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Air Commando earns Distinguished Flying Cross

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tenley Long
  • 352d Special Operations Wing

A 7th Special Operations Special Mission Aviator was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross last Friday, June 2, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant James M. McKay was decorated for his actions during an urgent evacuation of American citizens in Africa on December 21, 2013.   While attempting the evacuation, the flight of three CV-22 Ospreys was targeted and hit multiple times by surface-to-air fire from ground forces.   

Due to his courageous actions that followed, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. James M. McKay became the 80th Airman in Air Force Special Operations Command to receive this honor, a medal created in 1918 to reward those who display heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight. 

"It's awesome to see one of our special mission aviators receive this honor," said Lt. Col. Sean Brammerhogan, 7th SOS director of operations.  "Too often, the service they give to our country goes unrecognized."

During the engagement, McKay identified threats and directed maneuvers that ensured successful clearance of the weapons engagement zone. Without hesitation, he conducted a thorough assessment of the aircraft’s systems, discovering severe impairment including ruptured fuel tanks, flight control deterioration, inoperable emergency liberation system and loss of the largest hydraulics system on the aircraft. 

Extensive system knowledge allowed McKay to uncover the need for immediate emergency air refueling and enabled the crew to isolate the worst hit fuel tanks, slowing leaks in aircraft and preventing a forced landing on the front line of the South Sudan civil war.

Following the refueling, he calmly stepped through the remainder of the emergency checklist and prepared the aircraft for landing in Uganda. His actions and knowledge relieved unnecessary burden on the pilots and allowed the rest of the crew to focus on coordinating support for four critically wounded personnel on the formation’s lead aircraft.

Despite all odds, according to the award’s citation, his actions led to a safe recovery of four crew members, nine passengers and his aircraft. The professional proficiency, aerial skill and commitment to duty displayed by McKay reflect great credit not only upon himself, but to the U.S. Air Force. 

“We have to always be prepared for the unexpected, not only physically, but mentally as well. If things get out of control, what’s going to distinguish your actions from others is clearing your mind and allowing yourself to think it out,” McKay explained. “I’m humbled and honored to be a part of the AFSOC community, and I’m proud to have a big win for our community.”