When it comes to versatility, it is hard to beat the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). “We are the Air Force’s only ground combat force,” says Capt. Mike Martin, chief of current operations for AFSOC’s 720th Special Tactics Group (STG). “There are some base ground defense units, but we go forward.” For the members of this elite combat team, going forward means swimming with the Navy’s SEALs, jumping with the Army’s Special Forces and Rangers, and hitting the beaches with the Marines’ Force Recon. And then their real work begins. The job of AFSOC “operators” is to quickly turn a patch of hostile terrain into a fully functional airfield. Sometimes this means a stealthy attack by motorcycle and ATV. Other times it means cleaning out hostile forces by scouting locations for the delivery of 15,000 pound BLU-82 Daisy Cutter bombs.

Military action in Afghanistan brought AFSOC’s unusual capabilities into the forefront in the war on terrorism. During the closing months of 2001, AFSOC Special Tactics (ST) combat controllers were the critical element in the surgically precise airstrikes in Afghanistan. Using systems like the Special Operations Forces Laser Marker (SOFLAM)–at left, which creates the spot that laser-guided bombs aim for–team members precisely marked terrorist locations for destruction. Despite their highly visible success, this elite force remained little known to those outside the military. When POPULAR MECHANICS inquired how the Air Force trained these elite troops, we were invited to take a closer look for ourselves by observing them in action at their headquarters, .