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58th SOW bids farewell to Combat Shadow

A crew member prepares for the final flight of the last of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's two assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows at an informal ceremony Sept. 6.  The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

A crew member prepares for the final flight of the last of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's two assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows at an informal ceremony Sept. 6. The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Crew members prepare for the final flight of the last of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows at an informal ceremony Sept. 6.  The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Crew members prepare for the final flight of the last of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows at an informal ceremony Sept. 6. The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

One of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows sits on the flightline before its final flight at an informal ceremony Sept. 6.  The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

One of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows sits on the flightline before its final flight at an informal ceremony Sept. 6. The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Crew members pose before one of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows as it sits on the flightline before its final flight at an informal ceremony Sept. 6.  The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Crew members pose before one of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows as it sits on the flightline before its final flight at an informal ceremony Sept. 6. The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Firefighters give a water salute to one of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows as it taxis the runway in preparation for its final flight Sept. 6.  The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Firefighters give a water salute to one of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows as it taxis the runway in preparation for its final flight Sept. 6. The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

One of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows takes its final flight Sept. 6.  The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

One of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows takes its final flight Sept. 6. The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

One of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows takes its final flight Sept. 6.  The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

One of the 550th Special Operations Squadron's last two remaining assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows takes its final flight Sept. 6. The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland. (Photo by Ken Moore)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The 58th Special Operations Wing and the 550th Special Operations Squadron bid farewell to the last of its assigned MC-130Ps Combat Shadows at an informal ceremony Sept. 6.

The departure of the aircraft marks the end of a 25-year training curriculum at Kirtland that produced more than 3,000 graduates, and is another step in the transition to the newer C-130J models.

"While the departure of the Combat Shadow indicates the progression of enhanced aircraft technologies within the Air Force, the 550th SOS will continue to train students in the HC-130P/N and MC-130H, supplying mission-ready aircrew members to the Air Force Special Operations Command, the Air Combat Command, the Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard," said Maj. Tim Robinson, HC-130 student flight commander at the 550th SOS.

The event consisted of flying the two aircraft - tail numbers 69-5821 and 65-0971 - one last time. The final flight honored Maj. Marc Herrera, a 550th SOS member who passed away unexpectedly in the summer of 2012.

"It was an emotional day, especially for the people who have flown the Combat Shadow for the majority of their careers," Robinson said.

Although MC-130Ps were officially assigned to the 58th SOW in 1996, the Combat Shadow mission had been active in the Air Force since the mid-1980s, and flown initially by HC-130 models. The aircraft were adapted for special operations missions, as opposed to personnel recovery.

The 58th SOW used the MC-130Ps for both rescue and special operations aircrew qualification through 2000, after which it received HC-130P/N models that allowed it to assign the proper aircraft to the requisite curriculums. The wing continued initial qualification flight training of MC-130P aircrews through January 2013. Following this date, it continued academics and simulator training while flight training transitioned to the 19th SOS at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

The two departing tail numbers carried distinct histories. Tail number 69-5821 entered active service in March 1970 with the 36th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan. In November 1972, it was reassigned to the 33rd ARRS, which it followed from Yokota to Clark AB in the Philippines, and finally Kadena AB in Okinawa, where it was later assigned to the 17th SOS from August 1989 through 1995. As a member of the 17th SOS, it participated in the evacuation of 353 people at Clark during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. The aircraft ended its career with 18,724 flying hours.

Tail number 65-0971 spent several assignments across the rescue community, beginning with the 36th ARRS at Tachikawa AB, Japan, in 1966. Although it served with various units, the aircraft spent most of its career with the 58th SOW and its mission predecessors. One of the aircraft's most notable missions involved the recovery of one of the 58th SOW's own Airman in October 2005. During this mission, it served as the on-scene commanding aircraft for the search of Master Sgt. Kevin Elgar, whose plane went down approximately 20 miles west of Truth or Consequences, N.M. The aircraft ended its career with 21,133 flying hours.