For a chosen few, flying above the battlefield, there is no profession more daring or fulfilling than piloting some of the U.S. Army’s most advanced helicopters. And for the aviators of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) whom provide direct aviation support to Special Operations Forces (SOF) throughout the world, they do so often at great personal risk. Their challenge coins reflect not only the longstanding heritage of the 160th SOAR and its Commanders, but the unique missions and individuals assigned within the Regiment itself.
Per the official Regimental website, the mission of the 160th “is to organize, equip, train, resource and employ Army special operations aviation forces worldwide in support of contingency missions and combatant commanders”.  This involves being ready wherever, and whenever, the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense determine the 160th’s expertise in military aviation is required. Operating modified variants of the MH-60 Blackhawk, MH-47 Chinook, and A/MH-6 “Little Bird”, often under the cover of darkness to avoid enemy detection.  160th SOAR utilizes the latest in night-vision technology to fly at extreme low-levels to conduct reconnaissance and deliver SOF anywhere in the world, a practice that has earned the Regiment the moniker “Night Stalkers”.
Today, Army aviation owes much to the pioneering efforts of the 160th SOAR. Recognizing the shortcomings in SOF aviation from Operation EAGLE CLAW – the failed 1980 Iranian hostage rescue – the Holloway Commission, chaired by the former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James L. Holloway, mandated a re-organization of the nation’s special operations capabilities, placing emphasis on interoperability, and focusing on establishing a dedicated Special Operations Aviation force. The Department of Defense realized it needed an elite helicopter unit capable of carrying out short notice, air assault and infiltration special operations missions. 
Formally recognized from the consolidation of several 101st Airborne Division elements on October 16th, 1981; the 160th Aviation Battalion (or also known as Task Force 160), entered into an intensive period of day and nighttime training. This training effort garnered the 160th a reputation as the premiere Army aviation unit. Their adherence to standards and the regimen of training spawned the 160th motto “Night Stalkers don’t Quit” (abbreviated as “NSDQ”) that has become a maxim within the Regiment.
By 1983, the 160th earned its first baptism by fire, serving in Grenada during Operation URGENT FURY. Conducting simultaneous assaults against their target, the 160th suffered its first combat loss, CPT Keith J. Lucas. In 1987 the 160th Aviation Battalion, now designated an Airborne capable unit the previous year, participated in Operation PRIME CHANCE engaging with and neutralizing enemy threats against US flagged oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War while utilizing the first night-vision optics and Forward Looking Infrared for aviators. A year later in 1988 the Regiment contributed to Operation MOUNT HOPE III, which required the men of the 160th to fly further and strike deeper against hostile threats than ever before. During Operation JUST CAUSE the Night Stalkers again deployed from their wintery garrisons in Fort Campbell, KY to assist in the liberation of Panama where their forward bases were sweltering under the country’s tropic heat and dense jungles.
During Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM the 160th Aviation Battalion (Airborne) moved swiftly across the Iraqi sands and their operations represented the first of Special Operations Aviation in Southwest Asia. Combat operations with SOF elements against the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard demonstrated the Regiment’s excellence in both lighting fast night and sustainment operations. That same year the 160th Aviation Battalion transitioned into the Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) when the unit was officially activated in June 1990. Three years later, the 160th SOAR supported operations in Somalia and Task Force Ranger. There the Regiment became embroiled in an 18-hour firefight known as the Battle of Mogadishu with rebel forces and highlighted in the popular film Black Hawk Down. Continual “Little Bird” gun-runs throughout the night held back Somali rebels from overrunning elements of the US Army Rangers who were pinned down and cut-off by an overwhelming enemy force led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The incident became the most intense action for the 160th SOAR since the Vietnam War proving again “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit” and allowed the Rangers to make their extraction the following day.
In 1994, the Regiment again deployed for Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY pioneering the “Adaptive Joint Force Package” concept by conducting a wheels-up mission launch from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS America against a military coupe that had overthrown Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristride. By 1996 the 160th SOAR again supported non-combatant evacuations from the US Embassy in Liberia for Operation ASSURED RESPONSE during which in ten days the “Night Stalkers” evacuated over 2,000 US citizens.
