Hidden in plain sight: SOCOM at MacDill

April 21, 2014 | South Tampa Magazine | Categories: Editorial, Military | Tags: MacDill, MacDill Air Force Base, SOCOM, United States Special Operations Command, USSOCOM

Hidden in plain sight: SOCOM at MacDill


Since World War II, MacDill Air Force Base has been home to various military operations. The youngest of those, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), was activated on April 16, 1987.

But the years leading up to SOCOM’s genesis were marked with a significant U.S. military failure.

On Nov. 4, 1979, a group of Islamist students in Tehran, Iran held 53 Americans hostage. In the spring of 1980, President Jimmy Carter initiated Operation Eagle Claw, a two-day helicopter rescue mission. After multiple malfunctions with helicopter navigation and landing, the operation was aborted. The debacle resulted in the destruction of two U.S. aircraft, the abandonment of five helicopters and the death of eight American servicemen.

The incident ensued for 444 days and was deemed the “Iran Hostage Crisis.”

Although the hostages were released in 1981, the failure made it imperative that a cohesive organization was formed for specialized, U.S. military missions.

Flash forward 30 years and SOCOM is now the branch of the Department of Defense that oversees salient U.S. operations: foreign internal defense, civil affairs, counter-terrorism and many others. It also supports joint-forces such as the Green Berets, Air Force Pararescuemen and the Night Stalkers (helicopter regiment).

These forces were the first to touch ground during the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. They also played a pivotal role in combating insurgents after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Although SOCOM is one of the youngest military operations in the states, it has impacted U.S. military history, protected its citizens and made it possible for future generations to prosper.