Special Warfare Training Wing: Five years of advancing ground combat forces training

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Gangemi
  • Special Warfare Training Wing

Five years ago, the U.S. Air Force took a significant leap forward in combat preparedness by establishing the Special Warfare Training Wing, or SWTW, an evolution that addressed decades of training shortfalls and operational demands.

The SWTW marked a paradigm shift, assuming control over an extensive network of squadrons and detachments. Notably, the wing superseded the former Battlefield Airman Training Group, extending its legacy of ground warfare specialization. Official establishment at JBSA-Lackland was green-lit by SECAF Heather Wilson and materialized on Oct. 17, 2018.

The term "Battlefield Airman" had become somewhat of a misnomer, not fully encapsulating the range of expertise within the unit. The rebranding to "Special Warfare Training Wing" sought to rectify misconceptions, focusing on a collective warrior identity, irrespective of Air Force Specialty Codes.

This new identity was also strategic, positioning the Air Force competitively in the quest for robust recruitment and aligning with joint terminology familiar within military echelons. The change acknowledged the unique needs of these Airmen, from recruitment to combat deployment.

A critical component of this new wing was the Human Performance Support Group, tasked with optimizing the 'human weapon system.’

“Much like the wing, this group is one of a kind and was built upon the lessons of two decades of sustained combat operations,” said Col. Nathan Colunga, Special Warfare Training Wing commander. “The Air Force acknowledged that the harsh nature of ground combat requires a level of care for Special Warfare Airmen not unlike that of high-end weapons systems across our force.”

The HPSG provides research, development, testing and evaluation of human performance techniques and tools that can translate into the operational community and more broadly, the rest of the Department of Defense.

Senior Master Sgt. Gregory Navickas, Human Performance Support Group senior enlisted leader, emphasized the power of this integrated approach.

The group's success, according to Navickas, is due to its expert staff, who are "committed to the mission" and excel in their respective fields. Its multidisciplinary team, encompasses medical professionals, physical therapists, coaches, nutritionists, dieticians, and additional combat support staff, who work cohesively across the training enterprise. Their unified vision transcends traditional roles, working collaboratively to preemptively address issues before they escalate.

This holistic approach ensures Airmen are comprehensively prepared for combat and receive thorough care afterward, extending into post-military life.

A poignant moment in the young wing’s existence, the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Medina Training Annex was officially renamed JBSA-Chapman Training Annex in March 2020. It is now a tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of Medal of Honor recipient Master Sgt. John A. Chapman, an Air Force combat controller who gave his life fighting to save his teammates’ lives in Afghanistan in 2002.

This annex was the beginning of establishing San Antonio, Texas as the “Home of Air Force Special Warfare.” Since making Chapman home, the wing has developed and begun an expansive campus plan that includes the Senior Airman Bradley Smith fitness facility, Forbes Hall renovations, and a monumental new aquatic training center scheduled to open in Spring 2024.

Now five years old, the wing has shown profound progress.

“We have attained more consistency and efficiency in the pipeline’” said Michael Delsoldato, Special Warfare Training wing historian. “What we are training our Airmen to do has inherent dangers both in training and in the real world. Although there is always room to improve, the creation of the wing allows full concentration on the holistic production of the Airmen.”  

As warfare evolves in the face of rapid technological advancements, the SWTW stands as a testament to the Air Force's commitment to adaptability and the continuous pursuit of combat excellence. Its establishment not only signifies the evolution of specialized combat training but also underscores the irreplaceable value of human resilience and adaptability in modern warfare.

“Our mission is the same,” Colunga says. “Prepare these Airmen for the physical and psychological load of close combat. This mission is simply stated, yet as I’ve witnessed, difficult to execute. This load is not theoretical, it is real, and well established, and these Airmen make a professional choice to shoulder it. And in doing so they accept the personal risk and sacrifice that goes with it. Therefore, we must prepare them and care for them accordingly – and that is the charge of the Special Warfare Training Wing.”