Great air support can change the flow of a battle like no other, but it takes a lot of courage and bravery for pilots to willingly fly into enemy fire. The list is dedicated to the pilots that heard calls for help from their comrades and decided that nothing would stop them from saving their buddies on the ground.
1. Maj. Mike S. Caudle
On April 2, 2003, a flight of F-15E was redirected to provide armed reconnaissance and cover for elements of the 3rd Infantry Division that were approaching Baghdad. It was during the recon that the 3rd Inf. Div. soldiers were ambushed by a hidden Iraqi force while anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles targeted the jets.
It was then that Maj. Mike S. Claude maneuvered his flight lead, and the two jets started to provide emergency air support. They started high-angle strafing and bomb runs. Their first target was the anti-air elements which they neutralize, and they also hit hard the Iraqi fighters that were attacking the ground troops. The pilots dropped laser bombs to the flanks of the friendly force to protect them from further attacks after the immediate threat was neutralized. For his quick action and bravery, Major Caudle was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross. The pilot received his first during the Desert Storm War.
2. Lt. Col. Mike Morgan
On August 24, 2009, Lt. Col. Mike Morgan was serving as the air mission commander for two OH-58 Kiowa helicopters when a route clearance patrol came under fire near Kandahar City, Afghanistan. It was then that the lieutenant colonel and his squad were called to provide support.
The ambushed troops were composed by the RCP engineers, they were hit by IED and then began taking heavy fire. It was an orchestrated ambush directed to the American troops. The engineers were taking heavy fire from RPGs and small arms when the OH-58s arrived. Morgan was quick to action. He piloted his OH-58 through the enemy fire a number times and engaged the enemy. Morgan and his squad destroyed the enemies position, which allow the RCP engineers to withdraw. For his efforts, Lieutetant Colonel Morgan was awarded the Silver Star in a joint ceremony with the person that is also in this list, CWO James Woolley.
3. Capt. Jeremiah “Bull” Parvin and 1st Lt. Aaron Cavazos
While flying in Afghanistan in 2008, two A-10 pilots got a call to fly 300 miles to Baghdis Province, Afghanistan. The call was made because the Special Operations Marines were in a heavy firefight with insurgents. The two F/A-18 Hornets, which is the air support of the area, was hindered by heavy cloud to provide air support safely. With their own tanker to provide fuel, the A-10s flew to the area to begin a four-hour support mission. The pilots fought from below 400 feet while under night vision.
When the 17 Marines had been cornered in Afghanistan, the A-10 pilots exhausted their ammunition to ward off the insurgents. One of the pilot took off with 1,350 cannon rounds with bombs and rockets, but after the mission, he left with only about 100 rounds in his plane. For their bravery, the pilots were awarded with the Distinguished Flying Crosses in separate ceremonies.
4. CWO James Woolley
In 2009, somewhere in western Afghanistan, CWO James Woolley flew his Chinook for a casualty evacuation. As the Chinook approached, they were forced to take evasive action, but Woolley worked onto the landing zone.
The Chinook immediately started taking fire. Woolley’s crew started to take five wounded service members onto the bird. An RPG hit and entered the nose of the bird less than a minute after it landed. Luckily, the RPG passed between the pilots and struck the flight engineer in the back of his helmet before falling to the ground without detonating. Even while taking heavy fire, CWO Woolley refused to take off until all the wounded have been loaded. The officer successful returned the wounded soldiers to the base, and after determining that the helicopter was still good to go, he and his team went back to the battle field to pick up more rescue soldiers.
He was awarded a Silver Star in 2010 for his efforts.
5. CWO 3 Christopher P. Palumbo
CWO 3 Christopher P. Palumbo was tasked to pilot a Blackhawk and drop off Special Forces soldiers near an insurgent position on April 11, 2005. The insurgents were the ones who attacked the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The troops took two casualties when they landed due to the larger enemy force. Palumbo couldn’t land to pick up the soldiers because the ground was too steep, so he and his crew flew the helicopter between the enemies and the Special Forces. The Blackhawk took numerous hits.
After taking more than 50 rounds, which hit his fuel cell and his crew chief, Palumbo finally decided to return to base. He dropped his crew chief at the hospital, and he quickly refueled and rearmed to rejoin the fight. But his aircraft gave out, and it began spraying gas even before it got off the ground. Fortunately for the ground forces, another Blackhawk was able to successfully retrieve the wounded later that day. The Silver Star was awared to Palumbo for his efforts.
6. CWO 3 Steven T. Wells
While flying over Sadr City, Baghad, Iraq, on August 8, 2004, CWO 3 Steven Wells saw his sister Kiowa helicopter hit by an RPG and went down hard to the city grounds. Wells quickly circled back to check on the crew of the downed bird, and while doing this, Wells was engaged by heavy enemy fire. Wells fired back and engaged enemy formations that were attempting to reach the downed crew. Wells was fighting from an altitude of less than 200 feet.
After making repeated attempts to land, Wells finally managed to reach ground by cutting engine power to the helicopter blades and using autorotation. With less than 10 feet of clearance around the helicopter blades, Wells succeeded in landing his bird.
He also placed his helicopter between the downed aircrew and the enemy fire three times to act as a shield. The downed crew made it to friendly forces and were evacuated, thanks to Wells actions. For his heroic act, Wells received the Silver Star citation.
7. Capt. Kim N. Campbell
Capt. Kim N. Campbell, an airforce A-10 pilot, was tasked to attack a group of tanks that were being used as a command post in Baghdad on April 7, 2003. When the forward air controller received a call for immediate assistance, the mission was put on hold. Together with her wingman, Campbell arrived on station and saw friendly troops under heavy fire.
The A-10s flew low to avoid cloud cover, thereby exposing themselves to enemy fire, but they also began firing rockets and 30 mm cannon fire into the Iraqi forces. Campbell was forced to fly the A-10 using manual controls when her aircraft was hit by a missile that caused its hydraulics to totally fail. Campbell was able to land and park her jet safely. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for her work.
8. Capt. Scott Campbell
For his first combat mission, Capt. Scott Campbell was flying over Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002.
A SEALs team was trapped on a mountaintop and had been hit during a mission. Rangers were sent to rescue them, but they were also shot down. Campbell and another A-10 were sent to the area to provide air support for the troops the next day. Colonel Campbell described his experience during the mission nine years after to an Air Force journalist.
“Troops in contact was being screamed over the radio by everyone. We didn’t have anyone telling us who needed help the most, so we had to listen to the radio and whoever was screaming the loudest or sounded like was in the most dire need was who we would support first. For our first real combat mission, it was pretty hairy. It was a good feeling to know that you’re helping these guys break contact with the enemy.”
He engaged targets with his weapons, and Campbell also directed the other A-10 to attack targets. During the 11-hour firefight, Campbell exhausted six bombs, 500 incendiary rounds, and unspecified number of rockets. He was credited with 200 to 300 enemy kills. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his work.
Two days after, on March 6, Campbell coordinated air forces during a capture and extraction of an al-Qaeda leader, netting his second award. The following day, Campbell was again sent to provide air support to a firefight during an icy thunderstorm. He took over air assets, dropped six bombs, and fired 550 rounds of 30 mm cannon. That mission enabled Campbell to receive his third Distinguished Flying Cross.