Sunday, October 26, 2008

Osan pilot awarded Distinguished Flying Cross

by Staff Sgt. Candy Knight
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/23/2008 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- An Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in a ceremony here Oct. 17 for extraordinary achievement while participating in a nighttime combat search and rescue mission over Afghanistan in the summer of 2007.

Maj. Daniel Clayton, 51st Operations Group chief of standardization and evaluation, received the Air Force Combat Action Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross from Col. Michael Newman, 51st OG commander.

"Major Clayton is a kind of combat leader we should all aspire to be," Colonel Newman said. "He flawlessly executed a highly complex CSAR mission in the most testing of circumstances. It was my honor to present the DFC to him."

On the evening of May 30, 2007, Major Clayton, then assigned to the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, was notified that a CH-47 helicopter had been shot down in southern Afghanistan.

"I was in my room asleep at the time, when Capt. Ryan "Gilligan" Cleveland came and woke me up," Major Clayton said. "I dressed as quickly as I could and ran straight to our operations desk to get briefed on the situation."

After receiving a briefing on all the specifics of the situation and getting mission materials, Major Clayton and his wingman, Capt. Ryan "Rhino" Hill, rapidly dressed in their life support equipment, grabbed all their flying gear and maps, and were sped out to their aircraft.

Once airborne, Major Clayton took on-scene command, as the rescue mission commander, and began coordinating all airborne efforts during the recovery operation, which lasted more than six hours, under the continuous threat of hostile surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery.

"During the mission, Rhino and I coordinated the joint efforts of multiple assets including; A-10 aircraft, F-15E aircraft, AH-64 helicopters, AC-130 aircraft, a KC-10, a special operations team, and the ground recovery team with 30-plus HUMMVs and 100-plus personnel," he said. "Under our control, this combined force continuously engaged Taliban insurgents attempting to reach the crash site and attack friendly forces."

Major Clayton added the situation was challenging -- mentally, physically and emotionally, but nothing like what the ground forces endured.

"Just after takeoff was the first time that night I had really thought about the severity and importance of this mission; though it was one I had been specifically training for throughout the course of my seven-year A-10 career," he said. "I can only imagine the courage and fortitude those men and women on the ground had that night, they are the true warriors in our nation's fight against terror."

"No one who supports or provides cover for our heroic soldiers ever wants to hear about a friendly or coalition aircraft being shot down," he added, "but every A-10 pilot wants to be the pilot overhead -- to make sure all friendly or coalition pilots, aircrew, or recovery personnel are located, protected and extricated from such a dire, stressful and dangerous situation."

According to Major Clayton, the nature and mentality of the mission changed when it was determined that there were no survivors from the downed aircraft.

"Our task changed from a rescue mission to a recovery mission after that," he said. "Tragically, that changed everyone's frame of mind and perspective on the situation, knowing there were five American families who would never see their loved ones again, five more U.S. servicemembers whose lives had been taken from them while trying to protect the freedoms of Afghan citizens."

"On this night, our mission was even more pronounced as we knew how important it was to protect the ground troops while they recovered their fallen comrades and continued taking the fight to the Taliban insurgents."

Although Major Clayton appreciates and respects the recognition he has earned, he says he is not the only one who deservers it.

"This story should not be just about any of the aviators, but the true American heroes that night," he said. "The five U.S. troops who lost their lives, and all the Soldiers and Airmen who risked their own lives going into a hostile environment to retrieve their comrades-in-arms' remains, simultaneously continuing the clearing operation in a secluded Afghan village of any further remnants of a resurgent Taliban force."

"They are the ones who deserve the recognition, the awards and medals. It was an honor and a privilege to support them and ensure they all safely made it out of that situation. Those of us in the air were just doing our job to support them the best we could."

Caption: Col. Michael Newman, (left), 51st Operations Group commander, pins the Distinguished Flying Cross medal on Maj. Daniel Clayton, 51st Operations Group chief of standardization and evaluation, during a ceremony Oct. 17. Major Clayton, an A-10 pilot, earned the medal for his actions and leadership during a combat search and rescue operation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lakisha Croley) Hi-res


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