For the second time this year, the U.S. Air Force awarded two A-10C Thunderbolt pilots the Distinguished Flying Cross for separate close-air support missions in support of the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.
The missions included a danger-close strike and strikes in an anti-aircraft artillery zone to protect American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces during Operation Inherent Resolve.
Maj. Matthew "Chowder" Cichowski and Capt. William "Archer" Dana of the 74th Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, received the award during a ceremony May 23, Air Combat Command said in a recent release.
Dana and Cichowski had been stationed together at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and were recognized for their actions to stave off the enemy in various locations in the Middle East.
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On Aug. 14, 2017, Dana and his wingman received a call from a Joint Terminal Attack Controller that more than eight positions were being overrun and casualties were mounting, the release said.
"There was a sense of urgency felt. I needed to get out there quickly because good guys were dying," Dana said in the release.
Covering the battlefield for more than three hours, Dana dropped 11,000 pounds of weapons, "killing 37 enemies and destroying 10 enemy defensive fighting positions with no friendly loss," the release said.
During that mission, his A-10 was tracked by pro-regime aircraft. The Air Force did not disclose whether the aircraft belonged to Syria, Iranian-backed militia, or Russian air forces operating in the area.
Low on fuel and almost out of munitions, Dana at one point "elected to conduct an airstrike on enemies attacking friendly forces from a four-story building" nearly 100 feet away, the release said.
The skilled pilot knew that the danger-close attack could amount to fratricide. But "at the point of weapons release, I trusted my training," he said. "I had to account for the wind, because that affects where the ordnance drops. And with friendlies being that close, I wanted to take responsibility for everything. This is my weapon, from my jet, and the effects are on me."
No friendly forces were killed or injured in Dana's efforts, the Air Force said.
On a separate mission earlier this year, Cichowski and his wingman were called by a JTAC to boost forces outnumbered three-to-one by enemy combatants.
Their A-10 was also tracked -- this time by surface-to-air missiles.
"We'd been diving a lot and had already been shot at once," Cichowski said. "We started to realize this is a coordinated attack and not a random fight like we originally thought. At this point, neither of us were strangers to combat with friendlies close. We knew what to do and how to correctly do it."
Cichowski worked with the JTAC and a drone operating overhead to gauge the scope of the operation, identifying 25 enemy fighters about 500 feet away from U.S.-backed forces, the release said. He dropped a 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition and then used the tank-shredding GAU-8 gun "to wipe out the rest of the enemy" while encountering more anti-aircraft artillery strikes, it said.
Cichowki's mission thwarted "the largest coordinated attack of enemy fighters seen in that region without a single friendly loss," officials said.
"DFC nominations are scrutinized very carefully, and every detail is validated to ensure facts are accurate," said Maj. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist, Air Combat Command's 9th Air Force commander.
"It was an honor for me to present them with the DFC. They are very rare decorations, and it reflects highly on them and the entire 23rd Wing for their amazing accomplishments in supporting their nation," Zobrist said.
It was the second presentation of the Distinguished Flying Cross to A-10 pilots this year.
Maj. Tyler Schultz and Capt. Samantha Harvey, with the 354th Fighter Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, were presented with the military's fourth-highest medal by ACC commander Gen. Mike Holmes on March 2 for an air assault on Islamic State fighters last year.