By Doug Stauffer
They say blood runs thicker than water, but I witnessed what happens when colleagues choose to create an enduring bond. With its many branches, this extended family of the 919th Special Operations Wing (SOW) showed the heights achieved through genuine solidarity. I had the distinct pleasure of interacting with one of Okaloosa County’s largest families. While they are not literal siblings, they are affectionately known as “America’s Citizen Air Commandos.”
One word encapsulates this unit: Camaraderie—I sensed this truth at the informal family Wing Day and the formal anniversary banquet. Yet, these two events hardly scratch the surface of who they are and what they mean to all Americans. The close bonds extend from top to bottom—starting with the Wing Commander throughout the entire organization.
They sacrifice to support the nation’s defenses at home and at distant points around the globe. The Wing Commander is Colonel Jason Grandy. He stated, ”We perform 13 unique missions and serve as the only Reserve Wing with such a diverse mission. We pride ourselves as quiet professionals; we do not work for the praise, but we want to do a good job, because that is what we do. The human capital in our Wing is exceptional.” Like most true professionals, he leads by example.
The 919th Special Operations Wing, located at Eglin Air Force Base Field 3 (Duke Field), is the only special operations Wing in the Air Force Reserve. The Wing supports the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC). Its taskings include operations, maintenance, security forces, civil engineering, communications, logistics, supply, transportation services and personnel functions. As Colonel Grandy mentioned, it is the most diverse Wing in the Air Force Reserve Command, performing 13 unique missions.
There are approximately 1,700 members assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing. Over 1,400 of those are part-time reservists. The Air Reserve Technicians (ARTs) provide the full-time continuity and support to keep the units and members combat-ready. ARTs carry dual status as full-time civil service employees for the U.S. Air Force and participate as reservists. More than 300 ARTs and 47 civilians support the Wing in day-to-day operations.
As the only special operations unit in the Air Force Reserve, the unit has supported Operation Just Cause, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Uphold Democracy, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. The 919th Security Forces Squadron was the first Air Force Reserve unit to be activated to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
Family Wing Day: The Niceville Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce partnered with Duke Field to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. The Chamber’s business community donated the funds to provide free “Nice-cream” from Dippin’ Dots for the attendees of Family Day.
Tricia Brunson, President and CEO of the Niceville Valparaiso Chamber, expressed her appreciation for the 919th: “The mission of Duke Field is to serve, protect and defend our nation. Its proximity to us makes it an integral part of our local economy. They are our friends and neighbors. Their children are students in our schools; their spouses fill employment needs for our businesses, while many reservists work full-time jobs within our community. The 919th Special Operations Wing has been there for us for 50 years, standing ready to keep us safe and our nation strong. They provide us peace of mind while we provide them with a sense of home—a signature asset of Okaloosa County.”
The 50th Anniversary Banquet: “50 Years of Valor” was the theme for the evening as the 919th SOW wrapped up the weekend of celebrations with a formal gala. Lt. Colonel James Wilson, the 919th Chief of Public Affairs, said, “The 919th Special Operations Wing is one of the most decorated units in the Reserve. Since the unit’s activation in 1971, Reservists from Duke Field have earned 20 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards for organizational excellence. Today’s standards are closely tied to those pioneers who established the Air Force Reserve’s presence at Duke Field more than 50 years ago. This weekend is our opportunity to honor and thank them for showing us what it means to be the ‘Best of the Best.’”
Retirees, former commanders, current leaders and everyone in attendance enjoyed reminiscing and learning about the rich history and mission of Duke Field. Major General Richard S. “Beef” Haddad gave an inspirational speech. Community leaders, Jerry Williams, President/CEO of Eglin Federal Credit Union (EFCU) and the Military Affairs Chair, Teresa Halverson, expressed gratitude for our local military.
The late Brig. Gen. Donald Haugen, the 919th’s founding member, created the 919th Tactical Airlift Group in 1971. Judy Haugen is considered the First Lady of the 919th. She is the mother of retired Lt. Colonel Brian Haugen of the Taylor Haugen Foundation. The evening wrapped up by highlighting several annual award winners from the 919th, with Colonel Grandy bringing the closing remarks.
I caught up with EFCU’s Jerry Williams, a major supporter of the anniversary celebrations like so many other community events. “Our loyalty to the military stems from the fact that EFCU exists because of the military. The credit union was birthed in 1954 because of the military institutions in this area. Many of our employees have worked for the credit union while serving in the Reserve at the 919th. Presently we have two employees in the 919th—they are serving our members one day and our country the next. We are honored to play a small part in such a magnificent endeavor.”
Did you know that Niceville Mayor Henkel is a retired Air Commando? The next time you see him, be sure to express your sincere appreciation for his service.