Colonel Allison Black, a female Airman, made history earlier in the summer by becoming the vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing. She is the first female to command at that level in the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
And yet this is not Col. Black's first. Earlier in her career, she became the first female navigator in an AC-130H Spectre gunship to participate in combat operations. The different variants of the AC-130 are an invaluable asset to ground forces and they provide extremely effective close air support.
"It's a great honor to serve the Special Tactics community as their vice wing commander," said Col. Black in a press release. "I'm now a direct part of the machine that I've directly supported my entire aviation career from the air. I couldn't ask for a better teammate than Col. Matt Allen. He's a dedicated leader and consummate professional who deeply cares about our people. As Col. Allen's vice, it's my role to follow his lead and drive the organization toward a successful future."
U.S. Air Force Col. Allison Black is the vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The 24th SOW is U.S. Special Operations Command's tactical air-to-ground integration force and the Air Force's special operations ground force, leading operations in precision strike, global access, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Williams)
Col. Black began her career as an enlisted Survival, Evasion, Escape, and Resistance (SERE) specialist in 1992. She commissioned in 1998 and became an AC-130 navigator and later combat systems officer. She then headed the Operational Integrated Communications Team at the Pentagon and then served as the operations officer and later commanding officer of the 319th Special Operations Squadron. Before assuming her current assignment, she spent a stint at the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) headquarters.
The commander of 24th SOW, Colonel Matt Allen, said that "With any leadership team, you want to have people that cover each other's blind spots and are able to bring the best out of the organization. Not only does Col. Black have a rich history as an aircrew member within AFSOC, but she also has key insights working on staffs within U.S. Special Operations Command and she is a female colonel, which provides really good insight as we look at our diversity and inclusion aspects of the force to make sure that we're making good organizational decisions on bringing in the first wave of female operators onto the line."
Based in Hurlburt Field, Florida, the 24th SOW is one of the three special operations wings in the Air Force. The unit is one of the most decorated in the entire Air Force. Airmen assigned to Wing's units have received six Air Force Crosses, 32 Silver Stars, and hundreds of Bronze Stars with the Valor device (respectively, the second, third, and fourth highest award for valor under fire); the Air Commandos have also received 105 Purple Hearts, while 17 have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Special Tactics Airmen during a training exercise (U.S. Air Force).
The 24th SOW commands 14 Special Tactics, training, and support squadrons. In addition, two Air National Guard squadrons fall under 24th SOW and augment the organization as needed.
"Let's just make a difference. Let's exploit what I have learned throughout my career on operations, risk management, and regulations," added Col. Black. "Let's uncover all of that and let's roll up our sleeves and use that to make our community stronger and more effective. Let's exploit technology and work to define what the future holds. We need to determine what niche capabilities our current Special Tactics force must bring to the future fight."
Before Col. Black's appointment, the special operations community achieved a historic milestone with the graduation of the first female Soldier from the modern Special Forces Qualification Course. The female Green Beret became the first to don the coveted Green Beret and join an operational team – Captain Katie Wilder had been the first woman to pass the old version of Special Forces training in the 1980s but only received her Green Beret after a legal saga and never joined an operational team.