By Kevin Wilson

Q&A: Wing commander: Base has unique role in future combat


Last updated 10/23/2021 at 2:41pm

Courtesy photo

Col. Terence Taylor

As the United States has removed itself from a long conflict in Afghanistan, it is considering how it will handle combat going forward. Air Force Special Operations Command is expected to play a significant role in that direction, with Cannon Air Force Base part of that effort.

Col. Terence Taylor has been commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon since June.

Taylor, who joined the Air Force in 1997, previously served as commander of the 1st Special Operations Group at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

Taylor sat down with The News on Wednesday to discuss the base and the role it plays in preparation for combat around the world. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What has been the biggest challenge in your first few months commanding the wing?

Taylor: We're in the midst of a lot of change. What I find is that particularly here in wing command as you try to propagate guidance and direction throughout the chain and down the chain of command, the biggest impediment to that change is the internal structures, systems, paradigms that define the military in a rigid way, it tends to clash with that. So people to not only embrace the change, but stepping outside of their normal comfort zone, thinking in different ways, that's probably the biggest challenge that I see.

But I think it's also our area for greatest opportunity, too, because once that happens and we kind of unleash the idea fairy, if you will, that's certainly something that's going to be important in moving forward as we look to accelerate change and address the threats we're going to face.

What's the biggest opportunity?

Taylor: It's just that, embracing that change and unleashing the wherewithal, the abilities, the capabilities of our airmen. We have so many young, innovative ideas and individuals here at Cannon Air Force Base. It's cool to see when they feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride from being able to contribute something that is an original idea that ultimately makes things better.

We just exited a 20-year conflict in Afghanistan, with the Air Force playing a huge role in all phases. How did the nature of combat change over that time?

Taylor: I was on the initial push to put boots on the ground in Afghanistan in 2001, so I've seen it through a number of deployments there. What I would say is, 2021 is different from 2001 in the sense that we started to leverage technology a lot more as we were forced to grow and adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

Now you'll see unmanned aerial vehicles, for example. That wasn't something I was used to seeing early on in the days of flying in Afghanistan. That's one area. I think just the changes in technology, the pace, the rapidity with which things had to change, that's something that certainly changed over time that we had to adjust to best leverage those tools.

Here at Cannon, we have the MQ-9s that are doing work all over the globe, day in and day out, literally a 24-hour ops. We're a direct part of that new technology.

So how does that technology change the way we'd approach a conflict like that, versus what we did in 2001?

Taylor: I think that the biggest benefit and the biggest thing we have in our corner, if we go back in this discussion, is the people that are leveraging that equipment. It's not so much the platform or the technology itself, but it's the ability for our people to adapt and use that in the most effective way.

So I think what you would see, if we started again from scratch given what we have now, I would say that not in 20 years, but much quicker, we would come up with more innovative solutions to get after those things we have to tackle.

What is the role that AFSOC plays in the newest methods of combat?

Taylor: AFSOC has a unique position in that we are smaller than many of our peer force providers. What I mean is that Special Operations Command is a lot smaller than Air Combat Command or Air Mobility Command. We have the opportunity to leverage our smaller size and smaller footprints to do some things of an experimental nature that others in the Air Force can't do because of their size.

AFSOC sees itself as a pathfinder in many ways, and we will develop missions and test things out with the hope we find out whether something works or it doesn't.

The most pertinent example I can give you of that is that the Air Force has talked about this Multicapable Airman Initiative for so long. We have our mission support team, our MST, and that is a pathfinding initiative to bring in airmen from all different career fields and train together as a team, come together as a team and then deploy with our operational forces in a capacity where they can set up some kind of bare base initiative.

Instead of our airplanes going somewhere that is a well-established airfield, we can use our MST with our operators and go somewhere where there may not be anything but a runway and operate there for a certain period of time. That's important going forward as we look at the changing threats and peer competitors versus what we've been doing the past 20 years.

Branching off of that, what specific role does Cannon play in that AFSCOC role?

Taylor: The MST is a big part of it, but we also have a couple of new units here. We're bringing on new aircrafts. The 310th SOS is less than a year old. That's our fourth U-28 squadron within AFSOC, which will allow us to create a deliberate force generation structure.

Also, the 17th SOS, which is our newest gunship squadron, is flying the AC-130J, which is brand new to Cannon Air Force Base. You see that Cannon is one of the two primary AFSOC bases within the United States. We play a pretty pivotal role here in the change going forward and the things that AFSOC is doing from a transition and transformation standpoint.

