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McConnell Crew Awarded 2013 Doolittle Trophy
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class David Bernal Del Agua - August 6, 2014

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MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – A McConnell aircrew won the Air Mobility Command's 2013 Gen. James H. Doolittle Trophy, July 2, 2014.

The trophy was awarded to Maj. Robert Knapp, 22nd Air Refueling Wing executive officer, Capt. Brett McAuliff, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot and Airman 1st Class Tim Neff, 350th ARS boom operator. It recognizes the most outstanding AMC aircrew that best characterizes and epitomizes qualities and traits for which Gen. Doolittle was known for.

Maj. Robert Knapp, 22nd Air Refueling Wing executive officer, Capt. Brett McAuliff, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, and Airman 1st Class Tim Neff, 350th ARS boom operator, stand in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker, July 25, 2013, at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The Shell 72 crew won Air Mobility Command’s 2013 General James H. Doolittle Trophy for providing aerial refueling in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Courtesy photo)
Maj. Robert Knapp, 22nd Air Refueling Wing executive officer, Capt. Brett McAuliff, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, and Airman 1st Class Tim Neff, 350th ARS boom operator, stand in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker, July 25, 2013, at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The Shell 72 crew won Air Mobility Command's 2013 General James H. Doolittle Trophy for providing aerial refueling in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Courtesy photo)

Doolittle was an aviation pioneer who served during World War II. He earned the Medal of Honor for his valor and leadership as commander of the Doolittle Raid.

“It's a great honor to have won this award,” said Knapp, aircraft commander on the mission. “I'm glad we were there to help the guys on the ground.”

The Shell 72 aircrew was called upon for a no-notice tasking to support a ground operation in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in July 2013.

“This mission was more strenuous than normal,” said Knapp. “It was busy and there were a lot of changes due to the environment on the ground.”

A 12-vehicle Army convoy conducting highway clearing operations was attacked, and Soldiers requested overwatch from A-10 Thunderbolt II's and F-16 Fighting Falcons.

“The troops in contact were supporting a convoy of 60 Army Soldiers with a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that had been rolled on its back and was sustaining heavy premeditated enemy fire,” said Neff. “I've never seen receiver pilots move so quickly or with such urgency. They were all business, and it's a radical change of personality to see from normal day-to-day operations.”

The challenges Shell 72 had to hurdle came from the ground as well as from the crew itself.

“We had a young crew,” said Knapp. “This was only my fourth combat sortie on a tanker, and it was my boom operator's fourth combat mission overall. It was incredible to see him react appropriately to the situation.”

According to Knapp, boom operators are known to be cautious and conservative while refueling aircraft, but after the first A-10 came up, things changed.

“Everything clicked inside the operator's head the moment we started refueling,” said Knapp. “This was not the time to be cautious; this was the time to transfer the gas to where it needed to go quickly because those guys really needed the help.”

The mission showed them how members need to rely on each other to accomplish the task.

“My job was made possible by extraordinary piloting skills from my receivers and my own crew, all of whom had immense experience and a desire to do what needed to be done,” said Neff. “I was just the guy who was in the right place at the right time. The superb pilots made it all possible.”

This award speaks to the entire KC-135 community about the importance of refuelers in combat.

“It's really neat to put the whole connection together,” said Knapp. “It's a huge deal to look at the big picture to see where you fit in and see how close McConnell is to the fight. It's great to see how important we are to the guys who are dependent on the close-air support.”

By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class David Bernal Del Agua
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2014

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