Friday, August 12, 2011

Rescue, fighter pilots display extraordinary achievement during aerial flight

by Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley
23rd Wing Public Affairs

8/12/2011 - MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Two pilots from Moody were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for heroism and extraordinary achievement during aerial flight in combat conditions while deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Aaron Palan, 75th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot, and Capt. Thaddeus Ronnau, 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot, were serving at different airfields in different months when they accepted the missions that would endanger their lives.

The captains, who are both from Kansas, have known what they wanted to do since a young age.

The DFC was created to honor sacrifice and courage for aviators; other recipients include U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Charles Lindbergh and civilian Amelia Earhart.

The A-10 fighter pilot
When Palan arrived at Kandahar Airfield from Moody, he had only flown three sorties since his initial A-10 mission qualification, but his relative lack of inexperience wasn't evident during the mission he was called out on Oct. 1.

His citation for the DFC with Valor reads, "Palan's superior leadership, exemplary airmanship, and skilled weapons employment saved a special forces team from certain defeat in the face of a heavily armed and determined foe that initially owned the element of surprise and superior fighting positions."

Palan and his A-10 wingman responded to a situation where a special forces team was ambushed by Taliban forces entrenched in camouflaged fighting positions on the rough terrain.

"There are two aircraft on every mission, but during this day, the other pilot and I had to take turns getting refueled away from the enemy," said Palan. "Half of the firing and fighting I had to do was as a single-ship- that almost never happens."

The pilot deployed four precision-guided munitions, 1,150 rounds of 30 mm munitions and three white phosphorus rockets toward the enemies, helping stop the enemy assault.

Palan subsequently stopped an ambush on the inbound medical evacuation helicopter headed for the special ops team. By this point, he was also coordinating with a team of AH-64 Apaches to attack enemy positions.

Twice, his A-10 wingman and the AH-64s lost target identification, but Palan remained locked on the targets and attacked the enemy positions. Overall, he contributed to an estimated 20 to 30 enemies killed in action.

"Everyone says it, but I just did what I was trained to do," said Palan. "I had no combat experience to fall back on, so the training really came into play.
"I've wanted to be a fighter pilot since I was kid and grew up with A-10 posters on my wall. And, and now- finally!"

The HH-60 rescue pilot
Although Ronnau had deployed to Bagram Airfield twice before, he hadn't encountered a situation quite like the one June 27, where he conducted multiple non-stop missions over several hours, ultimately saving 13 U.S. and coalition lives.

The long day started out with Ronnau flying eight nonstop casualty evacuation missions. He also coordinated safe holding positions while maintain radio communications with command and control, and ground force hours.

Two of the evacuations he completed required maneuvers in a helicopter that are tough and not a part of daily operations.

Ronnau heroically executed a one-wheeled hover while receiving fire to save the life of a critically-wounded U.S. Soldier.

"Because we were getting shot at, we knew we had to get in and get out," he said. "Completely landing a helicopter would have taken too much time, so we decided to hover on the right front wheel. That helped us to load up the Soldier and get out of there."

Next, they had to save a soldier who had fallen down a cliff.

"The fighting that day was on some really tough terrain, and the units were backed up against a ridge," said Ronnau. "One of the soldiers had fallen 200 feet and landed on a ridge. We started hovering down until we could get to him. The back half of the HH-60 was hanging over a 500-foot cliff the entire time."

While he held steady, they were able to snatch the injured soldier to safety and save his life.

"Going out that day, we knew it was going to be the most boring or most exciting day we'd had," said Ronnau. "Luckily, it turned out to be the latter choice. I've wanted to do this since I was 6, and it's great to be living my dream."


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