For most people, Key West is an idyllic vacation destination. For the men of the U.S. Army Special Forces, a trip to Key West is far from a leisure trip. Key West is home to the Special Forces Underwater Operations School; an experience that is far from a day at the beach.
On Thursday, May 14, the school, which trains Special Forces combat divers, celebrated its 50th anniversary, an event that paid homage to the school's founder, Col. Ola Lee Mize. Mize, a native of Alabama and Medal of Honor recipient, who was tasked with finding a location and founding the school. During an outdoor ceremony, under a cloudless sky, the school's headquarters building was dedicated to Col. Mize. Mize's daughter and granddaughters, Katie Smith, Brandy Pearson and Sarah Haney, represented the Mize family.
Col. Mize was a driving force in the development of the Special Forces dive program, and holds a unique and storied place in the history of the regiment. He was born on Aug. 28, 1931 and entered the United States Army on April 18, 1950. After completing basic training and airborne school, he was assigned to the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1952, then- Sgt. Mize, was assigned to the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, rising to the rank of first sergeant.
While assigned to Company K, 15th Infantry Regiment, Sgt. Mize distinguished himself during action against the enemy near Surang-ni, Korea, June 10-11, 1953. While committed to the defense of "Outpost Harry," a strategically valuable position, the enemy launched a heavy attack. Mize established an effective defense system and inflicted heavy casualties against attacks from enemy assault forces which had penetrated into trenches within the outpost area. Throughout the tenuous fight, Sgt. Mize led his Soldiers from bunker to bunker to clear the enemy forces. After reestablishing the defense, he moved from man to man, distributing ammunition and shouting words of encouragement, despite being blown down by artillery and grenade blasts three times. On Sept. 7, 1954, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1965, Col. Mize was assigned to the Special Forces Training Group, where he was the Advanced Training Committee chief for SCUBA, HALO and the SKY HOOK schools. Returning to the school house in 1975 following multiple tours in Vietnam.
He was initially the Special Forces School Chief for the Field Training Division and Resistance Division and subsequently the Commander of the Special Forces School, now the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Mize passed away in March 2014.
Command Sgt. Maj. (Retired) Dave Clark, the Senior Civilian at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and long-time friend of Mize, spoke of Mize's love for Soldiers at the event. Clark, who served as Mize's command sergeant major at the school, noted that Mize had a great love and concern for not only the men he served along, but also those he commanded. Clark said Mize's love was reflected in the professional training he ensured was provided for the force.
"I would submit that if you are a leader and you do not love your Soldiers and you do not have that kind of care and concern for them, it's time for you to get out of the Army," said Clark.
In 1964, scuba diving was emerging as a means for undetected infiltration of a denied area. The men of the Special Forces took to scuba like ducks to water. Mize, who was already qualified as a combat diver, was the officer in charge of the JFK Special Warfare Center Scuba Detachment at Fort Bragg. Realizing that while North Carolina's coastal area would not work, Mize sent out three of his men, including Sgt. Maj. Walter Shumate to scout out a location in south Florida for the underwater operations school. The scout team recommended Fleming Key, one of the smaller keys off of Key West.
Over the next 20 years, the Special Forces Underwater Operations Course was taught from a handful of tents situated at the end of the key. Today, the Special Forces Underwater Operations Center is a state-of-the-art maritime special-operations training facility. Operated under the auspices of Co. C, 2nd Bn., 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne), the school is home to the Combat Diver Qualification Course, a demanding six-week program, which trains select Department of Defense and interagency personnel in surface and subsurface waterborne infiltration techniques. Additional course offered at the center are the Combat Diving Supervisor Course and the Dive Medical Technician Course.
As part of the anniversary celebration, the center also honored the memory of one of their own, Sgt. Maj. Jerry Patton, who was killed in a free fall parachute accident while training for deployment. Patton, a former cadre member at the school, served the majority of his Special Forces career at the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). To honor Patton's memory, the SFUWO dedicated the Sgt. Maj. Jerry Patton Water Drop Zone. During the ceremony, which was attended by many former divers, as well as a large contingent of school children from the local schools, Patton's family, Molly Jones, his sons, Cody, Chase and Connor, along with his parents, Cheryl Iacono and Richard Patton, received replicas of the dedication stone that marks the landing zone.
Attendees also had the opportunity to see SF combat divers in action during a maritime demonstration that showcased the unique skills possessed by Special Forces combat divers and the training they receive at the SFUWO School. The demonstration included a helocast and a static line jump into the waters off the key, which included the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, as well as a HALO jump, led by the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Commanding General, Maj. Gen. James B. Linder.