160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)

160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)

160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment distinctive unit insignia
Active October 16, 1981 – present
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Army
Type Special Operations Force, Global Operations
Role Provide aviation support to special operations forces, black operations, night operations, counter-intelligence, aviation drops
Size ~2,700
Part of United States Special Operations Command
United States Army Special Operations Command
U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command[1]
Garrison/HQ Fort Campbell, Kentucky
Nickname(s) Night Stalkers

"Night Stalkers Don't Quit"
"Death Waits in the Dark"

"Six guns don't miss"

Operation Urgent Fury
Operation Mount Hope III
Operation Earnest Will
Operation Mount Hope III
Operation Prime Chance
Operation Just Cause
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Neptune Spear
Somali Civil War

War on Terror

Unit Flash

The United States Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), abbreviated as the 160th SOAR (A) and also known as Night Stalkers, is a special operations force of the United States Army that provides helicopter aviation support for general purpose forces and special operations forces. Its missions have included attack, assault, and reconnaissance, and are usually conducted at night, at high speeds, low altitudes, and on short notice. The 160th SOAR is headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.


The 160th SOAR (A) consists of the Army's best-qualified aviators, Crew Chiefs and support soldiers. Officers volunteer while enlisted soldiers volunteer or are assigned by the U.S. Army Human Resources Command. All soldiers receive intensive training upon joining the 160th and are required to pass the Green Platoon course.[3] The basic Night Stalker course for enlisted soldiers lasts five weeks; the officer course lasts 20 to 28 weeks.

A new Night Stalker arrives to his unit Basic Mission Qualified (BMQ); after a series of test qualifications, experience and leadership, the Night Stalker is designated Fully Mission Qualified (FMQ). After three to five years as an FMQ, the Night Stalker will have the chance to assess for flight lead qualification. The 160th previously recruited only men for combat positions,[4] but as of June 2013 has opened those positions to women as well.


A pair of MH-60L Blackhawk helicopters, prepare to land on the USS Bataan
An MH-6 carrying Army rangers prepares to land during an infiltration demonstration at the Kansas Speedway 400.

The 160th SOAR fly MH-47G Chinooks, A/MH-6M Little Birds and MH-60M Black Hawks.

Aircraft Type Inventory[5]
MH/AH-6M Little Bird 51
MH-47G Chinook 61
MH-60M Black Hawk 72
Total 184


After the 1980 Operation Eagle Claw attempt to rescue American hostages held in Tehran, Iran, failed, President Jimmy Carter ordered former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III to figure out how the U.S. military could best mount another attempt. At the time there were no U.S. helicopter units trained in this kind of stealthy, short-notice Special Operations mission.

The Army looked to the 101st Aviation Group, the air arm of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which had the most diverse operating experience of the service's helicopter units, and selected elements of the 158th Aviation Battalion, 101st Aviation Battalion, 229th Aviation Battalion, and the 159th Aviation Battalion. The chosen pilots immediately entered intensive training in night flying.

This provisional unit was at first dubbed Task Force 158 since the majority of the pilots were Blackhawk aviators detached from the 158th. Their distinctive 101st "Screaming Eagle" patches remained on their uniforms. The Blackhawks and Chinooks continued to operate around Campbell Army Airfield at the north of post, and Saber Army Heliport at the south. The OH-6 Cayuses, an aircraft that had vanished from the division's regular inventory after Vietnam, were hidden on the base by an ammunition holding area still known as the "SHOC Pad", for "Special Helicopter Operations Company".

As the first batch of pilots completed training in the fall of 1980, a second attempt to rescue the hostages was planned for early 1981. Dubbed Operation Honey Badger, it was called off when the hostages were released on the morning of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration.

The capability gained was judged too important to future contingencies to lose. The new unit was quickly recognized as the Army's premier night fighting aviation force, and its only Special Operations Aviation force. The pilots and modified aircraft would not be returned to the 101st. Original members of the Night Stalkers refer to it as "the day the Eagles came off". The 101st's patches came off, the personnel and equipment would be reassigned, and a new tradition was born. The unit was officially established on 16 October 1981, when it was designated as the 160th Aviation Battalion.

The 160th first saw combat during 1983's Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

The crew of Super 6-4 one month before the Battle of Mogadishu. From left: Winn Mahuron, Tommy Field, Bill Cleveland, Ray Frank and Michael Durant.

In 1986, it was re-designated as the 160th Aviation Group (Airborne); and in May 1990, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). As demand for highly trained Special Operations Aviation assets bloomed, the regiment activated three battalions, a separate detachment, and incorporated one Army National Guard unit, the 1st Battalion, 245th Aviation (OK ARNG).

In 1987 and 1988, its pilots took part in Operation Earnest Will, the protection of re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War. They flew from US Navy warships and leased oil barges in a secret sub-part called Operation Prime Chance, and became the first helicopter pilots to use night vision goggles and forward looking infrared devices in night combat.

In June 1988, the unit executed Operation Mount Hope III. Two MH-47 crews flew 490 miles (790 km) deep into Chad to retrieve a crashed Mi-24 Hind medium-attack helicopter.

The Night Stalkers spearheaded Operation Just Cause, the 1989 invasion of Panama, and they were also used in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

In October 1993 in Somalia, Night Stalkers became involved in the Battle of Mogadishu, which later became the subject of the book Black Hawk Down, and its film adaptation. Two Night Stalker Black Hawks, Super 6-1 (piloted by Cliff Wolcott), and Super 6-4 (piloted by Mike Durant), were shot down in the battle. Five of the eighteen men killed (not counting a nineteenth post-operation casualty) in the Battle of Mogadishu were members of the SOAR(A) Night Stalkers team, who were lost along with the two Black Hawks.

On 19 October 2001, two SOAR MH-47E helicopters airlifted Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 555 and 595, both 12-man Green Beret teams, plus four Air Force Combat Controllers, from the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan[6] more than 300 kilometers (190 mi) across the 16,000 feet (4,900 m) Hindu Kush mountains into Afghanistan. The pilots of the Chinooks, flying in zero-visibility conditions, were refueled in-flight three times during the 11-hour mission, establishing a new world record for combat rotorcraft missions at the time. They linked up with the CIA and Northern Alliance. Within a few weeks the Northern Alliance, with assistance from the U.S. ground and air forces, captured several key cities from the Taliban.[7][8] A few weeks later ODA 595 and ODA 555 along with the Northern Alliance retook the city of Mazari Sharif from the Taliban.

In December the same year Night Stalker crews were essential in resupplying over 150 Delta Force, British SBS and CIA SAD operatives during their hunt for Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountain complex.[9]

Philippines, 2002: Chinook helicopter lost-10 killed while supporting the Philippine Army special operations Soldiers trying to rescue American missionary Gracia Burnham, of Wichita, Kansas, held captive approximately two years. Her husband Martin was killed during the subsequent rescue. Later in 2002, TF160th Soldiers supported a Philippine Army ambush at sea killing Abu Sayyaf, the terrorist organization founder and leader.[10]

A US Army MH-47 Chinook, lands aboard the USS Kearsarge

The 160th provided aviation support during numerous special operations raids during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. One of them was the rescue mission of PFC. Jessica Lynch taken prisoner in 2003, the raid in Al Qadisiyah, as well as the rescue of three Italian contractors and one Polish businessman held for ransom by Iraqi insurgents in 2004.

Afghanistan, 2005: Eight Night Stalkers were lost along with eight Navy SEALs on a rescue mission for Marcus Luttrell, after their MH-47 Chinook helicopter was hit by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade). They were sent out to look for Luttrell after Operation Red Wings, in which he was involved with three other SEALs, was compromised and Luttrell's teammates killed. The Night Stalkers lost on the search and rescue mission included:

Night Stalker helicopters were present during the 2008 SOCOM counter-terror exercises in Denver.

On 24 April 2008, Company D, 3rd Battalion, 160th SOAR was inactivated at a ceremony conducted at Hunter Army Airfield, GA, as part of an overall regimental transformation plan.[11]

The 160th SOAR also took part in the 2008 Abu Kamal raid.

On 19 August 2009, four Night Stalkers from D Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR lost their lives in a MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash in Leadville, Colorado, during a mountain and environmental training.[12]

On 22 October 2009, a 3rd Battalion helicopter crashed into the USNS Arctic during a joint training exercise involving fast roping about 20 miles off Fort Story, Virginia. The crash killed a soldier, Sergeant First Class James R. Stright, 29, and injured eight others, three seriously.[13][14]

In May 2011, the Night Stalkers provided insertion and cover for the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.[15]

On 15 January 2014, a MH-60M Black Hawk of the 160th performed a hard landing at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. One soldier, CPT Clayton Carpenter of NY, was killed with another two injured.[16][17]

On 4 July 2014, the Night Stalkers inserted Delta Force operators into Northern Syria to recover James Foley and other US hostages. One American was wounded and no hostages were found.

