Two Air Force pilots honored with Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism in Afghanistan
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 27, 2019
Two A-10 pilots who came to the rescue of American ground troops under heavy fire a decade ago in Afghanistan have been recognized for their aerial heroics with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Maj. John “Sapper” Tice and Lt. Col. Tony “Crack” Roe were awarded the medals earlier this month during a ceremony at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., home to the 303rd Fighter Squadron.
“Very rarely is the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded,” current squadron commander Lt. Col. Rick Mitchell said during a ceremony attended by 200 people. “Even more rarely is the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded twice in the same day to two members of the exact same fighter squadron.”
Roe was awarded the medal for a third time, for a 2008 operation that began at Bagram Airfield and supported a resupply convoy in a mountainous area southeast of the base, the Air Force said.
During the flight, Roe made radio contact with the Army commander of a platoon whose vehicles were disabled after being hit with rocket-propelled grenades, an Air Force account of the battle said.
Without a joint terminal attack controller on the ground to guide airstrikes, Roe was forced to declare a risky “emergency close air support” situation and ordered ground troops to take cover inside their vehicles.
Retired Brig. Gen. James Mackey, a former 303rd pilot and Roe’s wingman that day, described a confusing battlefield in which it was a struggle to determine friendly forces from enemies.
At one point, a smoke grenade landed on the hillside and rolled down next to the soldiers engaged with the enemy.
“Next thing we hear is, ‘do not shoot that smoke.’ We figured that out,” Mackey said during the ceremony. “A second mark goes up about two-thirds up the ridge line — that’s our target.”
Roe made his first pass with the A-10’s gun, but the 30 mm rounds missed because of a weapons system error, the Air Force said. On the next pass, Roe manually adjusted the system to get the elevation right and fired seven rockets, hitting the enemy about 130 feet from the friendly forces, Mackey said.
“The extensive, deadly firefight lasted over an hour and Roe’s precise, timely and accurate firepower saved the lives of 16 U.S. Army members,” the Air Force statement said. “Before the pilots arrived, they were down to their last clip of ammunition with plans to charge the hill.”
Tice was awarded for a Dec. 2, 2010, mission that began at Kandahar Airfield in support of two Special Forces teams who were guarding Army engineers building a bridge in an area thick with Taliban fighters.
On the sortie, Tice saw a Taliban fighter who was scouting the U.S. troops, which enabled ground forces to “quickly neutralize the threat with internal assets.”
After that, the Taliban launched an ambush with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and small-arms fire.
“Within seconds, the fierce battle intensified,” the medal citation said. “Without any hesitation, Tice descended into the tactical effective range of the small-arms fire.”
Tice performed six low-altitude passes, hitting Taliban fighters at four different fighting positions. He fired 1,140 rounds from the A-10’s gun, the Air Force said.
“As a result, he eliminated 32 enemy combatants with zero casualties to coalition forces, and saved the lives of 50 U.S. Marines, 24 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and one U.S. Air Force airman,” the Air Force said.
Col. Mike Schultz, commander of the 442nd Fighter Wing, lauded his fellow airmen before he pinned the medal on Tice.
“I’m humbled to be amongst these two,” Schultz said. “I don’t feel quite adequate for even touching the medal. It’s that big of a deal.”
Retired Brig. Gen. Jim Mackey presents the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor citation to Lt. Col. Anthony Roe, a flight commander with the 303rd Fighter Squadron, during a ceremony at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., in November of 2019. Mackey and Roe deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and flew the mission together that earned Roe his third Distinguished Flying Cross.
ALEX CHASE/U.S. AIR FORCE