Hurlburt Field, Fla — After 16 years of hard fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, special tactics airmen often feel the strain of combat as much as any members of the force. In 2012, Adm. Bill McRaven, then-chief of US Special Operations Command, recognized the pressure and initiated a Preservation of the Force and Families effort to address unique resiliency challenges faced by special operators. Now those efforts are paying off in the Air Force special tactics community, whose members often operate within SOCOM units. A major who is a special tactics officer told Air Force Magazine that POTFF puts “the infrastructure in place to make sure you’re mentally, physically, and spiritually well off.” The service asked that his name not be used because of concern for operational security. He said “guys were carrying a heavy load” after as many as eight deployments. Other special tactics airmen talk about members who are “teeners”—meaning they have a total number of deployments higher than 12. POTFF provides chaplains, physical therapists, social workers, and mental health counselors who integrate into the unit to build familiarity with the operators and provide personal services whenever they are needed. “The Air Force is taking note of what SOCOM’s doing,” CMSgt. Michael West, superintendent of the 720th Operations Support Squadron, told Air Force Magazine. “I’ve seen people put their promotion worries aside so they’re taking care of their guys first.”
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.