been extremely supportive, Cabral added.
"On a few occasions, I have had people come up to me and thank me for my service to my country," Cabral said. "And on two separate occasions, people have come up to me during lunch out with work friends and bought our lunch."
Many of Hurlburt's casualties have been combat controllers, a job that puts them on the front line.
The most recent deaths last April were in a CV-22 crash in Afghanistan. Maj. Randell D. Voas and Sr. Master Sgt. James B. Lackey with 8th Special Operations Squadron were killed along with an Army soldier and a civilian contractor. It was the first known fatal Osprey crash since the aircraft entered active service in 2006.
The 8th SOS was on its second CV-22 deployment, which left for Afghanistan in March. Its first deployment ended in November 2009.
The CV-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that can take off and land as a helicopter. Its engines roll forward in flight, which allows it to fly faster than a standard helicopter. The aircraft is used to conduct nighttime, long-range and infiltration missions.
The CV-22 replaced the MH-53 Pave Low helicopters that were officially retired in 2008. Hurlburt's 20th Special Operations Squadron deactivated soon after, in October 2008. The squadron had flown the MH-53 since 1980.
Eglin and Hurlburt experienced other changes during the decade.
The 16th Special Operations Wing returned to its roots. The wing was redesignated the 1st Special Operations Wing in 2006 after 17 years as the 16th. The name change came shortly before Hurlburt's first CV-22 arrived.
While supporting the global war on terror, AFSOC inherited rescue forces from Air Combat Command (ACC). The move in 2003 included the 347th Rescue Wing, 563rd Rescue Group and oversight of the 920th Rescue Wing, 106th Rescue Wing and the 129th Rescue Wing.
The change was short-lived. By 2006, the rescue forces were moved back to the ACC.
In 2005, AFSOC stood up its War Fighting Headquarters. The command gained Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., two years later when it activated the 27th Special Operations Wing.
The 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin ended its operations and became home of the first Joint Strike Fighter training school. The former operational F-15 Air Combat Command wing is now a training wing under the Air Education and Training Command's 19th Air Force.
The Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal School opened a new facility in 2005. The Advanced Improvised Explosive Device Training Facility was built on a remote part of Eglin's reservation off State Road 285.
Eglin's 46th Test Wing — a vital part of the base's mission — was considered for a move under a consolidation plan. But vigorous opposition from the community and politicians helped keep the wing at Eglin.
Eglin and Hurlburt Field continued to grow during the decade.
Hurlburt built a new east gate in 2003 and completed a new Soundside Club and Visiting Quarters that was designed to accommodate 500 people.
A new Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic opened at Eglin in 2008 near the base hospital.
Also Fisher House on the Emerald Coast will open later this month. The ribbon-cutting ceremony is Friday.
"We're absolutely delighted that we have come to the point where the ribbon will be cut and the rooms will be provided to the families of our heroes," said Tom Rice, a board member of Fisher House.
BRAC-related construction started taking shape in 2009. Ground was broken on a 600,000-square-foot campus for 7th Special Forces Group near Duke Field. The complex, which will include a gymnasium, dining hall and two group headquarters, is the first time in the Green Berets' 67-year history that a facility has been built to suit their specifications.
Numerous Joint Strike Fighter construction projects also began. The new facilities included dorms, a dining hall and a training center. Eglin is slated to house 59 F-35 aircraft.
The missions are expected to have a significant impact on Eglin in the years to come.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski