20th Special Operations Squadron

20th Special Operations Squadron

20th Special Operations Squadron Patch
Active 2 March 1942 – 27 November 1945
9 July 1956 – 8 March 1960
24 September 1965 – 1 April 1972
1 January 1976 – present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Special Operations
Part of Air Force Special Operations Command
27th Special Operations Wing
27th Special Operations Group
Garrison/HQ Cannon AFB
Nickname(s) Pony Express/Green Hornets
Decorations PUC
Outstanding Unit Award w/ V device
Outstanding Unit Award
RVGC w/ Palm

The 20th Special Operations Squadron (20th SOS) is part of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. It operates Bell Boeing CV-22 Osprey aircraft in support of special operations.


Conduct day or night low-level penetration into hostile enemy territory, to accomplish clandestine infiltration and exfiltration, aerial gunnery support and resupply of special operations forces throughout the world.[1]


The 20th Special Operations Squadron trained for aerial reconnaissance from, March 1942–December 1943, then went on to fly combat missions in the China-Burma-India Theater from, 31 January 1944 – 5 May 1945.[2]

Emblem of the 20th SOS, the Pony Express

The squadron was reactivated as the 20th Helicopter Squadron (HS) in 1956 to perform traditional helicopter missions with H-21s for the Tactical Air Command.

Vietnam War

In 1965, the unit's CH-3C helicopters were transferred to Southeast Asia and the squadron began participating in unconventional warfare and special operations in Laos and North Vietnam as the Pony Express.

In 1967, the 20th was joined by the UH-1F/P helicopters formerly assigned to Project Lucky Tiger and the Hueys became known as the Green Hornets. The "Green Hornets" supported Special Operations in South Vietnam and Cambodia. In August 1969 the Pony Express CH-3E's were transferred to the 21st Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base and the Pony Express ceased to exist. The heritage of the 20th was carried on by the 20th UH-1's Green Hornets.

Aircraft and crew losses

The Green Hornets continued to perform unconventional warfare missions for seven years, until inactivation in 1972.

1976 Reactivation

Upon reactivation in 1976 at Hurlburt Field, the unit mission remained unconventional warfare and special operations using UH-1N gunships and CH-3Es. The HH-53H Pave Low replaced the CH-3E in 1980, providing a long range, heavier lift helicopter capability. "The Air Force's newly operational fleet of nine HH-53H Pave Low CSAR helicopters was abruptly transferred to the special operations forces in response to the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt and the lack of dedicated long-range vertical lift platforms."[22][23]The crews used the Pave Low avionics to arrive over target on time and undetected, where they performed terminal operations wearing night vision goggles.[1]

In 1983, the UH-1Ns began two years of support as part of then Vice President George Bush's South Florida Drug Enforcement Task Force, participating in Operation Bahamas, Antilles and Turks (BAT). The Op BAT Hueys flew hundreds of over-water missions from the Bahamas before transferring to Homestead Air Force Base, Florida in 1985.[1]

In 1986, the 20th flew the specially equipped and highly capable MH-53H Pave Low and started flying the upgraded MH-53J Pave Low III in 1988.[1]

In December 1989, members of the 20 SOS were mobilized as part of a joint task force for Operation Just Cause, in Panama.[1]

The 20th was among the first units to deploy to Operation Desert Shield in August 1990, squadron crew members and aircraft led U.S. Army AH-64 Apaches in the air strike, opening the air war in Operation Desert Storm. A 20 SOS crew rescued U.S. Navy Lieutenant Devon Jones, logging the first successful combat rescue of a downed Airman since the Vietnam War. The crew earned the MacKay Trophy for their accomplishments.[1]

Squadron personnel deployed in support of Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, providing support to a National Command Authority resolution. Members of the 20th, participating in operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, went into harms way in attempting a rescue of two downed French crewmen, receiving two Purple Heart Medals and the Cheney Award.[1]

USAF MH-53J Pave Low helicopter over wreckage of the USAF CT-43A approximately 3 kilometers north of the Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia, 4 April 1996.

20 SOS crews were also involved in the search and rescue operations resulting from the CT-43 crash in which Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and his party lost their lives. These same crews deployed shortly thereafter to support the American Embassy evacuations in Monrovia, Liberia – airlifting more than 2,000 evacuees to safety. The squadron deployed crews and aircraft to Southwest Asia in support of United States Central Command and Operation Desert Thunder in February 1998. The Pave Low gave the theater commander a night, all-weather personnel recovery capability, unparalleled in the U.S. inventory.[1]

In 1999, the Pave Low III's were upgraded to the MH-53M Pave Low IV. The M model brought more technology and superior avionics to the mission, furthering the capabilities and resources available to the crews flying the helicopter. These new technologies were battle tested during Operation Allied Force when the 20 SOS rescued downed pilots from an F-117 and an F-16, earning two Silver Stars and numerous Distinguished Flying Crosses.[1]

In 2001, the 20th was quick to respond in the initial recovery efforts at The Pentagon and Ground Zero in New York City supporting Operation Noble Eagle. Additionally, the 20th rapidly deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, engaging in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan with continuing endeavors into Iraq as the Global War on Terror continues.[1]

To date, the Green Hornets have flown direct assaults on numerous high-profile targets and effected the rescue and exfiltration of hundreds of US and allied soldiers. Included among these actions are the daylight medevac of 32 injured soldiers in the midst of a battle and the rescue of a downed aircrew deep in hostile territory, which earned the squadron its second MacKay Trophy.[1]







Bases stationed

Aircraft operated



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 20 SOS Fact Sheet
  2. 1 2 3 4 AFHRA 20 SOS Page
  3. "MAJ Robert L Baldwin". The Virtual Wall.
  4. "SSGT Gene P Stuifbergen". The Virtual Wall.
  5. "SGT Ronald P Zenga". The Virtual Wall.
  6. "MAJ Walter W Martin". The Virtual Wall.
  7. "CAPT Richard A Fleming". The Virtual Wall.
  8. "SSGT Albert J Davis". The Virtual Wall.
  9. "LTC Frank A DiFiglia". The Virtual Wall.
  10. "CAPT Walter C Booth". The Virtual Wall.
  11. "CAPT Robert W Fields". The Virtual Wall.
  12. "TSGT Jesse C Bowman". The Virtual Wall.
  13. "SGT Antonio L Alho". The Virtual Wall.
  14. "CAPT James O Lynch". The Virtual Wall.
  15. "CAPT Dana O Dilley". The Virtual Wall.
  16. "MAJ Clyde W Enderle". The Virtual Wall.
  17. "CAPT Carlos A Estrada". The Virtual Wall.
  18. "TSGT James W Greenwood". The Virtual Wall.
  19. "CAPT Jackie P Heil". The Virtual Wall.
  20. "MSGT Gerald A Cooper". The Virtual Wall.
  21. "SGT Thomas E Fike". The Virtual Wall.
  22. http://www.hurlburt.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/FactSheets/tabid/140/Article/204557/mh-53-pave-low.aspx
  23. Fort Walton Beach, Florida, "Today in Local History", Northwest Florida Daily News, Thursday 18 June 2015, Volume 69, Number 137, page A5.


See also

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