Pilots, Medics, Ground Crews Receive Praise From Gates
Airmen around the world are making a life-and-death difference
for U.S. military ground forces, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
said Wednesday. The secretary praised airmen’s efforts and
their sacrifices while addressing an audience at the Air Force
Association’s Air and Space Convention.
“First, a word of thanks to the men and women whose
achievements we cherish and whose interests you represent,”
Gates said. “Since 9/11, hundreds of thousands of airmen have
gone about their duties -- usually unheralded and unrecognized by
the usual metric of medals and media coverage.
“More than 100 have made the supreme sacrifice in Iraq and
Afghanistan,” he added.
Gates highlighted airmen’s accomplishments, from
reconnaissance groups to weapons squadrons.
“As a result of airmen’s efforts, dangerous men
looking to attack our troops and harm our country have met their
just end, usually without a warning: a distant buzz followed by a
bolt from the sky,” Gates said. “Some of those strikes
may have come from the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron -- the
The Flying Tigers deployed to Afghanistan from Moody Air Force
Base in Georgia seven months ago. Since arriving, they’ve
completed more than 2,800 combat missions spanning 12,000 flight
hours of reconnaissance and close-air support, a record for the
historic unit, Gates said.
Gates noted the actions of an Arizona National Guard unit as
“Our enemies have also been under the unblinking eye and
precision fire of the 214th Reconnaissance Group of the Arizona
National Guard,” Gates said. “[The group] recently
received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award from [Air Force]
Secretary [Michael B.] Donley after its Predators logged more than
17,000 hours over Afghanistan and Iraq.”
On a visit to Afghanistan in May, Gates met with search and
rescue aircrews from the 34th Weapons Squadron and 38th Rescue
Squadron, which are supporting Marines in Helmand province. In a
three-month stretch in the spring, pararescue airmen from the 34th
recovered or treated more than 320 casualties, both military and
civilian, he said.
Robert Gates File Photo
“Then there was the crew of Shocker 21 of the 305th
Expeditionary Rescue Squadron based in Kandahar,” Gates said.
“They were called in after an American Special Forces team
and Afghan soldiers came under heavy attack.
“In four successive passes over a hot landing zone,
Shocker 21 picked up two groups of wounded troops, laid down
suppressive fire and delivered badly needed ammunition,” he
continued. “All told, the expertise and courage of the Air
Force search and rescue teams are making the goal of the
‘golden hour’ a reality in Afghanistan.”
The golden hour refers to roughly the first 60 minutes following
a trauma. The chance of survival is greatest if the needed
treatment is obtained within that window.
The secretary didn’t forget the airmen serving on the
ground in theater, either, drawing on one airman’s experience
as an example of the difference they’re making in the
“Take the example of Tech Sergeant Benjamin Horton, from
Hill Air Force Base in Utah,” Gates said. “Sergeant
Horton destroyed more than 7 tons of enemy explosives while
deployed to Iraq in the hair-raising vocation of [explosives
ordnance disposal] technician.
“His expertise with the tactics of enemy bombers led to
the capture of six bomb makers in the Kirkuk region,” he
continued. “In one instance, he pulled four injured soldiers
from a vehicle after a [roadside bomb] attack, and then cleared the
extraction zone to medevac the wounded, earning a Bronze Star for
Then there are the C-17 and C-5 transport jet crews that fly
thousands of tons of goods a day in and out of theater, he said,
and the maintenance personnel who keep the planes flying.
“Without these efforts and the exertions of tens of
thousands of airmen including engineers, security forces, medical
personnel, explosive ordnance disposal experts, and those
protecting our lines of communication in space and cyberspace, the
entire U.S. war effort would simply grind to a halt,” Gates