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Direct Support Operators reach new heights

The direct support operators of the 25th Intelligence Squadron have a unique mission, flying as members of U.S. Air Force Special Operations aircrews in what are many times stressful, dangerous missions. As a testament to their heroic actions, three of these outstanding operators have earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The direct support operators of the 25th Intelligence Squadron have a unique mission, flying as members of U.S. Air Force Special Operations aircrews in what are many times stressful, dangerous missions. As a testament to their heroic actions, three of these outstanding operators have earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by George Serna)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas --

Note: Some first names have been removed for security reasons.

The direct support operators of the 25th Intelligence Squadron have a unique mission, flying as members of U.S. Air Force Special Operations aircrews in what are many times stressful, dangerous missions. As a testament to their heroic actions, three of these outstanding operators have earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

 

One of the squadron’s heroes is Tech. Sgt. Nathan, a DSO who was then a staff sergeant and worked with the 9th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component, Afghanistan.

 

Nathan, along with his aircrew, distinguished themselves by conducting an emergency resupply airdrop to a team of U.S. and Coalition Special Operations Forces who were isolated and cut off from their resupply means. Despite the high potential for surface to air engagement, Nathan provided critical threat information as his aircraft transitioned through a potentially lethal range of small arms and anti-aircraft artillery, according to his award citation.

 

Even though his aircraft was struck multiple times by enemy fire, Nathan’s technical expertise and professionalism provided the crew with the situational awareness that allowed them to successfully resupply the friendly forces, halting any further loss of life within the Special Operations team on the ground.

 

Following the airdrop, Nathan continued to supply the aircrew with updates on threats and enemy activity, leading to the aircrew’s successful escape, preserving $72 million in assets and saving the lives of the six aircrew members.

 

The direct support operator said it felt good to be a part of the team that day.

 

“It was a great honor to be part of such a vital mission,” Nathan said. “We knew going in that this would be dangerous, but the team on the ground needed this resupply. Each of us accepted this risk in order to assist in the rescue of the team. ”

 

In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Airman and his team received the Air Force Association's 2017 Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Award for their heroic actions.

 

Tech. Sgt. Joseph, another heroic DSO, earned his Distinguished Flying Cross for actions while he participated in an aerial flight of an AC-130U, 4th ESOS, Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component, in April 2017. A staff sergeant at the time, he provided exemplary knowledge and outstanding airmanship during more than 10-hours of close air support which saved numerous American and Afghan lives, according to his medal citation.

 

Joseph and his crew alert launched in response to two American Special Forces teams under ambush by insurgents. He passed eight threat calls to friendly ground forces, four of which directly correlated and contributed to fire missions. He also helped identify three enemy ambush positions and cued the crew to the location of other enemy combatants who survived a previous engagement.

 

This Airman’s actions enabled the employment of nearly 800 of rounds of ammunition throughout eleven fire missions that destroyed 24 enemy fighting positions.

 

"The success of our mission depended upon the contribution of every crew member working together to provide the best possible support we could to friendly forces,” he said. “I am especially grateful to the teams on the ground, who day after day are put in immediate harm's way, because none of this would be possible without their commitment and sacrifice."

 

The third outstanding DSO from 25 IS, Staff Sgt. David, was a member of the Spooky 43 aircrew. That heroic aircrew distinguished itself while conducting the Air Force’s most meritorious flight of the year while participating in a sustained aerial flight in Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in November 2016.

 

While David and his aircrew provided armed over watch for an American and Afghan ground force, the friendly team was caught in a deadly ambushed by a large insurgent force, according to his medal citation.

 

The friendlies were engaged by small arms, heavy machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from multiple defensive fighting positions. The crew of Spooky 43 provided close air support to the friendly ground forces to allow them to maneuver, while also providing protection for friendly casualties.

 

Due to the outstanding airmanship and bravery under extremely challenging circumstances, the Spooky 43 aircrew destroyed ten defensive fighting positions, enemy personnel and enemy tactical vehicles in order to save the lives of 50 friendly special operations forces who would have otherwise perished in the enemy ambush.

 

The Spooky 43 aircrew, including Staff Sgt. David, received the 2017 MacKay Trophy, which is awarded to the aircrew who accomplishes the U.S. Air Force’s most meritorious flight of the year. They were also recognized in the Air Force’s Portraits in Courage for 2017. The Portraits in Courage profile of the aircrew can be viewed at:  http://static.dma.mil/usaf/70/pic17.pdf.

 

The 25th Intelligence Squadron is aligned under the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, 25th Air Force.