U.S. Air Force Col. John Schutte, 19th Airlift Wing commander, presents the Distinguished Flying Cross to Maj. Christopher Richardson, 61st Airlift Squadron pilot, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, May 10, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Aaron Irvin)
Phillip Walter Wellman
Stars and Stripes
KABUL, Afghanistan — A pilot who escaped enemy ground fire and flew a quick reaction force to Bagram Airfield has received one of the military’s highest awards for heroism in flight, the Air Force said.
C-130J pilot Maj. Christopher Richardson received the Distinguished Flying Cross at a ceremony in Little Rock, Ark., on May 10. Fellow pilot 1st Lt. Christian Grochowski, and loadmasters Senior Airman Dimitrious Carden and Staff Sgt. Jade Mori received Air Medals, a statement said Wednesday.
The 61st Airlift Squadron crew was flying a team of service members to an unnamed forward base on Sept. 19, 2020, when enemy fire crippled the plane and injured a crew member, the statement said.
Richardson tried to approach the base but was hindered by damaged controls. He decided instead to return to Bagram Airfield.
“For me, it was a continual balancing of priorities,” Richardson said in the statement. “First was to get the crew and the plane out of harm’s way. Second was assessing if the mission was worth the risk.”
Meanwhile, Carden and an onboard combat control team tended to the injured crew member’s wounds, it said.
“Everything happened quickly, and adrenaline makes decision-making difficult, but having my previous training to lean on helped me incredibly,” Carden said.
Upon landing at Bagram, another C-130J Super Hercules was prepared and the remaining crew finished the mission, the statement said.
“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.”
The previously unreported incident occurred during a period that the U.S. military said was largely free of Taliban attacks against foreign forces. The insurgents pledged to stop targeting foreign troops as part of a U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February 2020 .
While it hasn’t been confirmed whether the Taliban were responsible, the incident was raised with the group through a military coordination channel in Qatar, United States Forces-Afghanistan said.
The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded for singular acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement while in flight. The Air Medal is awarded heroism or meritorious achievements in flight.
“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.”
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