EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (June 26, 2012)- Team Eglin's military
flying community, its leaders, family and local supporters gathered
to recognize a "hero" added to a selective category of military
members who risked life in combat to protect others.
June 26, 2012 - Maj. John Caldwell, of the
85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, was recently awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross for his combat aviation efforts in
Afghanistan in 2011. Established by Congress on July 2, 1926, the
Distinguished Flying Cross may be awarded to members of any branch
of service and to members of the armed forces of friendly nations.
Photo by Samuel King
John Caldwell, of the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, was awarded
the Distinguished Flying Cross for his rapid airpower response to an
enemy attack on American and allied forces during his deployment to
Nuristan province, Afghanistan, May 2, 2011.
"The DFC is a
unique group of individuals; you are about to enjoy elite company
like Col. "Bud" Day [retired] who is here today," Col David W.
Hicks, 53rd Wing commander and officiator, said to the F-16 pilot
before he pinned on the honors.
The F-16 pilot, then rank of
captain, responded to an ambush on a special operations team already
taking casualties from effective fire. This timely attack allowed
the assault team to
Hicks was deployed to the area at that time
as well and experienced what it
was like to fly three to five hours a day hovering the war zone just
in case of emergency.
"At those moments it seemed quiet, like nothing was going
on," said the commander as a description of the sortie Air
Force pilots perform covering military members on the
ground. "But then in 10 to 20 minutes a decision has to be
made resulting in life or death."
identified mortar flashes from the mountainside, rapidly
derived coordinates and directed his wingman to employ a
Joint Direct Attack Munition before refueling. According to
the award narrative, he remained as the only kinetic asset
protecting the assault force.
"I'd like to say I
could take the credit, but it took a combined effort of
military services to get the team on the ground out of the
valley," said Caldwell.
From his F-16 cockpit, the
pilot initiated coordination with the Combined Air
Operations Center, conveyed the urgent need for medical
evacuation and additional kinetic assets. He also contacted
the separated assault team's command element, provided real
time updates of the dire situation and gained approval to
use any ordnance to protect them. Meanwhile, 90 insurgents
began a flanking charge on the friendly position.
"Sadly, there were six American and coalition forces I
couldn't help that day; they are the true heroes," said
Caldwell. "I was at the right place at the right time and I
believe anyone in my squadron would do the same thing."
His award citation said the pilot's life was at risk
when he employed an immediate, nonstandard, danger close
strafe run into the rugged, midnight black valley, breaking
the inexorable charge as the enemy continued to fire with
rounds impacting mere inches from the trapped allies.
Caldwell immediately re-attacked with an expertly placed,
danger close JDAM, completely neutralizing the ambush.
All that said, the pilot still would not call himself
"You don't get to define yourself as a
'hero,' others do," said Hicks. "Specifically, guys on the
ground that night are telling the story of the F-16 that
saved them and how they wouldn't be standing today, same
goes for their families. The fact you did it speaks volumes
on who you are as an aviator and what you did for our
The DFC narration said, according to the
assault force commander, the presence of Caldwell and his
immensely accurate awareness of the situation prevented a
catastrophic loss of American lives and directly turned the
tide of this engagement.
"Caldwell is not only an
awesome fighter pilot, he also exemplifies our core value of
'service before self,'" said Lt. Col. Thomas Seymour,
commander of the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, where
Caldwell has served as weapons flight commander since
January. "I think this medal is the result of his skill in
the air and his willingness to put himself in harm's way in
order to accomplish the mission."
In just a short
time stationed here, the commander said the pilot won their
group's Flight Commander of the Quarter award and fully
embraced his new role as an operational test pilot.
Congress authorized The Distinguished Flying Cross, July 2,
1926, as an award for any military member of the U.S. who
exhibited heroism or extraordinary achievement while
participating in an aerial fight against an enemy of the
By Chrissy Cuttita
Comment on this article
| Distinguished Flying Cross Recipients |