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Reservist shares civilian skills to support SOCOM Para-Commandos

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Erin Karl
  • Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization

Bill Walsh is a familiar face to the people of Charleston, S.C.  He’s been the lead weather forecaster for the #1 station there for 30 years.  His face is on billboards and his professional Facebook page has 17,000 followers. 

Many Charleston residents have come to rely on Bill for his forecasts; some also know about his “side gig.”  Bill is also Lt. Col. Bill Walsh, an individual reserve public affairs officer who, for the last three years, has taken on a distinctive position within the reserve community; he’s one of two individual mobilization augmentee public affairs officers who support the U.S. Special Operations Command Para-Commandos.

"It’s the most amazing military job I've had so far,” said Walsh.  "You're part of a team made up of Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Berets, and Marine Special Operations members.  You better be ready to keep up!"

The Para-Commandos are the Department of Defense’s only joint parachute demonstration team.  They are made up of special operators from all services who are assigned to staff jobs at SOCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.  Their participation on the team is a voluntary additional duty which takes them to airshows and sporting events across the country to demonstrate special operations parachute insertion techniques and call attention to the vast talent and sacrifice of special operations forces stationed around the globe. 

As a Para-Commando, Walsh wears four hats as a trained drop zone safety officer, weather officer, narrator and public affairs officer, bridging his civilian expertise in meteorology with his military role. He was recently selected to be one of the team members chosen to work the National College Football Championship game between Clemson and Alabama where three teammates flew in the flags of each team as well as the American Flag. 

“What a game!” said Walsh.  “To be a part of it, to be on the field and supporting these guys was a complete thrill.”

Walsh’s position with the Para-Commandos is an example of how IMAs can be creatively used to enhance and support active duty missions. 

Air Force Reserve IMAs are assigned to active-component organizations and government agencies around the world.  They augment their active-duty counterparts in order to plus-up their offices when in need, often filling particular niches that enhance the active-duty mission.

“Lt. Col. Walsh’s type of reserve job is not the norm,” said Col. Clif Stargardt, commander of Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization Detachment 6, “but that’s what so great.  There are many creative ways IMAs can be used to provide operational capability, strategic depth, and surge capability.  With a reservist like Lt. Col. Walsh in a position like the one he fills with the Para-Commandos, you get all three. It’s fantastic.”

While IMAs are assigned to support an active-component organization, HQ RIO and its seven detachments retain administrative control over the nearly 8,000 reservists in the IR program. HQ RIO works to ensure IMAs remain at the ready to support their country and are fully integrated with the active-component organizations they support.

The Para-Commandos perform two or three weekends a month, and during those times the team needs help with media interaction and scheduling.  Instead of detailing an active-duty public affairs troop from SOCOM headquarters, two IRs assigned to the team split the duty of providing those on-site resources.

"Bill Walsh is truly a treasure.  Actually, that’s his nickname on the team,” said Mr. Keith Walter, leader of the Para-Commandos.  “He has increased our media and press engagement by probably 1000%.  That's not hyperbole.  Prior to his arrival on the team, we were lucky to interact with the press three or four times a year.  Now it’s three or four times a weekend.”

Walsh has been nominated both this year and last year for Para-Commando of the Year.  He’s the only reservist in the history of the team to be nominated for the award.  Walter says that’s a testament to what a great asset he is for the team.