Colonel John Carney, lovingly known as “Coach” throughout the Special Operations community, is a living legend within Special Operations. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona. The “Coach” launched his Air Force career at the US Air Force Academy in 1968 where he taught, trained, and motivated young cadets as the assistant varsity football coach, candidate counselor, and director of recruiting. He followed that up in 1975 with an assignment to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas as an Operations Manager. It was here that he transformed a conventional organization into a prototype, state-of-the-art special operations team. Ultimately, this team spawned a completely new concept within the Department of Defense. In 1976, he moved to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey where he served as Special Operations Training Coordinator. In 1978, he “infiltrated” the world of Combat Control by leading the Charleston Air Force Base Combat Control Team in support of the 497th Military Airlift Wing. While at Charleston, Carney was chosen by the Joint Task Force commander to assist in the planning and execution of Operation EAGLE CLAW, the Iran hostage rescue mission. In the final days before the mission launched, a CIA-operated DeHavilland Twin Otter inserted then-Major Carney into Iran. He performed the Desert One assault zone survey on a mini-bike under the cover of night, collecting soil samples, checking surface conditions, and burying remote-controlled runway lights–all in under one hour. Twenty three days later, Carney would lead a six-man controller team to the Desert One landing site and witness the accident that claimed the lives of eight American servicemen. In 1983, the Joint Chiefs of Staff selected Carney to lead a multi-skilled Combat Control Team into Grenada. Although the mission was publicly hailed as a great success, Carney was frustrated with the mission’s execution and decided to retire. A few months later, while working as a security manager at the Savannah River Nuclear Plant, the Air Force again ordered Carney back to active duty and sent him to Hurlburt Field, Florida where he commanded the 1723rd Combat Control Squadron. After one year, he was assigned to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois where he served as Director, Combat Control and Pararescue Operations. He promptly assigned pararescue jumpers to the 1724th Combat Control Team, transforming it into the 1724th Special Tactics Squadron. In 1987, an act of Congress reorganized all combat control and pararescue teams under the 1720th Special Tactics Group, and Carney was chosen to command it. This single act ultimately provided for the effective combat search and rescue capabilities that were employed with great success in Panama and later in Iraq. Colonel Carney retired again from active duty in 1991 after serving valiantly in Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM and PROVIDE COMFORT. In 1994, he was inducted into the Air Force Air Commando Hall of Fame. In 1996, he was presented the USSOCOM Medal for his outstanding contributions to the world of Special Operations. In 2007, he was honored with the prestigious Bull Simons Award for his lifetime embodiment of the “true spirit, values and skill of a special operations warrior.” Currently, “Coach” Carney is the President and CEO of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, an agency that provides scholarship assistance to children of Special Operations members who have given their lives for this country.
Years Honored: 2010
Aircraft/Specialty: de Havilland Twin Otter
In 1979, Two CIA agents flew a DeHavilland Twin Otter 200 feet off the deck deep into Iran. Their cargo consisted of an oversized fuel bladder, a motorcycle, airfield surveying equipment and a lone Combat Controller, whose mission was to survey and mark an airfield to serve as the staging base to rescue sixty-seven American hostages. What followed that night and during the rescue attempt have had resounding long term effects across the United States Department of Defense.