Valor in flight.
To keep the soldiers safe, the flight had to fly extremely low to the ground and employ weapons, all while avoiding hitting their own countrymen. They made 15 passes over a two-hour period until the enemy retreated. Their efforts saved lives and enabled the wounded to be taken to hospitals for treatment.
Word spread quickly among the enemy--an American Army route clearance company of a dozen vehicles had broken down. The lead vehicle had slid off a highway into a ravine in a remote region of Afghanistan. Pulling the vehicle free required the soldiers to set up an overnight encampment.
Dozens of enemy combatants poured in throughout the night and at dawn they pounced on the 60 stranded U.S. soldiers with a barrage of gunfire from a nearby tree line.
The first rounds of enemy fire critically wounded three soldiers and forced the others to take cover behind their vehicles. A desperate radio call for air support went out, and two Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt pilots flew to the rescue. Upon arrival, Capt. Osterreicher quickly declared an emergency close air support event. He also found that there was not a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) present with the route clearance company, who normally would assist the A-10s in employing their weapons on the enemy and provide additional situational awareness.
It turned out to be far from easy. Some seven months later and half a world away from the dangers, Capt. Ian R. Osterreicher, a 2003 graduate of Williamsville East High School, was rewarded for his actions with one of the Air Force's highest honors, the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented by Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga.
A member of the 23rd Fighter Group, part of the famed "Flying Tigers" at Moody, Osterreicher was thrilled to receive the award, one of several he has earned, but told his parents that he did not believe he had done anything exceptional.
"My son told us he was doing what he was trained to do, but the fact is he and another pilot saved the lives of 60 soldiers that day," said Mickey Osterreicher, Ian's father, who attended the ceremony along with Ian's mother, Julia White, finance Nicole, and Ian's sisters, Elena Trapp and Hope White.
According to an Air Force account of the July 23 actions, the two pilots stationed at Bagram Air Base were already airborne when they received the call for help and were able to quickly locate the pinned-down patrol.
One of the combat jets flew above the enemy in a show of force, but the enemy was unimpressed and continued to advance on the soldiers, despite a further show of might, and a shower of 30-millimeter cannon fire from the A-10s, nicknamed the "Warthog."
Osterreicher and his wingman realized the situation was worsening as the enemy forces moved in, apparently aware that if they positioned themselves close enough, the pilots might not risk shooting for fear of harming Americans.
But with the enemy now within grenade-lobbing distance of the convoy, the ground commander granted the pilots permission to engage in "danger-close" aerial combat.
Flying in at 75 feet above the enemy's position, Capts Osterreicher and Bagby could clearly see the enemy and fired relentlessly during 15 gun runs over the course of two hours. Five rockets, three bombs, and 2,170 rounds of 30 millimeter were expended on the enemy. Many of the 30 millimeter strafing runs were within 50 meters of friendly positions.
The pilots' aim was so precise that no U.S. soldiers were harmed by friendly fire and, at last, the enemy retreated while Capt. Osterreicher coordinated a helicopter evacuation for the wounded soldiers.
Afghan army soldiers later returned to the battle scene and found the bodies of 18 enemy combatants. Dozens more were believed to have survived and fled.
Capts Osterreicher and Bagby, after being debriefed, visited the hospital at Bagram Air Base and met with one of the wounded soldiers, who expressed his gratitude.
"Thank you for shooting those bad guys," the soldier said.
I was the JTAC located at Forward Operating Base Airborne just east of the convoy location. As the only Air Force guy with this company, they look to us to protect them and trust that we will always be there for them. Three minutes after my initial request for aircraft after being told we had Troops in Contact (TIC), I was relieved to hear the A-10s checking in to support. In a situation like this there is no better platform in the world. I truly believe that had any other platform responded to my call we would have lost many soldiers that day. I immediately passed them the friendly location and informed them that they were taking fire 150 meters to their south and had them immediately set up for gun runs. The lead pilot requested to do a low "show of force" pass first because, in most cases, once the enemy heard and saw aircraft they would break contact. As lead performed his pass, his wingman reported seeing a lot of muzzle flashes in the tree line and we immediately began gun and rocket runs on the enemy force. When the convoy returned the guys had told me that the gun runs were so close to friendly position that trees as big as six inches around were snapping off and landing in their gun turrets. After the entire engagement was complete and the A-10s returned to base, the pilots immediately called me on the phone and said they were heading over to the hospital to see the wounded soldiers. As if they had not just done enough for everyone the fact that they went right over to the hospital to see these young men speaks volumes about the type of people both Capt. Ian Osterreicher and Capt. Ryan Bagby are. Five months later after we finished our nine-month deployment, I joined up with the company's soldiers at a military ball in Savannah, Georgia. I had young soldiers come up to me with their wives and shake my hand and say,
"It's because of you, and the A-10 pilots that I got to come home to my wife ...' There's no better feeling in the world!
Staff Sgt. Kyle Terry