Reserve activates special ops intel squadron
By Airman 1st Class Dylan Gentile, 919th Special Operations Wing
/ Published November 04, 2019
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
Red lights strewn across the tile ceiling of the office building flashed continuously to alert the intelligence analysts of a visitor in the facility as specialists paused to reflect on their unique mission amidst the glow of several illuminated computer screens. Confiscated phones sat in a secure room at the entrance so nothing with wireless capabilities could somehow compromise progress made in working toward the day’s objective. Most employees couldn’t be identified in an article without it posing a threat to national security.
This isn’t a spy movie, this is the future of warfare.
”This is the introduction and integration of a new enterprise into the Air Force Reserve Command,” said Chief Master Sgt. Marvin Pritchett, superintendent of the new 311th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron here. “We are breaking ground in a new world.”
This cutting edge work involves extracting intelligence value from multiple platforms and distributing it to special operations commanders so they can make battlefield decisions.
Although the official activation of the 311th SOIS took place Nov. 3, 2019, the unit has been hard at work for months hiring members while serving as an unblinking eye for special operations forces.
“We provide aerial information about what’s happening on the field to our own ground forces,” said Lt. Col. Magdalena Sunderhaus, commander of the 311th SOIS. “We have a bird’s eye view on the entire situation.”
The technology the squadron is using isn’t brand new, but the mission is. There’s only one other squadron in the Air Force that’s performing this mission, said Sunderhaus. The 311th SOIS is also the only squadron doing anything like this in the Reserve component.
“We started standing up the squadron in January of 2019, and have already won three [Major Command level] awards, logged over 7,000 flying hours, supported over 900 missions, generated over 700 products, and haven’t even been activated yet,” said Sunderhaus.
“The decision to activate the unit came from [United States] Special Operations Command requirements for full motion video processing,” said Sunderhaus. “Air Force Special Operations Command then worked with their counterparts to create an augmentation force. This work saves lives – it prosecutes and eliminates terrorism.”
The mission set extends into humanitarian efforts as well.
“We’re bringing long-term continuity to this program and mission,” said Sunderhaus. “We’re going to be here for a while and so we care about making it so that Airmen want to stay.”
“We’ve been hand selecting dedicated Airmen that we think can handle this job, said Sunderhaus. “The rigorous training, 12 hour shifts, and human cost of the mission can take its toll.”
With the hiring process comes the need to have programs which provide for Airmen and their families.
“With the active-duty Air Force, there are systems in place to make sure you get paid, get you your uniform and are provided medical care,” said Pritchett. “In the Reserve, when you’re setting up a squadron, you have to build these systems from scratch. Standing up a squadron while also performing the mission comes with additional stressors.”
Each day the unit makes progress in refining processes to ensure sustainment of the unit’s mission for the long haul.
“We care about our Airmen and their families,” said Sunderhaus. “We’re trying to create an environment where people can work together, be treated equally and enjoy what they do.”
Despite the struggles that come with starting something new, we continue to excel in every area, said Sunderhaus.
“I’m very proud of my team, and excited to be doing the work we’re doing,” she said.