Today the 160th SOAR has been heavily utilized during both Operations ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan, and IRAQI FREEDOM in Iraq for dual operations in the Global War on Terror. The Regiment provided critical air support during the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch whom was captured by Iraqi forces during the 2003 invasion and held as an Iraqi Prisoner of War. Initially in Afghanistan, the 160th SOAR flew support missions to Northern Alliance members and supporting SOF elements during the initial American invasion and the Battle at Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden was rumored to be cornered before he fled further into Pakistan. To assist in the growth of the 160th SOAR mission in June 2006, the Regiment activated its 4th Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington and relocated one additional company from overseas to augment its current garrison in Fort Campbell.
Members of the 160th SOAR undergo an intensive selection process (five-weeks for enlisted and 20-28 for officers) before entering into the Regiment. Employing highly modified MH-60 Blackhawk, MH-47 Chinook, and A/MH-6 “Little Birds” across a Regiment of four battalions and one dedicated training company the “Night Stalkers” truly represent the cutting edge in military aviation. The current distribution of command is as follows:
- Headquarters, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – Fort Campbell
- 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – Fort Campbell, KY
- 2nd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – Fort Campbell, KY
- 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – Hunter Army Airfield, GA
- 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – Fort Lewis, WA
- Training Company, Army Special Operations Aviation Command – Fort Campbell, KY
This distribution enables the 160th to strategically respond in support of Special Operations throughout the world. Each battalion is composed of light, medium, and heavy lift helicopters modified to meet a variety of mission needs. Aircraft, such as the MH-60 and M/AH-6 bristle with offensive weapon systems not found in main-line units. While the MH-47 and MH-60 also offer fast-rope rappelling insertion systems and increased fuel storage. In addition, each lift asset comes with a mid-air refueling capability, which enables the 160th to reach far beyond conventional forces. In sum the ability of 160th SOAR to provide Close Air Support and insertions to SOF is without equal and invaluable to forces on the ground.
Deservedly, the 160th takes great effort to remember their fallen. Outside of Regimental Headquarters in Fort Campbell is the 160th SOAR “Night Stalker” Memorial Wall. Made of black granite, the name of 93 fallen members of the 160th SOAR is etched upon its surface so that each of their sacrifices will always be remembered. Originally developed in 1988 by former Commander Brigadier General John N. Dailey, his Command Sergeant Major and Regimental Chaplin, the stone was dedicated in 1989 and first placed at the previous 160th SOAR bunker at Old Clarksville Base. In 1995 the “Night Stalker” memorial was moved to its current location where the Regiment maintains the memorial and etching for future members and their families.
Similarly, organizations such as the Night Stalkers Association (also established by BG Daily) work to provide a place of assemblage for current and past members of the 160th, promote organizational awareness to the public, and provide family support, scholarships, and remember the fallen.  Their tireless “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit” attitude and effort ensure while the future of military aviation may change, those whom have come before will always be remembered as vital contributors to the Regimental history.
(Admin note: At the time of this writing I have only been able to positively verify several of the 160th SOAR challenge coins, based on personal experiences/testimony and multiple research sources. Hopefully moving forward, given the large number of coins and Commanders within the organization, other past or present unit Commander’s within the Regiment will be willing to step forward and contribute to this ongoing thread, promote their unit’s unique heritage and challenge coins, and protect these awards for those service members receiving them)
Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR Challenge Coin 2012 – Present Ver. 2
An oversized horizontal 2.25” dog-tag designed challenge coin, the members of C-Co. 1/160th chose to represent their unit with images symbolic their offensive weapon capabilities. It should be noted the only difference between the first and second versions of this unit challenge coin is the first version (2011-2012) utilized silver polish outlines while the second version (2012-2013) used polished brass. On the Obverse an all black field draws contrast against a flame demon (seen here in white with polished brass outlining) holding a 20mm cannon in one arm, and a launcher rail loaded with four AMG-114 “Hellfire” missiles in the other. Beneath and to the right of the 20mm cannon are three expended shells denoting the demon is on the attack. Scattered throughout the Obverse are 80 “bullet holes” in raised polished brass again denoting the unit’s weapon capabilities for mass firepower. Also in raised lettering reads “God Will Judge Our Enemies” across the top and “We’ll Arrange the Meeting” along the bottom in black with polished brass outline denoting the unit’s individual mantra for taking the fight to all the enemies of the United States.
