352nd Special Operations Group becomes a wing as its size, mission grow
RAF MILDENHALL, England — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command marked a doubling of its personnel and the revamping of its fleet in Europe here on Monday by redesignating the 352nd Special Operations Group as a wing.
The ceremony provided some publicity for a unit that often shuns the spotlight. The head of Air Force Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold, said changing the 352nd into a wing reflected the unit’s new size and the jobs it has to do in Europe and the U.S. Central Command region.
“We also support (Special Operations Command Africa), and the challenges you see and the struggle we have against violent extremism,” Heithold said during the ceremony. “And that ain’t going away anytime soon.”
Briefly mentioned during the ceremony was the unit’s operations during the past nine months, which reflect U.S. security and strategic concerns. Col. Nathan C. Green, commander of one of the 352nd’s subordinate units, the 752nd Special Operations Group, said the unit has supported operations in Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Libya, and other countries. It currently has airmen on battlefields in Europe, Africa and the CENTCOM region.
The 352nd will participate in the NATO Response Force for 2016, officials said. The alliance last year decided to increase the size of the response force to about 30,000 troops by adding a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. Made up of some 5,000 troops, including special operations personnel, “it will be able to deploy at very short notice, particularly on the periphery of NATO’s territory,” NATO said in a news release last month.
The upgrade to wing status will be reflected in the 352nd’s size. Heithold said the unit, which currently has about 1,200 personnel, will eventually increase to about 1,500.
In recent years, the 352nd fleet has been expanded and modernized. The Air Force gave the unit CV-22 Ospreys starting in 2013 as a way to restore its vertical lift capability, lost when it shed a helicopter squadron in 2008. Green said the 352nd currently has three Ospreys in the Horn of Africa on a “semipermanent basis.”
The Air Force also updated the unit’s fixed-wing aircraft by providing MC-130J Commando IIs, which can refuel rotary aircraft in midair, as a replacement for its aging MC-130P Combat Shadows.