Could you explain the deliberate force structure?

Taylor: We commonly refer to it as SOForGen, which stands for Special Operations Forces Generation. It describes how we present our forces all over the world.

Historically, since the beginning and since 2001, many of our folks have been on a constant deployment rotation model that is, frankly, somewhat unpredictable. You may not know a year from now whether you're going to be home or whether you're going to be deployed. You don't know the lengths of the deployment between now and then, you don't know exactly where you're going to go.

What we're trying to do now through this model is create a deliberate four-cycle or four-phase construct.

The first phase after deployment is your rest or reset phase, and that's a five-month phase; each one of these phases is five months long. Next is your training phase, where you do all of your individual training requirements and your unit training requirements and you do those for five months. Next is your joint collective phase where you partner with Special Forces from the Army or Special Forces from the Navy that are also deploying around the same time you are. You develop those relationships beforehand so that you don't have to create those relationships once you get boots on the ground.

The final part is the committed phase. Portions of the force could be deployed, and another part of the force if not deployed is putting some thought and deliberate attention into what it takes to combat this peer threat.

These four distinct phases do a couple of things for you. No. 1, it provides some predictability. It allows you to better articulate capacity. Before, we would say, "I don't know if I can send X number of forces out six months from now because I don't know what else is going to be asked of them." Now we have the force generation structure to back that up a little. It also gives you opportunity to deliberately develop your force. Now that you have some predictability, you can create the most capable airman possible.

What do you believe is the role of a base and its personnel in community investment?

Taylor: The Air Force base is a part of the community, that's the first thing to think about. We are a significant portion of the local population, so we have a vested interest in our community just like those outside of the gates.

I think our role, though, is to be fruitful members of the community, to conduct ourselves accordingly.

My expectation of all of the military members and families here is that they present themselves in a light that will always show positivity on the Air Force, the base here at Cannon. We're ultimately here to serve the population.

How can the community support the base and its population?

Taylor: I think what's important is constant, open communication. I feel really fortunate to have open communication with our community leaders, with the Portales Military Affairs Committee as well as the Committee of Fifty (in Clovis). It always seems they're asking what else they can do for us. I think keeping that mindset, keeping that relationship, keeping the communication going is something that's going to serve us well into the future.

An issue you inherited is the PFAS/PFOA contamination around the base, which is largely blamed on the use of firefighting foams by military fire departments. What are you as a wing commander doing to move that cleanup effort forward?

Taylor: Air Force Civil Engineering Center has the lead on that. They have me on messaging, they have me on the remedy and mitigation and all of that. I try not to get in front of that, but I do know that the face of this is really sitting right here.

When people in the community want to know about this, they're going to turn to the 27th SOW and maybe more specifically to us here. I think our role is critical in that we need to be open and honest with communication and continue to push the communication as much as we can and keep people informed of what's going on.

On the Air Force side, it is a deliberate process. Our job here is to make sure that continues to go through. We want to relay the things that are happening in each step of the mitigation process and make sure the community is aware.

Some of the roads leading in and out of Cannon, we heard at a recent city commission meeting, could qualify for federal funding. Could you explain that process a little?

Taylor: The expert on that is going to be the Civil Engineering Squadron, and Lt. Col. (Justin) Meihaus could go into a lot more detail and depth. But big picture, the surrounding areas are important if you think of all of the traffic flow that goes in and out of the base. Making that more efficient, the ease of transportation is something that's always going to benefit us.

In your time as a leader, what have you tried to emulate from other leaders in or out of the military?

Taylor: From growing up in the Air Force, seeing military leaders and serving military leaders, and not just in the military but on the civilian side as well, one thing I've always valued and appreciated is humility. There could be a tendency at times in positions leadership to stray away from that. But I've found being humble opens the door for communication and makes people comfortable.

I think the communication and approachability piece is a big part of that.

The second thing I'd say is I've learned that relationships overcome the issues. The issues will continue to come; they never stop. But at the end of the day it comes down to the relationships we all have amongst one another.

So whether it's peer relationships with people in similar positions to me, whether it's relationships with the folks I answer to like my boss and people higher in the chain of command, whether it's others serving here at Cannon, or especially it's the people in the local community, as long as that's there the issues don't tend to be so big.

- Compiled by Editor Kevin Wilson


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2021