May 19, 2021 (by SrA Aaron Irvin) - On May 10, a C-130J Super Hercules aircrew from the 61st Airlift Squadron was awarded one Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals for their decisive actions and outstanding airmanship displayed under hazardous conditions while deployed to Afghanistan on September 19, 2020.
Col. John Schutte, 19th AW commander, presents the Distinguished Flying Cross to Maj. Christopher Richardson, 61st AS pilot, at Little Rock AFB on May 10, 2021. The DFC is awarded to any officer or enlisted person of the Armed Forces of the United States who distinguished her or himself, in actual combat, in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight. [USAF photo by SrA Aaron Irvin]
The DFC is awarded to any officer or enlisted person of the Armed Forces of the United States who distinguished her or himself, in actual combat, in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.
"Receiving the DFC was extremely humbling," said Maj. Christopher Richardson, 61st Airlift Squadron pilot. "As aviators, we put a lot of time and effort into making sure everything goes as planned – sometimes that isn't how it works out."
While supporting an initial ingress of a Theater Response Force to a Forward Operating Base, the crew received effective enemy fire resulting in the injury of one aircrew member.
"The training we receive in the Air Force is absolutely critical," said Senior Airman Dimitrious Carden, 61st AS loadmaster and Air Medal recipient. "Everything happened quickly, and adrenaline makes decision-making difficult, but having my previous training to lean on helped me incredibly."
After receiving fire, Carden assessed the situation and acted decisively, coordinating and applying Self-Aid Buddy Care with the onboard Combat Control Team.
"I knew what I needed to do and how to do it," Carden added. "I remember quite clearly being able to think back to times spent practicing for these types of events and using that to guide my actions."
After evaluating the situation, Richardson decided to make a second approach to the FOB. On the second ingress, the pilots discovered a flight control malfunction – an additional result of the small arms fire. The decision was then made to return to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
"For me, it was a continual balancing of priorities," Richardson said. "First was to get the crew and the plane out of harm's way. The second was assessing if the mission was worth the risk. If you are an expert at your job, you'll know what to do in a stressful situation. Knowing where your efforts fit into the mission allows you to assess the risk of what's happening and work as a team to get the job done."
Upon landing, another C-130J was loaded, prepped, and made ready with additional crew members to accompany the remaining crew from the first attempt.
"My leadership offered me a chance to step out for the rest of the mission, but I just imagined if those kinds of dangers awaited me the first time, I couldn't stand by while someone took my place and flew into the same kinds of danger," Carden said.
After reloading personnel and cargo onto another aircraft, the C-130J took off again to continue the mission.
"The teamwork aspect of the squadron was awesome," Richardson said. "I told them we were on our way back with a problem and the whole squadron jumped into action. After we landed, another plane was loaded, prepped and ready, and extra crew members were briefed up and ready to go."
In addition to Carden, the Air Medal was also presented to 1st Lt. Christian Grochowski, 61st AS pilot, and Staff Sgt. Jade Morin, 61st AS loadmaster.
The Air Medal is awarded to U.S. and civilian personnel for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight and foreign military personnel in actual combat in support of operations.
"I certainly would not have succeeded alone – we all worked together and relied on each other that night," Carden said. "Everybody on that plane played a significant role in carrying out the mission and bringing everyone home safely."