Super Hercules Crew Receives DFC, Air Medals for Daring Afghanistan Flight Under Fire

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U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules Afghanistan
An airman secures the perimeter around a U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules Dec. 7, 2012, at a forward operating base in Afghanistan. (Jonathan Snyder/U.S. Air Force)

The crew of a C-130J Super Hercules has received prestigious awards -- including a Distinguished Flying Cross -- for their daring airmanship during a harrowing mission in Afghanistan last year.

Maj. Christopher Richardson, the pilot of the C-130, received the DFC for his actions during the Sept. 19, 2020 flight, the Air Force said in a Wednesday release. And three other members of the crew -- pilot 1st Lt. Christian Grochowski, loadmaster Staff Sgt. Jade Morin, and loadmaster Senior Airman Dimitrious Carden -- received Air Medals in a May 10 ceremony.

The DFC is one of the Air Force's highest decorations recognizing valor in combat, and is awarded to service members who distinguish themselves in combat through heroism or extraordinary achievement during a flight. The Air Medal is also presented to service members or civilians for their heroism or meritorious achievement in flight.

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The C-130 crew, part of the 61st Airlift Squadron, were supporting a theater response force as it arrived at a forward operating base, the release said. But during the flight, the crew took effective small arms fire from the enemy, which injured a member of the air crew.

Carden quickly assessed what had happened and acted decisively to organize and apply treatment for the wounded crew member with the combat control team that was on board, the release said.

Carden praised the training he had received for helping him know how to respond in that situation.

"Everything happened quickly, and adrenaline makes decision-making difficult, but having my previous training to lean on helped me incredibly," Carden said.

Richardson, meanwhile, considered the situation and decided to make a second approach into the base. But during that second attempt, he and the other pilot, Grochowski, discovered a big problem: The enemy fire had damaged their flight controls and caused a malfunction.

Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Maj. Christopher Richardson
U.S. Air Force Col. John Schutte, 19th Airlift Wing commander, presents the Distinguished Flying Cross to Maj. Christopher Richardson, 61st Airlift Squadron pilot, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, May 10, 2021. (Aaron Irvin/U.S. Air Force)

The pilots changed plans, and decided to return to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to get the crew and the plane safely out of harm's way.

They landed at Bagram, and the remaining crew switched to another Super Hercules that had been reloaded with the necessary cargo and prepped with additional crew members.

Carden's leaders told him he could sit out the next flight, but he chose to see the mission through to its completion.

"I just imagined if those kinds of dangers awaited me the first time, I couldn't stand by while someone took my place and flew into the same kinds of danger," Carden said in the release.

Richardson said receiving the DFC was "extremely humbling," and praised the way the entire squadron pulled together and worked together as a team as soon as they found out their flight was in trouble.

"I told them we were on our way back with a problem and the whole squadron jumped into action," Richardson said. "After we landed, another plane was loaded, prepped and ready, and extra crew members were briefed up and ready to go."

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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