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    UK RAF exchange officer commands AFSOC Special Operations Task Group during Arctic Edge 24

    UK RAF exchange officer commands AFSOC Special Operations Task Group during Arctic Edge 24

    Courtesy Photo | U.K. Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Tom Keating, center, an international exchange...... read more read more



    Story by Senior Airman Drew Cyburt 

    27th Special Operations Wing

    The frigid wind whipped passed U.K. Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Tom Keating’s face, every exhale visible for a few moments before being stolen by the wind. Taking calculated strides, ice crunching beneath his boots, Keating looked toward the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Training Center, Alaska, on Feb. 27, 2024. Keating, a U.K. RAF C-130 pilot, had stepped into his career’s defining role: a Special Operations Task Group commander for the U.S. Air Force’s 27th Special Operations Wing during exercise Arctic Edge 24, from Feb. 23, 2024, to March 11, 2024.

    As the SOTG commander, Keating oversaw the participating 27th SOW aircraft and Airmen, assigned to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, acting as the de facto ‘point-man’ for U.S. Special Operations Command North throughout the exercise. Air Force Special Operations Command’s SOTG construct integrates multi-domain Air Force Special Operations Forces into the joint operational environment, providing combatant commanders capabilities and forces specifically tailored for mission requirements. In addition to the headquarters staff, SOTGs comprise multiple smaller elements with specific capabilities and effects, referred to as Special Operations Task Units.

    “I’m in command of the deployed air players, with the SOTU commanders directly reporting to me,” said Keating. “I have to manage the exercise taskings by coordinating the SOTUs, and determining what the priorities are, and how to manage the job with the assets we have at any given time.”

    Keating’s military career began after graduating from RAF College Cranwell, England, and completing undergraduate pilot training. He was then stationed at RAF Brize Norton, England, in 2015, where he spent the next seven years flying C-130s. In 2022, Keating applied to become an international exchange officer and was selected to serve with the 6th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon AFB.

    International exchange officers are commissioned officers tasked to integrate into another nation’s armed forces. Exchange programs foster a mutual understanding of other militaries’ standard operating procedures and cultures, strengthening interpersonal relationships and increasing capacity and interoperability during combined and allied operations.

    “It’s a bit strange, because even though I’m foreign, I’m wearing an American uniform and I’m considered American personnel,” said Keating lightheartedly. “People have almost ignored my accent and just considered me to be a part of the furniture, a chaise lounge, I think.”

    The transition from temperate England to the deserts of New Mexico was quite a change for Keating, but he took it in stride, working to establish a reputation beyond merely ‘the guy with the accent.’ Through dedicated professionalism and service, Keating became known as someone the squadron could trust: the perfect candidate to command a SOTG in a challenging Arctic setting.

    “When Squadron Leader Keating joined our squadron, we were immediately impressed by his professionalism, his maturity and his humility,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Roy, 6th SOS commander. “Transitioning from the RAF to AFSOC’s newest MC-130 unit, operating at a dead sprint, was quite the transition--and one he executed masterfully. Needless to say, when it came time for putting together a SOTG for Arctic Edge, Tom was the natural choice.”

    Keating leaned on his team’s flexibility and expertise to lead the SOTG through AE24’s punishing environmental conditions, competing operational priorities and inherent risks. The serene Alaskan backdrop was contrasted daily by the bustling atmosphere inside the SOTG headquarters, where Keating and his staff worked tirelessly to coordinate their SOTUs’ unconventional airpower in support of a range of geographically separated units and operations.

    “I find sometimes it is very difficult for me to get through the weeds without support,” said Keating. “So I think my leadership style is more ‘let's have a democratic discussion about it.’ I find that bouncing ideas off each other tends to be more effective. I don’t think there’s anything that we can’t overcome together.”

    In the face of obstacles, Keating embraces a mantra that has become a guiding principle throughout his military career: “It is what it is.” For Keating, the motto succinctly explains how to persevere, pivot and blaze new paths forward despite setbacks.

    “No plan survives enemy contact,” said Keating. “I think that ‘it is what it is’, or ‘iiwii,’ will follow me in every realm of life, whether it is work, home, relationships or family.”

    In addition to AE24, 2024 presents Keating with another opportunity to employ his motto, as he prepares to transition from the fast-paced world of AFSOC to an equally challenging role at the Royal Air Force’s headquarters at RAF High Wycombe, England.

    “When I discovered that I was moving back to England, I was worried about coming out to Alaska, the stress of commanding the SOTG, and juggling having to go home,” Keating said. “This exercise has been fantastic for me. I’ve learned so much about problem-solving, keeping calm, resilience and contingency planning.”

    As he reflects fondly on his time holding The Steadfast Line, Keating can’t help but smile. Despite the challenges and sacrifices inherent in military life, he cherishes the friendships forged and the experience earned.

    “Cannon has definitely been the highlight of my career, without a shadow of a doubt,” Keating said. “I won't be able to beat that experience. I've made friends for life out here. I'll always come back to America to see those folks.”

    His desire to return is rooted beyond personal sentiment: Keating knows the immense benefit of multinational large-scale exercises like AE24, which provided SOCNORTH and other U.S. joint forces the opportunity to integrate with Norwegian, Danish, and U.K. SOF, interagency partners and members of the total force to enhance integrated deterrence, layered defense and resilience across the Arctic.

    “It'll be a different type of management and leadership challenge behind a desk rather than running a crew,” Keating said optimistically. “But if I end up with another tactical fleet and there's an opportunity to integrate my work in the RAF, coming out to do exercises or working with partner nations, then I'd love to do that.”

    For U.K. RAF Squadron Leader Tom Keating, the journey continues, fueled by a passion for service and a steadfast determination to make a difference, no matter where the winds take him. As he navigates the skies and the challenges ahead, one thing remains constant: an unwavering commitment to duty, honor, and country, both to his natural United Kingdom and his adoptive United States.



    Date Taken: 04.12.2024
    Date Posted: 04.12.2024 10:49
    Story ID: 468412

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