SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
A quiet winter’s morning in the Afghanistan desert changed abruptly when a massive blast from a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device detonated and heavy machine gun fire ensued outside the walls of Bagram Airfield.
Members of the 79th Fighter Squadron and 79th Fighter Generation Squadron under the 405th Expeditionary Group responded with an aggressive assault, providing superior airpower to defend American lives.
The Gallant Unit Citation is awarded to units for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or since 9/11. For their professionalism, gallantry and dedication to duty against an armed enemy of the United States, the Air Force conferred this honor to the 79th FS and 79th FGS Tigers.
The Tigers deployed in October 2019 to continue supporting U.S. Central Command in the global war on terror.
On December 11, 2019, their mission arrived right outside the gates. 2500 pounds of explosives blew a hole 50 yards wide into the perimeter of the base, leaving Americans vulnerable to the enemy.
“It’s not like a normal fight, where you’re just generating airplanes on a daily basis,” said Lt. Col. Adam Thornton, 79th Fighter Squadron commander. “This is a fight for your home.”
The urgency of the situation required Airmen to move quickly and effectively into an uncertain immediate future. Within 40 minutes of the attack, they secured, swept and reopened the airfield to launch successive waves of F-16’s for base defense.
“As soon as the first few jets were airborne, we stayed outside and prepared every jet we had so there would not be a lack of jets for our pilots as needed,” said Master Sgt. Ken Dancer, 79th Fighter Generation Squadron lead production superintendent. “The men and women of the 79th never wavered.”
With Vipers in the air, the immediacy of the fight became more and more evident as pilots realized previously safe areas were targets for advanced warfare systems.
“As I typed the coordinates in, it really hit how close to home this was when my GPS showed the target was less than 0.79 miles from where I was,” said Capt. Cody Steele, 79th Fighter Squadron F16 Viper pilot.
For approximately 12 hours, ground and aerial troops put their dedicated training to the test and successfully abolished the enemy combatants while sustaining no coalition losses.
“It was pretty incredible to see how all of that coordination happened,” said Thornton. “Because our people were doing the right thing, at the right time and talking to the right people while under fire.”
The Tigers as part of the 425th Air Expeditionary Group are only the 6th distinct unit in the Air Force to receive this honor.
“There were 15,000 fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, sons and daughters at Bagram,” said Thornton. “To go through a day like that, in the fog of war, and lose zero of us is a testament to the entire team.”