Friday, April 24, 2009

Downed F-117 pilot, rescuer reunite

Updated 26 April 2009

by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

4/20/2009 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Almost every reunion carries an emotional impact for the parties involved, but when a once-downed pilot reunited with the man who led his rescue effort, hundreds of others could feel the power of the moment too.

Introducing Col. Phil 'Goldie' Haun during the Heritage of Freedom event here April 15, retired Lt. Col. Dale Zelko said: "The first time I hugged Goldie was the morning of March 28, 1999, at Aviano Air Base in Italy; the next time I hugged Goldie was about 30 minutes ago."

Colonel Haun, one of three featured speakers at the quarterly Hanscom event, then recounted details of the daring search and rescue mission that brought Colonel Zelko home after his F-117 Nighthawk had been shot down over Serbia. The career A-10 and 'Sandy' pilot described the comprehensive coordination required and noted some of the frustrations encountered.

He said that combat search and rescue wasn't always given high priority in strike planning and that at least one U.S. commander had denied its necessity. "We're not planning to lose anybody on these strikes," Colonel Haun had been told months before the incident, when he pleaded the case for incorporating CSAR into strike preparation.

"The lesson I got out of that was that very few of the assets [relied on for Colonel Zelko's rescue] were part of the CSAR task force. Combat search and rescue is everybody's job," Colonel Haun said. He added that "communication is everything," during search and rescue and said even the best technology won't get the job done without sharp people using it to make smart, quick decisions.

"Technology is great, but it doesn't replace the man or the woman in the loop. It still takes decision makers, and it still takes skill and judgment," he said. [...]


Previous 66th Air Base Wing info:

Retired Chief Fisk headlines Heritage of Freedom event April 15

by Kevin Gilmartin
66th Air Base Wing

[...] The second speaker, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Phil "Goldie" Haun, an A-10 pilot, will relay the details of a dramatic 1999 search and recovery mission for a downed F-117 pilot. In March 1999, then Major Haun was stationed at Aviano AB, Italy as the A-10 weapons and tactics officer and a CSAR pilot, or "Sandy." It was his job as a Sandy to fly the lethal A-10 in response to any jet that was shot down and to orchestrate its pilot's rescue from overhead. On March 27 of that year, he led the rescue of downed F-117 pilot Lt. Col. Dale Zelko, who was shot down over Serbia during Operation Allied Force. [...]


Related Air Force Times news article:

Pilot gets 2nd chance to thank rescuer

Staff report
Posted : Sunday Apr 26, 2009 8:09:25 EDT

The first time retired Lt. Col. Dale Zelko and Col. Phil "Goldie" Haun met, they hugged like brothers.

It was the morning of March 28, 1999, on the ramp at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and they'd both had a long night: Zelko, banged up, covered in dirt in a Serbian field, and Haun, flying through enemy territory, helping to coordinate his rescue.

Zelko's F-117 Nighthawk was lying in pieces near Belgrade, shot down by a Serbian missile on the fourth day of Operation Allied Force, but he was safe and free, thanks to the efforts of Haun and many others.

On such an occasion, Zelko jokes, men are allowed to hug.

He and Haun finally met a second time April 15 at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. Haun had been asked to speak at the base's quarterly Heritage of Freedom event; Zelko, now a contractor at Hanscom, introduced him to the crowd.

"Our first conversation was a rather serious one — it started out something like, 'any chance you might try to rescue me tonight?' " Zelko said. "It truly was an against-all-odds combat search and rescue, in literally the nick of time."

Haun, one of six A-10 pilots coordinating and escorting the rescue helicopters, then recounted to the Hanscom crowd details of that mission and some of the lessons he learned.

"The lesson I got out of that was that very few of the assets [relied on for Zelko's rescue] were part of the CSAR task force. Combat search and rescue is everybody's job," Haun said.

Zelko said that hundreds of people, from refueling boom operators to the pararescuemen who hustled him aboard an MH-60, helped to get him out of Serbia — and he's tried hard to get them the recognition they deserve.

For years after the rescue, he kept as low a profile in public as he had in that Serbian field; he didn't want to distract from the praise that his rescuers deserved.

"I didn't want to go on the 'Dale Zelko Roadshow.' ... The story isn't just about me," he said.

Soon after the rescue, he put together thank-you packages — with letters from his mother and sisters, and a photo of his boots, still stained with Serbian soil — and mailed them to as many of those people as he could.

Over the years, he's been "very, very successful in connecting with a huge number of people involved," he said.

And now, one more.

Seeing Haun again after 10 years was "wonderful," Zelko said — another hug was definitely allowed.

Click to enlarge

Retired Lt. Col. Dale Zelko said it was a "special treat" to introduce Col. Phil Haun, one of the A-10 pilots involved in his rescue from Serbia in 1999. Haun spoke April 15 an Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. (Photo by Rick Berry / Air Force)

Click to enlarge

Haun was one of six A-10 pilots who coordinated and escorted the team of helicopters that extracted Zelko after his F-117 Nighthawk was shot down during Operation Allied Force. (Photo by Rick Berry / Air Force)


Related background info:
A-10s over Kosovo (Air University Press, December 2003)
The Night They Saved Vega 31 (Air Force Magazine, December 2006)
Interview with Lt Colonel Dale Zelko, USAF (Nighthawks, May 2007)

Lt. Col. Phil "Goldie" Haun was born on 7 February 1964 and is from Cecilia, Kentucky. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental engineering from Harvard University and a Master of Arts in economics from Vanderbilt University. Goldie is a weapons-school graduate with more than 2,000 flying hours in the A-10 with assignments at RAF Bentwaters, England; Osan; Spangdahlem; and Eielson. He attended Air Command and Staff College and the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, following OAF. He is currently serving as the operations officer of the 355th Fighter Squadron (FS) at Eielson. Goldie and his wife, Bonnie, have two children - Clayton and Sadie. (Info from A-10s over Kosovo)

Lt. Col. Dale Zelko

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