April 29, 2013 (by TSgt. Samuel King Jr.) - "Blackbird fly... into the light of a dark, black night." The Beatles somber, fitting refrain closed the MC-130E Combat Talon I's retirement ceremony here April 25th, completing the "Blackbird's" almost 50-year career with the U.S. Air Force.
Two of the last five MC-130E Combat Talon Is sit on the Duke Field flightline adorned with American flags for the aircraft’s retirement ceremony April 25. Aircrew, maintainers and many others turned out to remember and bid farewell to the Talon I on its official retirement from the Air Force. The last five Talons, located at Duke Field, will be delivered to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB, by mid-May 2013. [USAF photo by TSgt. Samuel King Jr.]
The 919th Special Operations Wing hosted the ceremony because the last five Air Force Talon Is sit on the Duke Field flightline. They were aligned for viewing and adorned with American flags for the ceremony. The birds will take flight only once more when they leave for the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., by mid-May 2013.
"Today we say goodbye to a trusted friend, more than a machine to those who flew her, but a faithful and reliable partner. You have served well, my friend, and we are grateful for your nearly 50 years of service," said Maj. T.J. Kollar, a 711th Special Operations Squadron Electronic Warfare Officer, during the invocation.
A massive crowd turned out to the little base to pay respect and remember the Talon I on the 33rd anniversary of the Operation Eagle Claw mission to the Desert One landing site, an attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. The lead aircraft on that mission, Aircraft 64-0565, was parked at the hangar doors and served as a backdrop for the ceremony.
Retired Col. Ray Turczynski, a former 1st Special Operations Squadron commander and a pilot on the second Talon to land at Desert One, recounted the story of the mission that revitalized special operations after Vietnam.
When the Combat Talons returned to Masirah, Oman, after the Desert One landing, a group of British military personnel brought the dejected Combat Talon aircrew members a case of beer with the following inscription hand-written on the package: "To you all, from us all, for having the guts to try." That motto became the impetus for the rebuilding of special operations forces in the U.S. military, and is the true legacy of all Combat Talon members past and present, according to Turczynski.
Surrounded by pictures, mementos and displays, including a Fulton Recovery System, Lt. Col. Tom Miller, the master of ceremonies for the retirement, explained the various nicknames the Talon had earned through five decades. They were the Praetorian Starship, Chariot of Armageddon, Blackbird, Stray Goose and the Pterodactyl.
Retired Col. Lee Hess, former commander of the 1st SOS as well as other SO positions and a Talon pilot, read statements from former pilots and active commanders, who wanted to honor the warbird.
"Though it is time for engine shutdown, our Talon I mission is not done, for in us lives a legacy of fights yet to be won," said Maj. Gen. Brozenick, the commander of Special Operations Command Pacific, in a statement read by Hess.
After reading the statements, Hess saluted "the guys who made it happen" - the maintainers and all of the support people; that comment brought the crowd to its feet with applause.
The keynote speaker, retired Maj. Gen. James Hobson, a Talon pilot and former commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, reminisced about the "good old days" and the early career of the Combat Talon. He also told his story of airdropping troops into Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury.
Lt. Col. Daniel Flynn, Commander of the 711th SOS, spoke about the 919th SOW's role with the historic aircraft from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom to humanitarian missions after Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake. The 919th SOW will leave its 40-year C-130 mission behind and transition to an Aviation Foreign Internal Defense mission flying C-145A Skytrucks.
"Thank you for always bringing us home safely," said Kollar. "Take your leave. You've earned your rest."
The Combat Talon I flew its first combat missions in 1966 and since has participated in all major U.S. conflicts. The newer MC-130H Combat Talon II, and the MC-130J Commando II, will carry on its legacy and mission of infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces and equipment.
"All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free. Blackbird fly."