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By Kevin Wilson
Editor 

Q&A: Cannon official talks new squadron

 

Last updated 10/4/2021 at 5:17pm

Courtesy photo

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Saylor, 17th Special Operations Squadron commander, salutes during the singing of the national anthem during Friday's ceremony.

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE - The 17th Special Operations Squadron, which stood up Friday at Cannon Air Force Base, will do many of the same things it did on Thursday.

But the Jackals have a clearer path going forward, and sound much better than the 27th Special Operations Group Detachment 2 that ceased to exist once the ceremony was complete.

The new squadron is not expected to significantly impact the population at Cannon going forward, as many of the initial members were already stationed here.

Lt. Col. Andrew Saylor, who has been at Cannon since January commanding the detachment, spoke Thursday with The News about his first squadron command.

Q: What will the 17th do?

A: We're going to train to fly the AC-130J Ghost Rider. Some of the missions we're training to do include providing fire support for Special Operations' conventional forces, but what I really want to talk about is our most important job - help transform Air Force Special Operations Command into an organization that can remain relevant across the spectrum of future conflict.

We've got our sister squadrons that are doing great work already in the AC-130 field as well as all the rest. This is a whole team. I shouldn't just focus on the guys who are flying airplanes. It's the guys that are fixing the planes, maintaining them, the teams that are supporting us and all of the admin functions.

Specifically for us, it's bringing a certain amount of stability and predictability to the lives of our airmen. With that predictability, with that stability, our team's going to be able to get after innovation, modernization, new ways to employ the aircraft or just coming up with those ideas that are going to get after our national security goals in a new way, a new fashion, to make the world a better place.

Q: How were those duties handled prior to Friday?

A: There's three other AC-130 units between eastern New Mexico and the panhandle of Florida. The 16th is at Cannon. The 4th and the 73rd are both at Hurlburt Field in Florida. The reality is we're all one gunship enterprise, with airmen moving between the bases, between the units, all working towards the same goals. The standup really gives us that time and space to look at things in a new light.

Q: How many will be in the 17th, and where are they currently assigned as we speak?

A: That one's a little bit of a moving target, still. As AFSOC is working through this transition period, budgets and plans are always changing, as you might expect. Right now, we're looking at a redistribution of manpower across the command.

Totals are difficult to pin down, but the future men and women of the 17th are mostly already doing that great work in our squadrons right now. Some of them are doing their initial flight training, some of them are still in basic training or waiting to be assessed into the Air Force.

Q: How about a ballpark figure, perhaps, of what the squadron numbers will be?

A: Right now, my team is relatively small. We're in the 10s, and eventually we're going to be growing. It's tough to pin down, somewhere in that football team size, maybe. As we move folks around, what you're really going to find here at Cannon is that our sister squadrons are going to shrink as the 17th grows. The total number here on base will roughly remain the same with folks flowing in and flowing out.

Q: How do you reach a decision point that a new squadron is needed, just in general terms?

A: It's not easy, and I certainly didn't make it. In general terms, the case may be where more specific leadership is required or maybe special oversight and development of those team members is necessary. It could also just be growth.

In this case, it was a little of all of them along with a big helping of committing to that organizational model that brings the stability and predictability to our airmen and a continued relevance to our enterprise.

Q: Have you been a part of new squadrons before?

A: I've had the opportunity to be part of other new squadrons, and activating new squadrons, but I've never had the opportunity to lead it.

Q: Is it a different feeling leading one?

A: Absolutely. I want to make sure to note the 17th actually has a lot of history, particularly in the Pacific. It goes all the way back to World War II. It's only been deactivated for a couple years.

Back to your original question, the opportunity is very special, to be given a specific challenge and be given the space to create something and experiment a little, to ultimately give back to the enterprise. It's an awesome responsibility and a unique opportunity.

As a command, we're facing a lot of challenges. It's the near peer fight that's coming up, or the preparation for that potential fight. It's the new threats that are always out there.

The other parts of the world are developing things, and so are we, and we have to meet those challenges. That's a huge responsibility, and it's one myself and my team are excited to take on.

Q: What changes for you with the transition?

A: First off, it's our patch. As a unit, we go from 27th SOG, Detachment 2, which is a mouthful and lacks that history and heritage. On Friday, we officially become the 17th Special Operations Squadron. We become the Jackals.

This is a unit that goes all the way back to World War II as the 71st Reconnaissance Squadron. It earned its reputation as a special operations gunship in Vietnam. It was briefly stood down, and then in the '90s it was reestablished at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, as an MC-130P squadron. That's not even a gunship squadron.

Throughout that entire time, there was a lot of great air commandos doing great air commando work - tackling the challenges that the nation needed them to tackle, whether it was the global war on terror or it was doing disaster relief and recovery effort from the Fukishima reactor or tsunamis at the time.

We are proud to take on that heritage. We are excited to meet the challenge of living up to those values and the motto of the squadron - "no mission too demanding."

It's really what we want to live into. We look at this with a new set of conflicts on the horizon, potentially. The new challenges our adversaries are putting in front of us, we can look at that and say, "That's not too demanding for us to do."

Q: Any closing thoughts?

A: We do appreciate the training opportunities we get out here at Cannon and Melrose. It's an awesome place to train, and it's going to be a great place for a community to stand up and support AFSOC and particularly our gunship enterprise's commitment to eastern New Mexico and our airmen.

 
 

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