505th CCW pilot wins valor award

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A pilot from the 505th Command and Control Wing received a special award May 8 at Fort Hamilton, N.Y.

Lt. Col. Edward Ned H. Linch III, now wings chief of plans, earned the U.S. Air Force Aviators Valor Award from American Legion Aviators Post 743 for his actions during an Operation Iraqi Freedom mission March 30, 2003.

On that night then-Major Linch, flying an F-16 while deployed with the Alabama Air National Guard, led his wingman, Capt. Brian Wolf, on a mission planned for SCUD missile hunting in Western Iraq.

Toward the end of a six-hour mission, the flight was diverted to an area 400 miles inside enemy territory to assist troops possibly needing air cover. En-route he began hearing frantic radio calls on the guard radio frequency reserved for emergencies.

One guy was going hysterical, said Colonel Linch. These were the most desperate and urgent radio calls Ive ever heard. The calls were difficult to understand at times since they were in such dire straits under fire.

On the ground, a numerically superior Iraqi force, estimated at 20 to one, was surrounding a group of Coalition special operations forces. The Iraqis were only about 300 meters from the friendly forces and closing.

According to Colonel Linch, the frantic voice of one of the special operators created a calling to press the limits.

We disregarded concern for ourselves and pressed beyond the limits of our jets, its equipment, and our personal limitations, he said.

Since this battle was well outside of their planned SCUD hunting area, Colonel Linch and Captain Wolf had little awareness of the environment below them. The flight had no information on the terrain, the lines of communication or threats in the area.

Additionally, the pilots were wearing night-vision goggles, or NVGs, but barely had sufficient illumination for them to work due to the remnants of a massive sandstorm in the area the day before.

Despite the extreme risk to himself and his flight, Colonel Linch descended through the hazardous conditions to provide immediate air support for the trapped team.

We had to act now or these guys were going to die, said Colonel Linch. I knew we were their only hope at the time to survive; I was going to try to help them regardless of the conditions or the safety of my flight.

With only an infrared strobe from the ground troops, kept intermittent at best due to the weather, for situational awareness, Colonel Linch orchestrated several reconnaissance passes and bomb runs over the position to aid the endangered Coalition troops.

Although not properly equipped for this type of mission, Colonel Linch was able to direct Captain Wolf to drop one 500-pound bomb.

But, the enemy force didnt quit.

Fearing the potential for friendly casualties, Colonel Linch and Captain Wolf abandoned attempts to drop any more bombs. Instead they continued to make passes through the weather and blacked-out conditions to distract, harass and hopefully deter the enemy force.

Its one of the worst weather situations Ive ever flown in, said Colonel Linch, who has 16 years and more than 3,000 hours of fighter experience. With poor visibility due to the dust and haze, it is difficult to differentiate the ground from the clouds -- you're basically flying around in a milk bowl. The NVG picture looks like snow on a TV; it's just all shades of green.

With no moon and stars to provide illumination for my NVGs and no horizon to reference, it was almost impossible to visually fly the aircraft without referencing the instruments but I had many of my cockpit lights turned off and a few set to a very dim setting in order to assist me in finding their IR strobe. I had to rely on my wingman to call out critical information such as my altitude.

At one point, both pilots dispensed flares, again hoping to distract the enemy. Using the flares is a dangerous proposition because the flares not only highlight their position, but also wash out what little vision they had through their goggles in the process.

We were flying around in conditions unsuitable for this, and we both kept getting spatially disoriented, said Colonel Linch of the dangerous condition pilots experience when they dont have sufficient references to maintain proper control of the airplane.

The fight went on for almost half an hour with both pilots repeatedly foregoing personal safety by descending below specified altitudes despite almost zero visibility.

Eventually, the Coalition forces were able to break through the line of enemy troops and proceed to a safer position.

The combination of the bomb, the flares and the noise allowed the troops to get on the run and escape the situation, said Colonel Linch

The following day, Colonel Linch and Captain Wolf learned the entire group of friendly forces was rescued and all were alive after a major combat rescue effort.

On July 13, 2003, after returning from his tour, Colonel Linch was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism by the Governor Bob Riley of Alabama.

I give a lot of credit to my wingman, Captain Wolf, for his efforts that night, and to God for protecting everyone in a situation that could have claimed many lives, Colonel Linch said.

Colonel Linch returned to active duty with the 505th CCW in Sept. 2003 where he was largely responsible for the recent transformation from a single group to a wing.

The Valor Award is presented annually by the American Legion Aviators Post 743, the only post exclusively for rated flyers with combat experience, to recognize a military aviator from each service that has performed a conspicuous act of valor or courage during aerial flight in the preceding year as approved by their services chief of staff. Previous winners from the Air Force include Gen. Henry Hap Arnold and then-Maj. Chuck Yeager.