U.S. Special Operations Command inducted seven former special operators into the USSOCOM Commando Hall of Honor located at the USSOCOM headquarters, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, April 18. More than 100 people attended the ceremony and watched as each inductee received a medal from U.S. Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, USSOCOM commander, and Sgt. Maj. Patrick McCauley, USSOCOM command sergeant major.
The award recognizes individuals who have served with distinction within the special operations forces community. This year's inductees were U.S. Army Lt. Col. Herbert Avedon, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bruce Brandewie, U.S. Army Capt. Wade Y. Ishimoto, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Harry McCommons, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Michael A. Pelaez, U.S. Army Col. Christopher E. St. John, and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joseph R. Ulatoski
"There is no better example of valor and professional excellence for today's SOF than the seven honorees with us today," said Thomas. "Their actions, spirit and example serve as an inspiration for the seventy thousand of us who serve in United States Special Operations Command and especially the eight thousand who are forward deployed in over eighty countries right now."
Avedon is a World War II Ranger and special operations officer whose service continued through the Vietnam era. Known by many as a pioneer of psychological operations, he served in the Salerno and Anzio, Italy campaigns of World War II and was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services where he headed the Psychological Warfare section. He also saw duty in North China and the Korean War throughout his decades-long career.
Brandewie served as an aircraft electrical repair specialist responsible for diagnostics and repair of special operations aircraft. As a premiere special operations enabler and maintainer Brandewie helped keep special operations aircraft flying and mission ready during his 34-year career. A master instructor and recipient of multiple awards to include three consecutive "Excellent" Inspector General Ratings and an "Outstanding" Standardization Evaluation Inspection Rating, Brandewie was a go to enabler who supported numerous deployments including operations Indy, Joint Forge, Allied Forge, Goalkeeper 1/11, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom.
Ishimoto's affiliation with the Special Forces Regiment began in 1968, where he conducted classified human intelligence cross-border operations in Vietnam. He continued service with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) while leading civic action and humanitarian relief missions to the Miyako Islands in Okinawa. Ishimoto created innovative techniques to collect and analyze information on terrorism including designing the first database on terrorist groups. Ishimoto served in numerous other special operations assignments including involvement in the rescue attempt of American hostages in Tehran, Iran and as an instructor in a variety of courses at the Special Missions Unit Operator Training Course. Ishimoto continued to serve after retirement staying actively involved in homeland security and counterterrorism.
McCommons started his civilian service career with Joint Special Operations Command as a plans specialist in 1987 after 30 years of service as a loadmaster in the Air Force. Throughout his career in special operations McCommons was involved in setting the stage for special operations around the globe. He deployed prior to Operation Just Cause, establishing a forward staging base in anticipation of future operations in Panama and was deployed in advance of Operation United Nations Operations II in Somalia making way for Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. McCommons was also the lead air planner for the immediate movement of forces for Operation Enduring Freedom. McCommons also engineered the critical airlift support moving SOF into U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility for combat operations supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Pelaez's support to SOF spans more than 43 years. He was a pioneer in developing tactics, techniques and procedures used during special operations mission communications. He modified and developed innovative communications capabilities for combat operations, operations other than war, and classified assignments around the world. Palaez served in the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group including Command and Control South, the 1st, 5th, 7th and 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), the Joint Special Operations Command, Joint Special Communications Unit, Joint Communications Support Element and USSOCOM.
St. John has a long and distinguished career in special operations playing instrumental roles in conflicts and operations across the globe including advising the armed forces of El Salvador and coordinating counter-drug activities in South America. St. John led psychological task forces for operations Vigilant Warrior in Kuwait, and United Shield in Somalia and helped train and deploy forces for operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Joint Task Force Southeast Asia in Saudi Arabia. St. John also served as the commander of 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne).
Ulatoski's career began shortly after World War II. As a junior officer he served on occupation duty in Korea in the 96th Military Government Group, the precursor to today's 96th Civil Affairs Battalion. While in Korea he saw extensive combat and was wounded in action near Kimo-ri. He commanded Task Force Kirkland, organizing, training and directing anti-communist guerrillas operating on several islands off North Korea's east coast. As a brigadier general he commanded the Joint Casualty Resolution Center, investigating and conducting active recoveries of U.S. personnel missing in Southeast Asia. He retired in 1974 and is active in recording the history of post-World War II Army special operations forces.
The seven newest inductees will join an elite group of 55 other special operations warriors who have been inducted into the Commando Hall of Honor since its inception in 2010. Past inductees come from all four branches of service and have served in every conflict since World War II.
"It's very humbling and I am very honored to receive this award," said Ulatoski. "Receiving this award has made me think back to all of those people I have served with, those are the people who are really responsible for me receiving this award."