Two squadrons at Eglin Air Force base are being sent packing — across town.
About 400 people with the 9th Special Operations Squadron and the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron will move to Hurlburt Field this spring and take their fleet of MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft with them.
The move will at last unite all 1st Special Operations Wing squadrons at Hurlburt. It also will allow for more efficient aircraft maintenance because the newcomers will be able to work closely with squadrons maintaining very similar planes at Hurlburt.
The 9th Special Operations and the 1st Special Operations Maintenance squadrons have been at Eglin under various names for years.
When the 1st SOW at Hurlburt took over the 9th SOS in 1989, the squadron remained at Eglin because that’s where it always had been, said Maj. Zak Blom, who is overseeing the move as the 1st SOW’s chief of programs.
“Since then it was known that the right answer was for them to be at Hurlburt,” he said. “Things just never worked out to make it happen.”
Blom said the effort to move the squadron gained momentum again in the last year. He’s been tasked with the project since last March.
“It has support from all levels of leadership now,” he said. “We’ve been able to show that we can do the move not only at very little cost, but we can actually save a lot in manpower, resources and efficiencies by bringing the two units that belong to the 1st Special Operations Wing to Hurlburt with the rest of their assets.”
The real savings will be in maintaining the planes, he said.
Hurlburt already has a fleet of sister MC-130Hs that are very similar, especially in maintenance and support, Blom said.
“The biggest gain is on the maintenance side,” he said. “We’ll have the equipment to support both these aircraft all co-located and won’t have to maintain duplicate equipment.”
He said the units also will be able to train more efficiently and operate more effectively by being on the same base as their command.
“Being geographically separated from your bosses, there’s a lot of time spent going back and forth,” he said.
The 9th SOS uses MC-130Ps to support special operations forces, primarily through nighttime, low-level flying missions. They insert, extract and resupply special ops teams, as well as refuel helicopters in flight.
The 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron ensures the planes are mission capable.
Blom is also an MC-130P pilot. He was assigned to the 9th SOS for a year and a half before being tasked with overseeing the move to Hurlburt.
He said in general the people in the squadrons are excited about the move.
“I think anytime there is change there’s always going to be a little trepidation involved,” he said. “There’s going to be some obstacles up front, but I think everyone realizes you overcome those obstacles to get to the better end state in the long run.”
Blom said a lot of the effort in organizing the move has been devoted to getting approvals from high-level staff. Those approvals are now in place.
They also had to conduct a lot of analysis to make sure Hurlburt had enough resources to take on the squadrons.
“There’s manpower challenges across the board in all the support functions on base, but we’ve determined that they can handle the two units and the aircraft,” Blom said.
The squadrons will be housed in existing facilities. The move required no new construction, which drove down cost, he said.
Blom said Eglin’s command staff has been helpful throughout.
“Eglin has been gracious through this whole process and supported the move from start to finish,” he said.
Anyone affected by the move who lives in Eglin housing will be allowed to stay if they choose, Blom said.
The move is set to take place in May and June. An official ceremony is tentatively set for May 22, the anniversary of Air Force Special Operations Command standing up at Hurlburt in 1990.
Col. William Holt, vice commander of the 1st SOW, said the move is a great step forward.
“By moving the two squadrons to Hurlburt, we will consolidate resources and gain significant efficiencies with our MC-130 maintenance teams,” he said in a written statement.
“I thank Team Eglin for the tremendous support they have provided to our MC-130Ps, and I look forward to having the entire 1st Special Operations Wing co-located at Hurlburt Field.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.