Major Keith Wolak of the 74th Fighter Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, received the Distinguished Flying Cross - presented for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight - for actions in Afghanistan in 2005. He received the honor for a combat search and rescue mission he coordinated July 2, 2005, when he cleared a helicopter landing zone while suppressing the enemy's attacks. The mission was the nighttime rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. Wolak and other Air Force fliers helped a rescue helicopter get in and out safely with Luttrell.
"We really weren't concerned with any surfaced air threat to the fighters out there," Wolak said. "Our concern was getting the rescue helicopters in an area where, just the week before, we lost one helicopter due to surface to air fire. Everything we were doing was basically to protect the guys in helicopters -- getting them in and out."
Flying protection for the rescue helicopter, the lead A-10's equipment failed and could not fly the strafing runs to clear the Taliban/Al Queda positions, Wolak quickly moved into position to shoot at the enemy with his 30mm gun. While coordinating the 17 aircraft in the operation in the 16 square mile air space, in bad weather and low visibility, he put down infrared making on the landing zone to guide the HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicoper. The rescue crew said that landing would have been impossible without Wolak marking the landing zone.
"I feel very proud and very honored and I'll wear this medal with pride," said Maj. Wolak. "I didn't do anything any other combat search and rescue trained A-10 pilot wouldn't have done."