25 Years of Strength



Night Stalkers—the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. Born from the lessons of Operation Desert One for the first time in history, America had a real special operations helicopter force.

By Kim Laudano

Night Stalkers past and present traveled from near and far for three days commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Army special operations aviation.

Night Stalker leadership from the past 25 years along with key leaders from the special operations community held a conference at Fort [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Campbell[/FONT][/FONT], Ky., October 12-13. Attendees discussed the successes and challenges that defined the organization to ensure that lessons learned and opportunities for enhancement are not lost. Leaders also discussed where special operations forces are in the fight today, how SOF will be engaged in the future and how the 160th fits into the long-term warfighting picture.
Current and former Night Stalkers and their families also had an opportunity to visit the compound at Fort Campbell to see the latest in special operations aviation aircraft and technology during an open house.
On the 13th, more than 70 founding Night Stalkers were present for a recognition ceremony in their honor on the unit compound. These men represent the beginning of the unit’s history and became the foundation of the ARSOA legacy. The significance of this gathering was not lost on the Night Stalker community. Founders were met with a crowd of more than 250 current and former Night Stalkers, employees, families and friends.
Colonel Kevin Mangum, commander, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), welcomed the founding Night Stalkers. He said the ceremony was a time to pause and reflect on where the regiment came from and to recognize, 25 years later, those who blazed the trail to make this day and world’s most capable helicopter unit possible.
“The regiment today hardly resembles the 160th of old,” said Mangum.
He explained that the 160th has grown in personnel strength, aircraft fleet size and now has a presence outside of Fort Campbell on the east and west. What remains the same is the regiment’s commitment to service, excellence and sacrifice.
“Innovation is still a hallmark of Night Stalking,” he said. “Our Systems Integration and Maintenance Office [SMIO] is working nearly 200 active projects.” These projects range from small enhancements to the 160th fleet, like improved seats for all of the unit’s aircraft to multi-million or billion dollar programs like the new MH-/AH-6M Little Bird, the MH-47G Chinook and the future MH-60M Black Hawk.
“Green Platoon has a come a long way as well,” said Mangum. “Our Special Operations Aviation Training Company [SOATC] provided world-class training to over 500 soldiers last year in 23 separate programs of instruction.”
He said that while the work of SMIO and SOATC are impressive, they field the most capable systems and soldiers for the regiment to accomplish its most important task—warfighting. Today, several hundred Night Stalkers are currently deployed in support of multiple joint task forces in multiple locations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
“They accomplish more real world operations in a night than many a Night Stalker performed in their entire career,” said Mangum. “The precision and bravery of these crews is inspiring. Watching them would make your eyes water.”
A force ready, willing and able to accomplish missions others can’t do, don’t do or won’t do is the founder’s legacy. “Today’s Night Stalkers are the world’s most capable helicopter force,” Mangum told the founders. “That, gentlemen, is your legacy. Those of us serving today owe you a huge debt of gratitude for your service and for forging a standard of excellence for us to emulate.”
Representing the founders with the remarks was the first Task Force 160 commander, Colonel (retired) Jacob B. Couch. He recognized the men who helped build this organization from nothing and who set the standard for others to carry on. He acknowledged the importance of the mission for today’s generation of Night Stalkers. His simple concluding remarks spoke to the heart of every man and woman formerly and currently in the 160th. “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit.”
A formal marked the anniversary celebration’s conclusion as an opportunity for current and former Night Stalkers to spend time with family and friends. The regiment’s continuous support of the global war on terrorism makes such an opportunity a welcome rarity.
The guest speaker for the formal was General Bryan “Doug” Brown, commander of USSOCOM and former 160th SOAR(A) regimental commander. He offered reflections from personal experiences in the early days of the unit and his observations of the unit from his current position.
Brown said the failure to rescue hostages in Iran during Operation Desert One grew the incredible special operations force this nation owns today. “That failure was the genesis of the creation of the 160th. For the first time in history, America had a real special operations helicopter force.”
“I am constantly reminded that what we thought was tough, dangerous duty in 1980 is now considered routine for today’s Night Stalkers,” he continued. “The distances, the altitudes, the illumination and the challenges we faced you conquer nightly.”
Even with extreme heat and unbelievable dust, Brown said the Night Stalkers make it look easy, every time, night after night. “Words truly cannot describe your feats of valor, bravery and dedication.”
Brown also recognized the sacrifice and support from Night Stalker families. “No decision to deploy your family members is made without considering the impact on the families,” he reassured. “I know the support you give and the sacrifices you make, and I thank each and every one of you. You are magnificent.”

Commemorating the First 25 Years

To commemorate the first 25 years of Army special operations aviation, the Night Stalker Association (NSA) commissioned renowned military and aviation artist James Dietz to visually tell the Night Stalker story.
“With the 25th anniversary coming up we thought it was appropriate to commission an artist to capture the spirit of the organization across the spectrum from beginning to present,” explained NSA president, Command Sergeant Major (retired) Donnie Calvery, Jr. “Jim Dietz’s reputation for military art was well-known and had been used throughout the special operations community with outstanding results. We felt he was the right one to capture the essence of Night Stalking.”
Dietz said documenting the Night Stalkers’ 25th Anniversary is pretty important to him, personally and professionally.
“I’ve looked forward to doing a job with the 160th for a long time,” said Dietz. “One of the gentlemen I worked with at the [Command and General Staff College] some years ago had worked at the 160th.” Over the years, he asked when Dietz was going to do a painting for the 160th. “Now I can tell him, in a very nice way, that I have.”
Dietz’s goal was primarily to capture the professionalism of the unit which he did through stance, gesture and composition in the painting. The NSA wanted to ensure he captured the history of the unit including the equipment, look and unit’s organization which he did through pieces of equipment and flight gear. Dietz believes he captured all of the above in his painting. “What I think will come out of the painting will be the pride in the unit and the pride in what they do.”
Having only read and heard about the 160th before this project, Dietz believes that meeting current and former Night Stalkers while he was researching this project gave him a better perspective on the organization itself and the soldiers who define it.
“I think being there with your feet on the ground teaches you more about the men and women in the unit than I would have known otherwise,” he explained. “The one thing I did learn was about the training and years of dedication it takes to make a crewman or a pilot and the kind of devotion it takes to continue on that path for this very specialized elite part of helicopter ops in today’s military.”

Today’s Special Operations Aviation Regiment

The 160th SOAR(A) is comprised of four battalions on military installations in three states. The regimental headquarters is collocated with the 1st and 2nd battalions at Fort Campbell, 3rd Bn. is located at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., and 4th Bn. is located at Fort Lewis, Wash. The regiment also has the Special Operations Aviation Training Company at Fort Campbell.
Regimentwide, there are currently 21 companies with approximately 2,200 personnel. Two additional companies have been provisionally approved. Soldiers represent 60 enlisted, 13 warrant and 23 officer military occupational specialties. They work side by side with about 300 Army civilians and contractors to accomplish the mission.
The 160th still employs the latest, specially-crafted models of three types of aircraft: MH-60 Black Hawks, MH-47 Chinooks and AH/MH-6 "Little Birds.” Each aircraft is continually tested in training and combat, with thoughts progressing to the next generation of these aircraft required to accomplish the special operations forces mission.
While engaging in continuous combat operations, the regiment is also focusing on the future. ARSOA will remain relevant in the long war, continue transforming to best support special operations mission and training requirements and continue conducting research and development to further SOF aviation capabilities.
While not a formal part of the silver anniversary festivities, always in the background of all who participated were the 75 Night Stalkers who have fallen since the unit’s founding. Kimberly Laudano is with the 160th SOAR(A) public affairs office.