Making history: First female commander selected to lead 16th SOS

USAF Lt. Col. Tracy L. Onufer assumes command of the 16th Special Operations Squadron after accepting the guidon from Col. James Slife, 27 Special Operations Group commander, during a change of command ceremony Feb. 22.

By Rick Shea: 27th Special Operations Wing historian

Their lineage is indisputable — 43 years of continuous service to our nation. Their honors are top notch: 10 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with Combat “V,” a Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, and 17 Campaign Streamers. They have their own website, They even have their own island off the coast of Florida. The latest addition to the Spectre legacy, the 16th Special Operations Squadron now has its first female commander, Lt. Col. Tracy L. Onufer.

With little to no fanfare, the 16 SOS recently underwent its biennial change of command ceremony Feb. 22, 2011, in the AFSOC Quiet Professional manner. Yet, this was not your typical change of command ceremony. For after the guidon passed to Onufer, AFSOC then had only the second female in its legendary history commanding an operational flying squadron.

A 1995 graduate of the University of Michigan, Onufer was born and raised in Michigan, the daughter of an Air Force veteran. Oddly enough, up to that point in her life, she had not given the Air Force a thought; obviously those thoughts eventually changed. After Officer Training School, Onufer received her commission in October of 1996. From there she was off to navigator school where she earned and acquired her wings, on May 1, 1998, as an electronic warfare officer.

Upon graduation, Onufer proceeded to Hurlburt Field, Fla., where she would apply her newly acquired skills as an electronic warfare officer with the 4 SOS. It was while with the 4 SOS that she would meet a history maker in her own right — then Capt. Brenda Cartier. Cartier would eventually become the first AFSOC female operational squadron commander when she took command of the 4 SOS in February 2009.

More than qualified to command Spectre, Onufer has served in a myriad of squadron, wing and AFSOC positions during her nearly 15 years of service. She served as the chief of group current ops, an executive officer for the soon-to-be AFSOC commander, Lt. Gen. Fiel, when he served as the AFSOCs/A3. After leaving that position she went back to the 4 SOS to serve as their assistant operations officer. She has several deployments on her resume including that of 16 ESOS Mission Commander. Onufer is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School.

Her eventual track to the 16 SOS began strangely enough with a missed phone call in July 2009, from Col. Stephen Clark, 27 SOW commander, the second influence in her career. He had chosen Onufer as the chief of wing safety with an eventual move to the 16 SOS as their operations officer, culminating in her accession to the 16 SOS commander. As often happens, plans do not progress according to schedule. This proved true in Onufer’s case as the planned one-year stay in the wing safety office lasted less than two months before she found herself in the DO position with the 16 SOS.

As the commander, Onufer’s goals include maintaining the AC-130H as a viable asset in today’s evolving battlefield, providing the ground force customer with the ISR and immediate firepower they desire. Cognizant of Cannon’s isolated location, she works daily to maintain the motivation of her airmen at the highest level possible, while ensuring that the 16 SOS retains the best and brightest, continuing that renowned Spectre legacy.