Air Commandos receive Distinguished Flying Cross

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Three Air Commandos were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during a ceremony here, April 21, for their heroic achievements during a Dec. 21, 2013, mission in Africa.

The DFC is a medal awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces, who distinguishes himself or herself in combat in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.

While assigned to the 8th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, Maj. Ryan Mittelstet, Maj. Brett Cassidy and Tech. Sgt. Christopher Nin were onboard a CV-22 Osprey conducting a mission to evacuate American citizens during a civil war. While attempting the evacuation, their aircraft was targeted and hit more than 50 times by surface-to-air fire from ground forces.

“If we were to ever talk about the epitome of what a special operations forces operator is, it resides here,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. “We want to have the best intelligence, we want to have the best preparation going in, we want to know exactly everything that is going to happen, and sometimes the cards aren’t dealt that way. But we still expect to prevail.”

During the engagement, their aircraft sustained structural damage, and four special operations personnel on board suffered life-threatening injuries.

Nin, the flight engineer, divided duties between the cockpit and the cabin, providing medical assistance to the critically injured personnel. During this time, Cassidy, a mission pilot, collected the battle roster, including blood types, injury information and treatments performed, and passed this information to the other formation aircraft and command and control agencies.

“A large part of us working so well together boils down to good training,” Cassidy said. “The CV-22 community and special operations, in general, do an exceptional job preparing their people. Much of our interaction through the incident was habit, built by good training.”

Despite continuous fire from multiple points of origin, three ruptured fuel tanks, loss of the aircraft’s largest hydraulic system, electrical failures and degraded flight controls, the crew successfully maneuvered the Osprey away from the engagement zone.

Though they managed to escape immediate danger, their battle was just beginning. The structural damage would mean multiple air refuels to make it to a safe landing point.

“Our fuel tanks were depleting quickly,” Nin said. “Actions had to be taken immediately in order to receive the necessary fuel required to fly out to the divert location.”

With 15 minutes of fuel remaining before flameout or forced landing, Nin immediately began hand cranking the refueling probe to prepare for an emergency air refuel. Meanwhile, Mittelstet, the aircraft commander, directed multiple MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft and the other formation CV-22 aircraft to a rendezvous point for air refuel. When the Osprey’s fuel again depleted to a critical state, the crew coordinated and conducted a second emergency refuel.

During the refuel, the crew successfully reacted to a dangerous development in the Combat Shadow’s refueling system and prevented further catastrophic damage to their aircraft. Despite the grave condition of the CV-22, normally necessitating an immediate landing, the crew decided to fly to the nearest divert airfield outside of the conflict area to reach adequate medical support for the onboard injured personnel.

“The main driving factor to continue flying was the severity of the injuries onboard,” said Mittelstet. “We decided that the risk of bleeding out was greater than the risk of the aircraft failing on us, as long as we could keep the aircraft from running out of fuel.”

While in route to the airfield, Mittelstet coordinated with the air mission commander, ground forces commander and other C2 elements to pass timely updates on the wounded, their aircraft and the formation status. The information gathered by Cassidy during the initial medical treatments of injured personnel enabled the establishment of a mobile blood bank onboard the other formation aircraft and at the destination, ensuring tailored medical support and blood transfusions awaited the critically injured.

At the divert field, despite complete loss of ground steering and all braking systems, Mittelstet positioned the aircraft for rapid movement of the wounded to an awaiting medical support team.

“It was a team effort to get everyone and the aircraft back safely and everyone's role was incredibly important,” said Mittelstet. “Everyone knew the actions that needed to be taken, and they performed them flawlessly.”

The actions of the aircrew ensured the safe recovery of all CV-22 aircrew, their aircraft and the 21 special operations personnel onboard.

“If I were to deliver one message about the men and women that fly the CV-22, and it certainly rings true in the 8th SOS,” Webb said, “it’s that the culture that [the CV-22 community] has developed is about the [men and women] that fly the CV-22…it’s spectacular,” Webb said. “They keep their nose to the grindstone, you plan get it done, and you deliver.”