The Night Stalkers continue to be deployed to Afghanistan as part of NATOs Resolute Support Mission after Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan ended in late 2014 and was replaced with Operation Freedom's Sentinel.[18]

List of operations

A unit helicopter which crashed during a training operation is covered by a red tarp (center left) on Arctic after the accident.
Operation Country Year
Operation Urgent Fury  Grenada
Operation Prime Chance Persian Gulf
Operation Mount Hope III
(recovery of Mi-24 Hind helicopter)
Operation Just Cause  Panama
Operation Desert Shield  Iraq
Operation Desert Storm  Iraq
Operation Restore Hope  Somalia
Operation Gothic Serpent
(operation that led to the Battle of Mogadishu)
Operation Enduring Freedom  Afghanistan/ Pakistan
Operation Iraqi Freedom  Iraq
Operation New Dawn  Iraq
Operation Neptune Spear
(operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden)
Operation Inherent Resolve SyriaSyria/ Iraq


Commander: COL John R. Evans[19]
Command Sergeant Major: CSM Gregory Chambers
Regimental Warrant Officer: CW5 Ivan S. Murdock

Unit Location
Headquarters Fort Campbell, KY
  • Special Operations Aviation Training Company
Fort Campbell, KY
1st Battalion
  • Headquarters and Headquarters Company
  • Light Attack Helicopters Company (AH-6M)
  • Light Assault Helicopters Company (MH-6M)
  • Medium Attack Helicopters Company (MH-60M DAP)
  • Medium Assault Helicopters Company (MH-60M)
  • Medium Assault Helicopters Company (MH-60M)
  • Aviation Maintenance Company
Fort Campbell, KY
2nd Battalion
  • Headquarters and Headquarters Company
  • Heavy Assault Helicopters Company (MH-47G)
  • Heavy Assault Helicopters Company (MH-47G)
  • Aviation Maintenance Company
Fort Campbell, KY
3rd Battalion
  • Headquarters and Headquarters Company
  • Medium Assault Helicopters Company (MH-60M)
  • Heavy Assault Helicopters Company (MH-47G)
  • Heavy Assault Helicopters Company (MH-47G)
  • Aviation Maintenance Company
Hunter Army Airfield, GA
4th Battalion
  • Headquarters and Headquarters Company
  • Medium Assault Helicopters Company (MH-60M)
  • Heavy Assault Helicopters Company (MH-47G)
  • Heavy Assault Helicopters Company (MH-47G)
  • Aviation Maintenance Company
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA

See also

Comparable non-US units

In popular culture

The 160th figures prominently in M. L. Buchman's Night Stalkers novel series and related short stories with minor roles in the Firehawks series.[20]


  1. United States Army Special Operations Command, Official Website, last accessed 1 February 2014
  2. "Sgt Thomas Ferrell Allison (1979 - 2002) - Find A Grave Memorial". findagrave.com.
  3. "160th SOAR(A) Green Platoon Train-up program". 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. United States Army. Archived from the original on 31 May 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  4. "160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Frequently Asked Questions (Enlisted)". 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. United States Army. Archived from the original on 3 January 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  5. Making Do For Special Ops, aviationweek.com, 6 September 2011
  6. "Task Force Dagger - Operation Enduring Freedom". Retrieved 13 January 2012. page 127ff
  7. Units Credited With Assault Landings
  8. Gresham, John (12 September 2011). "The Campaign Plan – Special Operations Forces and Operation Enduring Freedom". Retrieved 11 September 2015.
  9. Fury, Dalton. Kill Bin Laden. St Martin's, 2008. Print.
  10. "Sgt Thomas Ferrell Allison (1979 - 2002) - Find A Grave Memorial". findagrave.com.
  11. "Special ops aviation company deactivated". Army Times. Army Times Publishing Company. 4 May 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  12. "PRESS RELEASE: Four Special Operations Aviation Soldiers die in helicopter crash in Colorado". USASOC News Service. Archived from the original on 3 September 2009. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  13. King, Lauren, "One Killed, Several Injured In Copter Crash On Navy Ship", Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 23 October 2009.
  14. Clayton, Cindy, and Lauren King, "Army, Navy Investigating Deadly Copter Crash On Ship", Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 24 October 2009.
  15. "Stealth chopper secrets may have been exposed". thestar.com. 6 May 2011.
  16. "PRESS RELEASE: Special Operations Aviation Soldier dies in helicopter training accident". U.S. Army. 2014-03-04.
  17. "One killed in US 'Night Stalkers' hard landing". BBC News.
  18. "2 Fort Campbell soldiers receive Distinguished Flying Cross". army times. 2 June 2016.
  19. Maj. MIKE BURNS, For The Eagle Post (2012-08-01). "Evans assumes command of 160th SOAR – The Eagle Post : News". Theeaglepost.us. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  20. M. L. Buchman. "M. L. BUCHMAN". M. L. BUCHMAN.

External links

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Army Center of Military History document "160th Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers) Lineage and Honors".

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