As only the fifth recipient and the first squadron to receive this award since its inception in 2001, the Gallant Unit Citation justification detailed how with “only 12 aircraft, the 74 EFS struck 44 percent of all targets in OIR, which resulted in the liberation of Raqqa, the decimation of ISIS war-making revenue streams, and the elimination of ISIS from 99 percent of Iraq and Syria.”
Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, presented Airmen from the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) with the GUC for the unit’s heroic efforts while deployed in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR).
“The Gallant Unit Citation is the second highest honor that can be bestowed on an Air Force unit,” said Holmes. “How many … have lived up to that since we created it? You’re the fifth one – it’s quite an award and it’s something you can be really proud of as a team.”
As explained by Senior Airman Janiqua Robinson, 23rd Wing Public Affairs, in the article THUNDER: 74th EFS receives Gallant Unit Citation, the GUC is awarded to units for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force on or since 9/11.
“You guys are blessed to have the opportunity to go [downrange] and meet the criteria spelled out in that citation in an airplane that was made for the moment as part of a team built, trained and made for the mission,” Holmes added.
While deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, as the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, assigned to the 447th Air Expeditionary Group (AEG) these Airmen uniquely supported multiple combat operations against enemy forces from Jul. 15, 2017 to Jan. 15, 2018.
“The 74th FS earned the GUC through an unrelenting level of excellence and determination in executing a difficult mission,” said Col. Scott “Barney” Hoffman, former 447th AEG commander. “Each day brought unique and unforeseen challenges that tested the decision-making and flying skills of each pilot while in harm’s way. The pilots of the 74th FS performed above-and-beyond their peers in every facet of the mission.”
Throughout this six-month period, the unit flew more than 1,600 sorties and 10,000 hours, striking nearly 2,500 targets and killing 3,100 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters.
As only the fifth recipient and the first squadron to receive this award since its inception in 2001, the GUC justification detailed how with “only 12 aircraft, the 74 EFS struck 44 percent of all targets in OIR, which resulted in the liberation of Raqqa, the decimation of ISIS war-making revenue streams, and the elimination of ISIS from 99 percent of Iraq and Syria.”
During the first half of the deployment, the pilots were operating within “danger-close” distances to friendlies, putting the friendly forces at a significantly higher risk of injury from the weapons dropped making precision pivotal.
“Danger-close engagements, typically a rarity, were the daily norm,” said Lt. Col. Craig Morash, 74th FS commander. “As Close Air Support (CAS) pilots, we would rather put our lives on the line than risk injuring a friendly on the ground. To avoid our greatest fear, we had to be perfect on every weapons pass… all 4,100 of them.”
Although the pilots dropped fewer weapons during the second half of the deployment, the risk for personal safety increased dramatically as pilots locked in on moving targets, requiring intense focus and seamless teamwork.
“The 74th did these tasks with incredible enthusiasm and esprit de corps,” said Morash. “They eagerly launched on every mission knowing they were going to be strapped into their jet for over 10 hours under difficult circumstances. They fought ISIS courageously, never turning from a fight and frequently asking to be extended to provide whatever support possible to friendly forces. They upheld the legacy of the Flying Tigers and succeeded at one of the most difficult missions I have witnessed.
“The Airmen of the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron are among the most professional and disciplined in the world,” said Morash. “The entire team, from life support, to intel, to our (aviation resource managers), and pilots pushed themselves to exceed their own standards. For 181 days, the members of this squadron worked 24-hours a day to ensure the United States achieved victory over ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
While the distinctive accomplishments of the flying unit are undeniable, the ability to take the fight to the enemy around-the-clock required a team effort.
“Each Airman and pilot should be justifiably proud of what they accomplished,” said Morash. “The unit’s spirit and motivation left me in awe of the incredible group that I was privileged to lead. It is equally important to highlight the hundreds of maintainers that enabled our fleet to meet 100 percent of Combined Air Operations Center directed tasks.”
With a young squadron comprised of 67 percent first-time deployers in a high-risk, atypical tactical environment for seasoned A-10 pilots, these Airmen exhibited excellence and brought the “THUNDER” to OIR.
Upon the departure of the 74 EFS, the United States declared ISIS defeated in Syria and Iraq. Collectively, the valor displayed by the 74th EFS resulted in the award of five Distinguished Flying Crosses, seven single-event Air Medals and over 83 Air Medals with combat devices.
“The entire team that supported the 74 EFS—from the maintenance and weapons troops, intelligence, life support, and all the Airmen that were deployed with the 74 EFS—delivered excellence on a daily basis and made it possible for the pilots to execute the mission with lethal precision,” said Hoffman.
“The 74 EFS has added to the distinguished history of the World Famous Flying Tigers and will continue to be a premiere Fighter Squadron and employ the world’s greatest close-air-support airframe, the A-10, into the foreseeable future,” Hoffman added. “New pilots to the squadron now have an even higher standard to hold themselves to—and I fully expect future A-10 pilots of the 74 FS will meet that standard.”
Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Taryn Butler / U.S. Air Force
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com