160th SOAR, MAY 1990 –
Designated 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
The United States Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as Night Stalkers, is a special operations force of the United States Army that provides helicopter aviation support for general purpose forces and special operations forces. Its missions have included attack, assault, and reconnaissance, and are usually conducted at night, at high speeds, low altitudes, and on short notice. The 160th SOAR is headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
After the 1980 Operation Eagle Claw attempt to rescue American hostages held in Tehran, Iran, failed, President Jimmy Carter ordered former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III to figure out how the U.S. military could best mount another attempt. At the time there were no U.S. helicopter units trained in this kind of stealthy, short-notice Special Operations mission.
The Army looked to the 101st Aviation Group, the air arm of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which had the most diverse operating experience of the service’s helicopter units, and selected elements of the 158th Aviation Battalion, 229th Aviation Battalion, and the 159th Aviation Battalion. The chosen pilots immediately entered intensive training in night flying.
This provisional unit was at first dubbed Task Force 158 since the majority of the pilots were Blackhawk aviators detached from the 158th. Their distinctive 101st “Screaming Eagle” patches remained on their uniforms. The Blackhawks and Chinooks continued to operate around Campbell Army Airfield at the north of post, and Saber Army Heliport at the south. The OH-6 Cayuses, an aircraft that vanished from the division’s regular inventory after Vietnam, were hidden out by the ammunition holding area at a location still known as the “SHOC Pad”, for “Special Helicopter Operations Company”.
As the first batch of pilots completed training in the fall of 1980, a second attempt to rescue the hostages was planned for early 1981. Dubbed Operation Honey Badger, it was called off when the hostages were released on the morning of President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
The capability gained was judged too important to future contingencies to lose. The new unit was quickly recognized as the Army’s premier night fighting aviation force, and its only Special Operations Aviation force. The pilots and modified aircraft would not be returned to the 101st. Original members of the Night Stalkers refer to it as “the day the Eagles came off”. The 101st’s patches came off, the personnel and equipment would be reassigned, and a new tradition was born. The unit was officially established on 16 October 1981, when it was designated as the 160th Aviation Battalion.
The 160th first saw combat during 1983’s Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada.
In 1986, it was re-designated as the 160th Aviation Group (Airborne); and in May 1990, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). As demand for highly trained Special Operations Aviation assets bloomed, the regiment activated three battalions, a separate detachment, and incorporated one Army National Guard unit, the 1st Battalion, 245th Aviation (OK ARNG).
The Night Stalkers provided insert and cover for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011.
Happy Birthday 160th SOAR – God Bless the US Army Special Operations Forces.