Pilot receives distinguished honors

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Maj. William Mendel, 20th Special Operations Squadron pilot, received the Distinguished Flying Cross on May 15 at Cannon Air Force Base for heroic actions displayed as his aircraft came under heavy and effective gunfire from ground forces while attempting to evacuate American citizens from a populated United Nations compound.

He successfully maneuvered his aircraft away from the weapons’ engagement zone and immediately conducted a battle damage assessment.

His aircraft sustained severe damage, including ruptured fuel tanks, complete loss of the largest hydraulic system and an inoperable emergency lubrication system. He determined the aircraft required immediate emergency air refueling in order to divert outside the conflict area.

Mendel directed the crew through emergency actions, including manually extending the refueling probe following the loss of hydraulic control. His extensive systems knowledge enabled the crew to isolate the most damaged fuel tanks, slowing leaking from the aircraft, thus preventing a forced landing in the conflict zone.

En-route to the divert field, he coordinated with the pararescue team on his aircraft for support to four critically wounded personnel on the formation's lead aircraft. Because of his actions, the team was able to start a mobile blood bank, making life-saving blood transfusions available for the wounded upon arrival in Uganda.

He was responsible for safely recovering four crewmembers, nine passengers and his aircraft despite heavy odds against success, and he contributed to saving the lives of four critically wounded servicemembers on the lead CV-22 aircraft.

His heroics that day earned high praise from his peers and commanders, and thus he was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal created in 1918 to reward those who display heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight. He became the 79th Airman under Air Force Special Operations Command to receive the honor.

Nearly a century later, the tradition of professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Maj. Mendel continues, and reflects great credit not only upon the U.S. Air Force, but to the man himself who saved 13 lives, a number that he will never forget.

“I don’t know who we prayed to that day,” Mendel said. “I can only remember bits and pieces of the whole thing. It’s like a blur; but we all made it out alive, and I’m very thankful for that.”