Air Force awards 12 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 4 Bronze Stars for Kabul Airlift

Over 100 of the rare flying awards, dozens of Bronze Stars and hundreds of other medals have been approved for missions flown during the 2021 Kabul airlift.
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Distinguished Flying Cross medals are displayed during a Distinguished Flying Cross ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, California, Dec. 9, 2022. Air Force photo by Heide Couch.

In the latest round of awards for the Kabul airlift, the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command approved 12 Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Bronze Star Medals, 208 Air Medals, and 73 Meritorious Service Medals to aircrew and other personnel who flew in and out of the chaotic scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the final days of August 2021.

The 12 DFCs — the highest award in the U.S. military for actions during flight — will go to aircraft maintenance troops, loadmasters, specially trained security personnel known as Ravens, medical specialists, and tanker aircrews. Most of the decorations were awarded with combat devices, and one of the Bronze Star Medals includes a valor device, the Air Force said in a press release.

According to AMC spokesperson Lindsey Wilkinson, the 12 DFCs are being awarded to personnel who flew on missions for which the plane’s aircrew, such as the pilots, were already awarded DFCs.

“The DFCs were all awarded to additional crew members of previously awarded aircrews,” Wilkinson told Task & Purpose in an email. “In other words, these awards made the MAF aircrew ‘whole,’ which is comparatively unique to fighter or bomber aircrews.”

kabul airlift distinguished flying cross
A family walks towards a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 22. Twelve airmen will receive distinguished flying cross for missions during the Kabul airlift. Photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz, composite by Task & Purpose.

The announcement will likely be the last round of multiple awards announced for Kabul missions. The authority of AMC officials to grant awards from the airlift expired at the end of November, Wilkinson said.

But the Air Force has awarded hundreds of awards from the airlift, after a slow start in the months after the Kabul evacuation, the largest military airlift since the Vietnam War and one of the most intensive flying operations in Air Force history. For close to a year after the August 2021 operation, the Air Force approved only a handful of awards for the hundreds of airmen who flew in and out of Kabul, a delay that AMC Commander Gen. Mike Minihan eventually publicly apologized for.

“Make no mistake, we should have done this [in 2021] immediately after the operation, and I recognize our airmen’s frustration with the process,” Minihan said in announcing a first round of 96 DFCs and a slew of other awards in October of 2022.

But beginning in late 2022, the service has kept up a steady rhythm of approving awards for the Kabul operation, with monthly boards approving dozens of awards, including close to 200 Distinguished Flying Crosses, including scores of aircrew members who landed at Kabul and dozens of medical and other specialists along for the trip.

Dozens more DFCs and other awards have been approved by the various Air National Guard and Reserve units that also participated in the airlift.

“While long overdue, I am proud to recognize another group of mobility Airmen who accomplished heroic feats two years ago,” said Minihan in announcing the latest round of awards. “There is no clearer evidence that Airmen will always be the magic.”

The awards announced on December 20 were approved at the second of two awards boards held by AMC in November. The two boards together, Wilkinson said, awarded 20 DFCs, six Bronze Stars, 437 Air Medals, and 171 MSMs.

The Kabul airlift evacuated more than 124,000 people out of Afghanistan during Operation Allies Refuge in August 2021, the largest noncombatant air evacuation in U.S. history.

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