KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
2020 was a year many would like to forget. Telework, social distancing, and other restrictions kept many businesses closed and had others operate at only a fraction of capacity. However, the business of training Airmen for national security requirements never stopped. Air Education and Training Command officials asserted that training could not wait — the operational Air Force needed trained and ready Airmen.
Despite the pandemic, the 58th Special Operations Wing answered the call by keeping training pipelines open. The demand is enormous. With six training locations, a myriad of missions, and an annual student load of more than 11,000 Airmen, students are always receiving expert instruction in this wing. Kirtland’s flying unit produces mission-ready special operations and combat rescue aircrews. CV-22, MC-130J, HC-130J, HH-60G and UH-1N aircrew receive their final training before entering the fighting forces at their operational units. This mission is supported by Airmen in the operations and maintenance groups at Kirtland.
The wing is also responsible for all Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training, primarily through the 336th Training Group at Fairchild AFB, Washington. In addition, the 336th TRG conducts Arctic survival training at Eielson AFB, Alaska, and more remote locations in the state, and at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
The 58th SOW’s portfolio extends nearly as far southeast as it does northwest, including MV-22 undergraduate pilot training at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina., and undergraduate helicopter pilot training at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Though COVID-19 forced adjustments in certain operations throughout 2020, the 58th produced 11,234 students across all training missions.
Col. Michael Curry, the 58th SOW commander, attributed the wing’s success to day-in, day-out commitment to training excellence and a focus on the customers they serve.
“We are providing Airmen to play a direct role in global operations for Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Global Strike Command, not to mention the SERE students that are flowing to all Air Force major commands,” he said. “We train warriors, professionalize Airmen, and project combat air power for our nation’s defense.“
While focused on producing combat-ready Airmen, the 58th is also expanding its mission profile. In November, the Air Force announced a preferred basing decision, pending environmental impact studies, to move the AC-130J Formal Training Unit from Hurlburt Field, Florida, to Kirtland and the 58th SOW. After a final basing decision, seven aircraft and more than 372 positions will move to Kirtland.
“We are very proud to acquire this mission, which synchronized our training,” Curry said. “This is another way we will be developing Airmen to meet critical readiness requirements in the interest of national security.” The transition is expected to begin in fiscal year 2023.
Capping off a year of successful mission execution and expansion, the 58th's 512th Rescue Squadron received its first HH-60W Jolly Green II combat rescue helicopter in December. The new Jolly Green II will gradually replace the legacy 1980’s HH-60G PAVE Hawk.
“This aircraft will greatly improve our ability to train combat rescue aircrews,” Curry said. “The diversity of training environments and opportunities in New Mexico are second to none, and the HH-60W will add state-of-the-art technology to our expert cadre and training infrastructure. This means Airmen will be ready for any eventuality as they encounter the real-world combat environment.”
Curry explained that across the wing’s six locations, every 58th SOW unit is an associate unit. In addition to the dedication and hard work of its Airmen, the wing depends on host unit support.
“We count on the world-class support we get from our host wings and mission partners,” he said.
“While 2020 presented a lot of challenges, we cleared those hurdles and we are looking to do more and better in 2021.”