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Distinguished Flying Cross Recipient
Keith Wolak

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Keith Wolak > Distinguished Flying Cross Recipient8/2/2007 - POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFPN) -- An Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot has received the Distinguished Flying Cross in a ceremony here July 27 for a nighttime rescue mission in Afghanistan in 2005.

Maj. Keith Wolak, with the 74th Fighter Squadron here, received the honor for a combat search and rescue mission he coordinated July 2, 2005, when he cleared a helicopter landing zone while suppressing the enemy's attacks. The mission was to rescue a U.S. Navy SEAL on the ground.

"I feel very proud and very honored and I'll wear this medal with pride," said Maj. Wolak. "I didn't do anything any other combat search and rescue trained A-10 pilot wouldn't have done."

"We really weren't concerned with any surfaced air threat to the fighters out there," he said. "Our concern was getting the rescue helicopters in an area where, just the week before, we lost one helicopter due to surfaced air fire. Everything we were doing was basically to protect the guys in helicopters -- getting them in and out."

Another A-10 pilot, Maj. Jeff Yost of the 23rd Fighter Group, said A-10 pilots are trained for all types of weather conditions and real-world operational situations. He said that over time, the A-10 has developed into a close-air support asset, which means taking care of troops on the ground, which is exactly what Major Wolak was able to do that night.

When the lead A-10 attack plane's equipment failed to work, Major Wolak had the added responsibility of attacking several fighting positions around the landing zone in addition to being responsible for coordinating the mission.

"Any of the other pilots in the same shoes as me would have done the same thing," the major said. "It really pales in comparison to all the guys on the ground, all the guys in the helicopter who we lost the week before and the entire helicopter crews that night. What I did doesn't really compare to (their actions)."

What he was able to do was mark out the area using infrared technology, thereby guiding the helicopters to the landing zone safely. Without that guidance, the helicopters would not have been able to land, and the rescue would not have been successful.

"I always try to do the best job I can at what I am assigned because that's the right thing to do for the folks you are working with and for," he said.

Photo and information courtesy of USAF /  DoD

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