A-10 Warthog squadron receives rare heroism award for bringing the pain to ISIS in Syria

Unsung Heroes
Extraordinary Heroism: The 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Members of the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron were accustomed to the conflict conditions of Afghanistan, in which airstrikes aren't often carried out in close quarters.

But one A-10 Thunderbolt II unit summoned into the dense, urban environment of Raqqa, Syria, where Islamic State fighters and snipers hid within buildings, found itself testing new ways to support U.S.-backed militia on the ground, contributing to the city's liberation in late 2017.


For that, the 74th EFS, out of Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, recently received the Gallant Unit Citation, becoming the first individual squadron to receive the recognition. It marks only the fifth time the Air Force has given the award since creating it in 2001, according to a news release.

Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, presented the squadron the award for its deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) during a ceremony at Moody on March 14.

"The Gallant Unit Citation is the second-highest honor that can be bestowed on an Air Force unit," Holmes said. "How many ... have lived up to that since we created it? You're the fifth one. It's quite an award, and it's something you can be really proud of as a team," he said, according to the release.

Gen. Mike Holmes, left, Air Combat Command commander, poses with the 74th Fighter Squadron (FS) during the Gallant Unit Citation presentation, March 14, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Taryn Butler)

The Cold War-era A-10 is known for its iconic gun designed to shred tanks and its tough titanium armor designed to take hits and keep flying. But during this six-month operation, the pilots tried to strike snipers in "this dense, urban city" sometimes without eyes directly on the hidden fighters, said Lt. Col. Craig Morash, 74th EFS commander. That included fighters weaving through buildings and narrow roadways.

Precision was critical to avoid friendly or civilian casualties.

"We all thought we knew what we were getting into, [but] … I'm getting nine lines [radio calls from Joint Terminal Attack Controllers] saying, 'Hey I need you to drop this four-story building in a city,' which is fundamentally different from what we, or what I expected, certainly," added Maj. Michael Dumas, an A-10 pilot with the squadron, in a video segment explaining the mission.

The 74th, one of Moody's two combat-ready A-10C units known as the "Flying Tigers," was deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, between July 2017 and January 2018, the release states. During that time, the unit flew more than 1,600 sorties and 10,000 hours, striking nearly 2,500 targets.

On his third combat run over enemy territory, Capt. Matthew Underwood, an A-10 pilot and team lead, said he and his wingman "ended up shooting a maverick [missile] into a building to get the sniper team that was firing" on the Syrian Democratic Forces below, allowing the pilots to witness just what the A-10 can do, even against larger structures. Taking out ISIS fighters' hiding spots became a way to protect friendly forces.

The unit's airstrikes killed 3,100 ISIS fighters, according to the release.

"Danger-close engagements, typically a rarity, were the daily norm," Morash said in a separate news release. "As close-air support pilots, we would rather put our lives on the line than risk injuring a friendly on the ground. To avoid our greatest fear, we had to be perfect on every weapons pass … all 4,100 of them."

According to the award citation, using only 12 A-10 aircraft throughout the deployment, "the 74 EFS struck 44 percent of all targets in OIR, which resulted in the liberation of Raqqa, the decimation of ISIS war-making revenue streams, and the elimination of ISIS from 99 percent of Iraq and Syria."

That said, Airwars, a London-based non-profit group that tracks air conflicts against ISIS and other groups in Iraq, Syria and Libya, estimates the assault on Raqqa alone may have killed at least 1,800 civilians.

The Gallant Unit Citation is awarded to units that exemplify "extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force on or since 9/11," according to the Air Force.

"The 74th ... eagerly launched on every mission knowing they were going to be strapped into their jet for over 10 hours under difficult circumstances," Morash said. "They fought ISIS courageously, never turning from a fight and frequently asking to be extended to provide whatever support possible to friendly forces. They upheld the legacy of the Flying Tigers and succeeded at one of the most difficult missions I have witnessed."

This article originally appeared on Military.com

More articles from Military.com:

SEE ALSO: Confessions Of An A-10 Pilot: What It's Like To Fly A Cannon With Wings

WATCH NEXT: An A-10 Warthog Makes A Belly Landing

Army Spc. Clayton James Horne

Army Spc. Clayton James Horne died in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 17, making him the eighth non-combat fatality for Operation Inherent Resolve so far this year, defense officials have announced.

Horne, 23, was assigned to the 351st Military Police Company, 160th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Ocala, Florida, a Pentagon news release says.

Read More Show Less
Joshua Yabut/Twitter

The soldier who was arrested for taking an armored personnel carrier on a slow-speed police chase through Virginia has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on two charges, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.

Joshua Phillip Yabut, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — in this case, a 12-ton APC taken from Fort Pickett in June 2018 — and violating the terms of his bond, which stemmed from a trip to Iraq he took in March 2019 (which was not a military deployment).

Read More Show Less
This photo taken on Oct. 7, 2018, shows a billboard that reads "The State Central Navy Testing Range" near residential buildings in the village of Nyonoksa, northwestern Russia. The Aug. 8, 2019, explosion of a rocket engine at the Russian navy's testing range just outside Nyonoksa led to a brief spike in radiation levels and raised new questions about prospective Russian weapons. (AP Photo/Sergei Yakovlev)

It's been more than a week since a mysterious Russian nuclear accident roughly 600 miles north of Moscow and only the Kremlin and those killed know what happened.

What is known is something exploded on Aug. 8 at a naval weapons testing range near the village of Nyonoksa. The Russian government's official account of the accident has changed several times since then, but the country's weather agency recently confirmed that radiation levels jumped to 16 times greater than normal after the blast.

U.S. media outlets have reported that a nuclear-powered cruise missile named the SSX-C-9 Skyfall likely exploded during testing. President Donald Trump appeared to confirm as much when he tweeted on Aug. 12 that the United States had gleaned useful information from "the failed missile explosion in Russia."

Read More Show Less

Top officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs declined to step in to try to exempt veterans and their families from a new immigration rule that would make it far easier to deny green cards to low-income immigrants, according to documents obtained by ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Department of Defense, on the other hand, worked throughout 2018 to minimize the new policy's impact on military families.

As a result, the regulation, which goes into effect in October, applies just as strictly to veterans and their families as it does to the broader public, while active-duty members of the military and reserve forces face a relaxed version of the rule.

Read More Show Less

The U.S. military conducted its first flight test of a conventional ground-launched cruise missile in a test that would have been banned prior to the recent collapse of a Cold War-era nuclear arms agreement.

The missile was launched on Sunday from a testing site on San Nicolas Island in California. "The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight," the Pentagon explained in an emailed statement, adding that "data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense's development of future intermediate-range capabilities."

Read More Show Less