MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Eleven F-16 pilots from the 35th Fighter Wing’s 14th Fighter Squadron have earned more than 20 decorations for their recent exploits over Iraq.

Deployed in Southwest Asia, the squadron’s “Wild Weasels” initially supported Operation Southern Watch over Iraq’s southern U.N.-mandated no-fly zones below the 33rd parallel.

That commitment ended March 21 when operations shifted to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the offensive effort throughout Iraq.

Capts. Jason Plourde and Melissa May each received the Air Medal and Aerial Achievement medal during a commander’s call ceremony here July 18, according to the base’s Northern Light newspaper.

Plourde earned a fifth oak leaf cluster to his Air Medal and a second cluster to his Aerial Achievement Medal while also receiving the Air Force Commendation Medal, according to the report.

May also picked up the Air Force Achievement Medal.

They were cited for sustained aerial achievement in combat during the five months the 14th Fighting Samurai squadron was deployed.

On several missions, Plourde told the Northern Light that ground-based troops directed him to targets.

“I received immediate feedback from him when the bombs hit their intended target,” he said in the paper. “Just by hearing his voice, I knew I made a difference.”

May flew more than 50 sorties during her deployment, according to the report, including missions on the first night of Iraqi Freedom attacks.

She lauded the squadron’s leadership and training for their success.

“Our excellent training, our adherence to high standards, and our squadron leadership contributed,” she told the Northern Light. “Out there, we could focus on our primary duty — flying. We didn’t have to worry about all the ‘other’ office duties like we do back home.”

While the 14th Squadron detachment featured just 17 pilots during the deployment, the paper quoted Air Force officials as saying it was a seasoned cast.

“When hostilities started, our squadron had already flown almost four months over Iraq,” Plourde told the paper. “We all had become experts on the Iraqi geography, the surface and air threats, their tactics and the flying conditions.”

The Samurai flew nearly 750 sorties totaling about 3,700 hours before returning to Japan on April 24, Air Force officials said earlier.

The Northern Light also cited other pilots as receiving decorations: Maj. John Oh, Aerial Achievement Medal with first cluster; Capt. Paul Steinport, Air Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal and Air Force Commendation Medal; Capt. Benjamin Price, Aerial Achievement Medal, Air Medal with first cluster; and Capt. Eric Puels, Air Medal with first cluster and Aerial Achievement Medal.

Capt. Brian Storck earned the Air Medal with second cluster and Aerial Achievement Medal; Capt. Michael Edwards, Air Medal with first cluster and Aerial Achievement Medal, Capt. James Maxwell, Air Medal with first cluster, Capt. Kris Padilla, Air Medal and first cluster, and 1st Lt. Charles Carter, the Air Force Commendation Medal.

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