|Capt. Brian Erickson, a pilot from the 75th Fighter Squadron, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor on July 11, 2008. |
Capt. Brian Erickson, 75th FS chief of mission planning, earned the medal while deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, for providing ground alert close air support to a German Provincial Reconstruction Team who was under nighttime fire from insurgents in a valley of the Hindu-Kush mountains.
"I'm extremely impressed with the way Captain Erickson handled himself out there," said Colonel Kenneth Todorov, 23rd Wing commander, "He provided close air support in hazardous conditions, with no forward air controller and led a successful mission with valor."
On Oct. 16, 2006, Captain Erickson and his wingman, who were then part of the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, received a short-notice call to provide aerial support to six German soldiers trapped between two mountain ranges. They were receiving enemy fire in the form of rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, and small-arms fire.
Up until the call, previous flights of non-tactical aircraft had been unable to help the stranded PRT due to their location, limited communication capabilities, and lack of moonlight. Without illumination from the moon or another source, the pilots' night vision goggles provided little assistance.
Once he arrived on scene, Captain Erickson determined there was room for only one aircraft above the mountain tops and just below the clouds. He assigned the safe altitude above the clouds to his wingman, who searched for the insurgents' location with his advanced targeting pod and night vision goggles.
As Captain Erickson flew his A-10 deep into the moonless valley, where the only light on the ground was from insurgent weapons fire, his wingman flew above to relay reports about where the weapon bursts were coming from. Before Capt. Erickson could employ any of his own weapons, he needed to determine the exact location of the PRT to avoid friendly fire.
"I initially had my infrared sensor on to pinpoint the location of the insurgents. The problem with using the infrared was that every time a rocket-propelled grenade went off, the glow impeded my ability to navigate the dark canyon. The whole screen would go white, and I couldn't see outside my cockpit. The only solution was to turn the screens off," said Captain Erickson.
After Captain Erickson turned off his infrared sensor, he continued his low-level runs in search of the PRT. This proved an even more difficult task because the PRT's signaling device, an infrared strobe, was malfunctioning, and the German soldiers, who were untrained in communicating with aircraft, continued to take harassing enemy fire. The chaos of the situation was impaired even more by the PRT's limited proficiency in English. These limitations in combination with the enemy fire caused the PRT to provide confusing information on their exact location.
Realizing that time was running out for the PRT, Captain Erickson released a series of covert illumination flares only visible through night vision devices. Able to "see", he used geographic references from the air and ground to narrow down the PRT's location. During this time, the captain and his wingman were able to identify a location where they believed the enemy fire was coming from.
To be sure of the PRT's location, Captain Erickson conducted a low-altitude show-of-force. He flew between the enemy and friendly positions at 2,000 feet and deployed pyrotechnic self-protection flares, which lit the night sky. His hope was that the enemy would alert to his position and break their attack on the PRT long enough for his wingman to search for clues of the enemy's exact position.
"After we located where we thought the insurgents were, I had my wingman light-up the area with his targeting pod," said Captain Erickson. "During this time the weapons-fire against the Germans was also becoming increasingly accurate, and the need to bring the situation to a close was becoming more-and-more imperative. After we were able to determine that we were, in fact, targeting the insurgents and not the pinned-down German PRT team, it was time to take action."
With Captain Erickson's wingman marking the enemy's position with his TGP's infrared pointer, the PRT confirmed the mark as the enemy fire point of origin. In a single pass, Captain Erickson employed 240 30-millimeter rounds from the aircraft's GAU-8 cannon. This completely halted the enemy's fire and saved the lives of six German soldiers.
Captain Erickson and his wingman remained in the area to monitor both the friendly and enemy positions until the Iraqi National Police and International Security Assistance Force Quick Reaction Force were able to reach and recover the PRT and bring them to safety.
Captain Erickson credited the success of the operation to his training, and although he was honored to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for "doing the job he's trained to do", he pointed out a higher honor.
"The real reward was returning those six coalition soldiers safely to the village they were working at as part of the PRT team," said Captain Erickson.
Information provided by USAF 23rd Wing Public Affairs, Moody Air Base, GA / U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Javier Cruz