Special warfare, like any good military plan, requires the proper use of forces at the proper time. Usually this means that special forces teams must be prepared for lightning-quick reactions. Operations behind enemy lines are not conductive towards high-speed movement by ground forces, thus they must find other methods to get to strike or surveillance points quickly and without the enemy’s knowledge. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) uses specially modified rotorcraft and highly trained pilots to get special warfare teams to their mission through hostile territory or weather. Whatever the mission, the 160th SOAR has adopted the name Nightstalkers and the motto, “Nightstalkers don’t quit!”
The 160th SOAR consists of three battalions, two white and one “black” ( for classified missions ). The 1st and 2nd Battalions are located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, while the 3rd is located at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. The 160th SOAR operates a group of highly modified aircraft in their missions. These aircraft are fitted with special avionics to allow them to fly at low level at night or in inclement weather. In addition they have increased weapons and armor to enable them to survive the harder missions in enemy fire.
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The Nightstalkers attached to support Operation Prime Chance became the first to engage and neutralize a target using NVG’s. The Nightstalkers were also the first Army aviators to be DLQ’d (Deck Landing Qualified), allowing them to operate from Navy ships ( which they did in preparation for the cancelled invasion of Haiti ). Task Force 160 served as a provisional unit until 1986, when they were reformed as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group (Airborne). In June of 1990 they were re designated the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
Nightstalker members and aircraft have seen action all over the world in support of US forces. They were deployed in Operations URGENT FURY and JUST CAUSE as well as Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM. In April of 1996 members of 3-160 (A) proved the skill and dedication that characterizes the members of the 160th SOAR. Within 12 hours of notification that they were to take place in Operation Assured Response ( The evacuation of Americans in Liberia ), the 160th SOAR had disassembled and readied for C-5B loading four MH-47D’s. These aircraft were reassembled on-location and flew their first missions only 72 hours after they had first been notified. During the ten days they participated in the operation, these four helicopters worked in conjunction with 5 USAF MH-53J and transported more than 2,500 civilians to safety.
Although staffed by dedicated members and sporting the latest technology, the Nightstalkers have not been without loss. In 1993 two MH-60L Blackhawks were shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia, with the loss of three pilots and another becoming a bargaining chip. Two other blackhawks were heavily damaged that day but managed to crash land back at their base. A MH-47E Chinook crashed in April of 1996 after suffering electrical failure, with the loss of five 160th SOAR Members.
Operation Enduring Freedom
With the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the 160th SOAR went to war and began one of their most intensive and largest operations ever.
March 2, 2002 was a black day for the 160th SOAR and American special operations in general. Two MH-47E’s from 2nd Bat were inserting observation teams in the southern end of the Shah-e-Kot Valley. The helicopter was en route from Basilan Island to Mactan, in the Philippines, when it crashed. The helicopter was supporting U.S. efforts to train and advise the Armed Forces of the Phillipines in their efforts against global terrorism.
The next morning two more MH-47E’s, Razors 1 and 2 approached the mountaintop with members of a Ranger Quick-Reaction Force. Dawn was just begning to break as Razor 1 began it’s landing from the south. Immediately heavy small-arms peppered the aircraft and the door gunners began to return fire. Suddenly a RPG round hit the side of the aircraft, but unlike Razor 3 the night before Razor 1 was too badly damaged to limp away and crashed on the mountain top, badly wounding many Rangers and both pilots. To make matters worse the right hand door gunner, Sgt Phil Svitak had been hit by AK-47 fire just before the crash and died soon thereafter. One member of the Ranger QRF was hit and killed inside the aircraft and two more died as they tried to exit and set up fighting positions. Only air support and the supreme effort of the other members of the QRF who’d advanced 2,000 vertical feet under fire after having been dropped off in a safer position below saved the crew and passengers of Razor 1.