The Reverse features the unit symbols for the three platoon elements that comprise Charlie Company. Above center, from left to right, is a self-stylized “Grim Reaper” with white features bearing a still smoking 20mm cannon, a cracked skull in white over a red Germanic cross, and a white cracked skull-and-crossbones over a dog-tag feature. Below the three platoon representations are two text plates in polished brass for name or call sign designation. In polished raised text on the Reverse is written “C 1/160th SOAR (Airborne)” along the top, and “For Excellence” along the bottom against an all black field.
Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 160th SOAR Challenge Coin 2012 – Present
In the vertical design of a soldier’s dog-tag, the HHC 2/160 challenge coin incorporates the distinctiveness of those within the command. The Obverse features; against a blue-gray field and off-center on the bottom, a gray, black and white Mustang with its head down snorting in anticipation. Above the Mustang in raised antique lettering stylized to resemble iron beams is the unit’s moniker “Iron Horse”. Above the unit’s nickname are two distinctive crests in raised antique-finish, the wings and sword of the 160th SOAR (left), and Master Parachutist airborne qualification badge (right). Along the top edge of the Obverse in raised antique lettering is written “HHC 2/160th SOAR (Airborne), and “For Excellence” along the bottom.
On the Reverse are a number of features alluding to the unit’s heritage. Centered on a field of green and to the left half of the Reverse, is the black and antique-finish of a winged Pegasus (on a hillside reading “Darkhorse” and “2/160”) against a sunset and two MH-47s and one MH-60. To the right appear the 160th SOAR Distinctive Unit Insignia, and the US Army Special Operation Command. Below these two insignias is a text plate to allow for engraving of name or call sign. Below this box is the fabled 160th motto “NSDQ!!” to demonstrate the unit’s adherence to the fact that Night Stalkers Don’t Quit!!! In raised antique-finish lettering along the top edge is written “160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)” denoting the organizational command for this unit and challenge coin.
Bravo “Bad Boyz” Company, 2nd Battalion, 160th SOAR Challenge Coin Circa 2010-2012
A unique oval design, the challenge coin for B-Co. 2/160 is 2” in width and features a number of characteristics specific to the unit. On the Obverse is the distinctive “Bad Boys” mini-cannon door-gunner against an all black field. The gunner design itself is in the same antique silver finish as the overall coin, and the six-barrel mini cannon is in red. On either side of the gunner’s head appears the title “B” and “2” also in antique-finish denoting the coin’s origin as Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion. Along the outer edge is another red and antique silver finish design meant to symbolize the crosshairs of a gun sight. The overall effect is this coin celebrates the unit’s offensive weapons operators and the entire Obverse is coated in epoxy to protect the design.
The Reverse is entirely in antique silver finish and meant to identify with the heavy lift capability of the unit with an MH-47 Chinook centered above a marking plate for serial numbers or names. In text under the plate is written “NSDQ” brining in the Night Stalker motto “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit” identifying the hard-nosed dedication members of the Regiment have to the mission. In banner scrolls along the top and bottom edge of the Reverse are the four major operations to which the unit has participated in, “Desert Storm”, “Desert Thunder”, “OEF/OIF” (for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom), and “OSW” (for Operation Southern Watch). Centered on the banners is written the unit identification “B 2/160th SOAR(A)” on the top, and the unit’s underlying purpose “Uphold Democracy” along the bottom.
1. US Army Special Operations Aviation Command. History. 2013. http://www.soc.mil/ARSOAC/arsoac.html (accessed June 6, 2013).
2. US Army Special Operations Command. Fact Sheet; MH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter, MH-47 Chinook Helicopter, A/MH-6M Little Bird Helicopter. Fact Sheet, Public Affairs Office, US Army, US Army Special Operations Command, 2008, 6.
3. The Institute of Heraldry. 160th Aviation Regiment. 2013. http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Heraldry/ArmyDUISSICOA/ArmyHeraldryUnit.aspx?u=3085 (accessed June 10, 2013).
4. The Night Stalker Association. NSA’s Purpose. 2013. http://www.nsa160.com/mission.asp (accessed June 10, 2013).
Coordination provided by MAJ Michael Burns and SSG Rick Branch, Public Affairs Office, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and MAJ Emily Potter, Public Affairs Office, US Army Special Operations Aviation Command.