A-10 pilot awarded for heroism during rescue mission 10 years ago

  • An A-10 pilot recently received the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during a battle 10 years ago.
  • His actions were part of what an official called “one of the most intense combat rescue missions in the Afghanistan war.”
  • The pilot not only coordinated 21 aircraft over 37 communication frequencies, but he put himself in danger of drawing fire.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack pilot recently received a prestigious award for his role in a dangerous rescue mission 10 years ago in Afghanistan, the Air Force said in a statement.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike “Vago” Hilkert, a pilot with the 303rd Fighter Squadron, was last month awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during what has been described as “one of the most intense combat rescue missions in the Afghanistan war.”

During the six-hour battle on April 23, 2011, Hilkert not only coordinated the combat efforts of 21 aircraft over dozens of frequencies, but he also repeatedly endangered himself and his aircraft to draw enemy fire away from rescue helicopters.

The 442nd Fighter Wing said Hilkert also helped save the lives of more than 30 people.

In the early hours of the day, when it was still dark, two Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters with paratroopers were sent out to respond to a downed army helicopter.

A helicopter, called Pedro 83, threw three pair rescuers down on a ridge several hundred meters from the crash site, where they found one of the army’s helicopter pilots alive. The other Pope Hawk, Pedro 84, lost two PJs closer to the crash site. The other pilot was dead when they arrived.

The PJs and their helicopters started firing almost immediately.

Pedro 84 caught fire and the flight engineer was shot in the leg, forcing the helicopter to return to base to get the pilot’s medical help and to grab another engineer. The two PJs, Staff Sgts. Zachary Kline and Bill Cenna were left at the scene of the accident.

Pedro 83 tried to get the three PJs and the surviving pilot out, but had to cut off the hoist, instead lowering the helicopter into what the air force described as “a daring one-wheeled hover” to get them back.

Supported by AH-64 Apache helicopters flying over guard, Kline and Cenna took cover in a rock outcrop, but were forced to abandon this position and move as enemy fire set ammunition on the downed army helicopter.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 163rd Fighter Squadron is flying a mission over Afghanistan.

An Air Force A-10 flies a mission over Afghanistan

US Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook


Hilkert, then captain of the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, supported ground forces in his A-10 when the call for help came over the duty rate.

“You have to understand that in a combat zone it is sacred to use the Guard – a last resort,” said Lieutenant Colonel Rick Mitchell, deputy commander of the 442d Operations Group, who presented Hilkert to the DFC, in a statement calling it “true. signs that things are bad and that someone needs help. “

Hilkert, partly powered by Rip-It energy drinks and flying Hawg 73, teamed up with Captain Rustin “Trombone” Traynham and Lieutenant Colonel David “Seymour” Haworth in Hawg 71 and 74, respectively, forming Sandy 1, a force of three A-10s. ‘ere.

They fired rockets into the valley, while Hilkert established airspace restrictions and communication relays to coordinate the fight.

The rockets gave Kline and Cenna a brief respite before quickly finding themselves taking heavy machine gun fire at close range.

Hilkert managed to identify the threat and pass on targeting information to the other two A-10s during refueling, which is no easy task, and the other two pilots opened fire with their 30mm cannons and “saved Kline and Cenna’s lives,” the air force said. .

Two groups of 16 Army rapid reaction force soldiers landed at two different locations later that morning, and were immediately under fire. One soldier was killed and a number of others were wounded.

Hilkert tracked one group with his binoculars while monitoring the other with his targeted pod. He also coordinated the efforts of the attack helicopters, tankers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and the other attack aircraft to protect the land forces from friendly fire while tracking the positions of the enemy.

Two rescue helicopters backed by two Apaches and two A-10s flown by Hilkert and Haworth flew in to evacuate a wounded soldier, but the helicopters constantly had to fall back under heavy incoming fire.

To pull the fire away from the helicopters trying to carry out a rescue mission, Hilkert repeatedly flew his plane in danger. The Apaches then hammered enemy positions with Hellfire missiles.

Another rescue helicopter flew in and got Kline and Cenna, who also managed to get the fallen army pilot out.

Although the Air Force praised Hilkert, saying that his “skill and vigilance led to securing two landing zones, rescuing the two guardian angels and recapturing the shot down pilot and evacuating the 32 soldiers in the QRF team,” he said the experience was ” bittersweet “.

“I am honored to be among a group of heroes who did their best in a bad situation,” he said in a statement. “Several people lost their lives during this mission, so it was not all high fives when we got home. We flew back to Kandahar in silence.”

Hilkert is the fourth Air Force pilot to participate in that mission to achieve the Distinguished Flying Cross. In addition, two para-rescue pilots received Silver Stars, as did two helicopter pilots.

Leave a Comment