A U.S. Air Force crew was awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal for their swift reaction which saved them from a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) while they were providing an emergency airdrop in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. “I noticed a flash of red behind the plane, but it was only for a second or two,” said Senior Airman David Doran who was aboard the U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft “At the time I wasn’t scared because I didn’t realize it was an RPG, but possibly a flare.” The incident took place in September 2019.
According to the U.S. Air Force press release, the airmen were assigned to the 39th Airlift Squadron aircrew while deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. The nighttime cargo drop was in support of the Afghan National Army forces. They were targeted after they had made the drop and were leaving the area.
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Pilot and aircraft commander Captain Jean-Luc Duckworth did not identify the RPG until after they had safely climbed away. As soon as he realised they were being targeted, Duckworth said his training kicked in. “Since we know the pacing, know the internal dialogue between crew members and know how to expertly execute an airdrop, I, as the pilot, immediately knew the situation of the airdrop load and safe manoeuvring ability of the aircraft once I heard ‘load clear’ from my loadmaster — as is done on each training flight.”
It was a close call, and for this, the crew was awarded the Combat Action Medal which is given to U.S. military personnel who actively participated in either air or ground combat while operating in an unsecured space.