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A lucky flight in the fight: Aircrew receives combat medal

A screengrab depicts a rocket-propelled grenade, circled in red, launching towards a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft as it airdrops cargo at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, Sept. 2019.

A screengrab depicts a rocket-propelled grenade, circled in red, launching towards a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft as it airdrops cargo at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, Sept. 2019. The aircrew assigned to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron was providing an emergency airdrop in support of the Afghan National Army forces when it was fired upon. (Courtesy photo illustration)

An aircrew assigned to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron poses for a group photo in Afghanistan, Sept. 2019.

An aircrew assigned to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron poses for a group photo in Afghanistan, Sept. 2019. The aircrew received the Air Force Combat Action Medal. This medal is awarded to U.S. military personnel who actively participated in either air or ground combat while operating in an unsecured space. (Courtesy photo)

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

There are many varieties of threats for aircraft involved in aiding ground troops in deployed environments. One main example of these threats can include taking fire from advancing enemy forces in the area of responsibility.

This became a reality for one 39th Airlift Squadron aircrew while deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in the fall of 2019. During a mission, their C-130J Super Hercules was fired upon by a rocket-propelled grenade.

“I noticed a flash of red behind the plane, but it was only for a second or two,” said Senior Airman David Doran, 39th AS loadmaster. “At the time I wasn’t scared because I didn’t realize it was an RPG, but possibly a flare.”

The crew was providing an emergency nighttime airdrop in support of the Afghan National Army forces in need of the supplies. After successfully deploying the cargo, their aircraft was targeted by an RPG as they were leaving the area.

“Based on the positioning of the available crew members in the aircraft, our identification of the RPG didn't come until we were safely climbing away,” said Capt. Jean-Luc Duckworth, 39th AS aircraft commander and pilot. “However, based on the sudden bright flash of light against the dark night, just as the bundles were rolling out of the aircraft, I assessed that we were being targeted in some capacity and advised my loadmasters to hold on as we egressed the objective area.”

Doran mentioned the frequent training he receives played an important role during this flight. Following the procedures taught to him helped ensure the safety of their aircrew and execution of their mission without fail or harm.

“Situations like this are what we train for on almost every training flight,” said Duckworth. “Since we know the pacing, know the internal dialogue between crew members and know how to expertly execute an airdrop, I, as the pilot, immediately knew the situation of the airdrop load and safe maneuvering ability of the aircraft once I heard ‘load clear’ from my loadmaster -- as is done on each training flight.”

For their actions during the mission, the aircrew was awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal. This medal is awarded to U.S. military personnel who actively participated in either air or ground combat while operating in an unsecured space. All aircrew involved were Duckworth, Doran, 1st Lt. Zachery Robinson, 39th AS co-pilot, Capt. Glenn Garner, 39th AS pilot, and Senior Airman Nolan Brandt, 39th AS loadmaster.

“I'm thankful for Capt. Duckworth and 1st. Lt. Robinson for being extraordinary pilots and wingmen,” said Doran. “They did what they were supposed to do without hesitation, and for that I get to be here.”