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The retirement of Hurlburt Field's MC-130H

On Friday, the 15th Special Operations Squadron celebrated the retirement of the final MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft at an open house event on Hurlburt Field. Family, friends, and former and current service members gathered to reminisce and view the inside of the Talon II one last time.

The Combat Talon II was a special operations aircraft within the United States Air Force whose primary function was infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations equipment and forces to hostile or denied territory. Additional functions of the aircraft included helicopter and vertical air refueling as well as psychological operations.

An updated variant of the MC-130E Combat Talon, which flew missions in Southeast Asia and in support of Operation Eagle Claw, the Combat Talon II was developed in the 1980s and arrived at Hurlburt Field in 1992. The new aircraft featured a stronger airframe, modifications to rear and aft cargo doors, updated GPS navigation, special radars for navigating in inclement weather, and night vision goggle capability. These technologies allowed the Combat Talon II to fly as low as 250 feet above ground level and make faster, more accurate airdrops.

“It was a purpose-built airplane for a mission that lasted a long time,” said former Talon II pilot and retired Lt. Col. Matthew Nevius. “We have guys who have been retired for 15 years and we have guys who still have 15 years in front of them who have worked on this airplane. It just shows you how awesome of an airplane it was for how long it was.”

During its tenure, the Combat Talon II flew in support of numerous humanitarian and combat missions. Its first mission in December 1995, was Operation Joint Endeavor, which delivered peacekeeping forces to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Talon II’s first combat mission came soon after in April 1996, when special operations forces were deployed to Liberia during its civil war to assist in the evacuation of 2,000 civilians from the American embassy.

In 1997, the Combat Talon II aided in the evacuation of civilians from the Republic of the Congo, for which the aircrew was awarded the Mackay Trophy. The crew rescued 30 Americans and 26 foreign nationals and logged a total of 21 hours of flight time. The Talon II also participated in combat operations in the Balkans during Operation Allied Force in 1999.

Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media

By the year 2000, the Combat Talon II had reached full operational capability. During that time, 24 Combat Talon IIs were deployed at American military installations in the United Kingdom, Okinawa, New Mexico, and Hurlburt Field.

In October 2001, four Combat Talon II aircraft were deployed to seize an airfield in southern Afghanistan, delivering U.S. Army Rangers to commence ground operations during Operation Enduring Freedom. A month later, two Combat Talon IIs inserted a platoon of U.S. Navy SEALs and four military Humvee vehicles near the same airfield. Numerous Talon II resupply missions in Afghanistan occurred throughout the remainder of the year.

The Combat Talon II was also the first American aircraft to land at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq for missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. That same year, six Combat Talon IIs served the longest military mission in United States Special Operations history.

Since October 2001, the MC-130H Combat Talon II has been utilized in combat and humanitarian operations around the world including operations Enduring Freedom and Inherent Resolve, Resolute Support, Sahayogi Haat in Nepal, Tomodachi in Japan, Unified Response in Haiti, and others.

“I was one of the first people in and one of the last people out,” said retired Master Sgt. James “Stovetop” Stauffer, who served as a loadmaster during Operation Unified Response. “For me, to have this as one of the last duties I did as an active duty loadmaster, it was a pretty big deal.”

After more than three decades of service, the MC-130H Combat Talon II is being replaced by the MC-130J Commando II. Many of the retired Talon II aircrafts have been sent to the "Boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

“Towards the end, she got old, she got cranky, and as you fly a legacy aircraft, finding parts and the ability to maintain the aircraft becomes more difficult,” said Lt. Col. Adam Schmidt, who served as a pilot on the Talon II. “As an aviator, it’s tough to watch the aircraft that you love so much die a slow death.”

The final Combat Talon II aircraft is being retired to the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park, where it will be on display for future generations of service members and families to view.

“This is not the prettiest airplane in the fleet, it’s not the fastest, it’s not the sleekest, it’s not the biggest, but it is a beast of a war course,” said Stauffer. “I hope the J model can hold a candle to it.”

 Retired Capt. Mike Jackson
Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media
Retired Capt. Mike Jackson
“The thing I liked most [about my time with the Talon II] was the dedication in the mission focus of the people. Flying the aircraft and being a crew member of the Talon II was a special thing because it was all about a professional culture of excellence dedicated to not just doing the mission, but doing it to ‘Talon Standard.’ Flying it, by the way, was a ton of fun, too.”
Retired Capt. Mike Jackson, former Combat Talon II pilot

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.