Continuing excellence: Misawa pilots again claim Mackay Trophy
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- In the midst of firefight with the last significant holdout of Islamic State enemy personnel in Hassekah, Syria, friendly Kurdish ground units were pinned to a dense urban city block, halting them from securing the Syria and Turkey border, July 26, 2015.
The crews of WEASEL 41 and WEASEL 51 expertly coordinated and employed several successful munitions despite weather, limited communications and highly restrictive attack parameters, resulting with no civilian casualties and friendly Kurdish retaking 17 thousand square kilometers of territory and securing the border between Iraq and the Euphrates River.
The heroic actions of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Cohen, Maj. Seth Taylor, Capt. Danielle Kangas and Capt. Mathew Park, then assigned to the 14th Expeditionary Squadron, marked the end of a three-month operation in Northern Syria, earning them the 2015 Mackay Trophy, presented during a National Aeronautic Association ceremony, Dec. 8 in Arlington, Virginia.
“I am humbled and honored to have been a part of the mission and to have our names added to the Mackay Trophy, but what I am most proud of is the knowledge the 14th Fighter Squadron instilled in me and the team,” said Maj. Seth Taylor, now the 35th Operations Support Squadron wing weapons flight command and chief of current operations. “If any other 14th FS pilots had been put in the same circumstances, they would have given 100 percent effort and tried their hardest to win no matter what obstacles they encountered.”
At the time, Taylor was a wingman to Lt. Col. Jeffrey Cohen, who was piloting WEASEL 41. Both of them coordinated with joint terminal attack controllers to identify targets and conduct airstrikes with minimal damage to civilians or friendly Kurdish ground units. Cohen is now the Air Combat Command Inspector General operations branch chief at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
“When I accomplish missions like this one, I think of pride,” said Cohen. “Not in myself, but in all members of the team who made this sortie, and over 1,600 others like them, happen. From the operations support to the aircraft maintenance professionals and finally to Maj. Taylor, Capt. Kangas and Capt. Park. They made this mission successful, and I have great pride in being a part of the team and the only Air Force in the world that holds any target at risk at anytime, anywhere on earth.”
The Mackay Trophy, first presented by Clarence Mackay in 1912, was later deeded to the National Aeronautic Association. Administered by the U.S. Air Force and NAA, the trophy is awarded for the "most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons, or organization." This was the second year in a row 35th Fighter Wing pilots earned the title of this prestigious award.
Although the goal of accomplishing minimal causalities was reached for these pilots, it did not come easy. Each of them encountered a list of barriers making the mission even harder to achieve.
“Poor weather conditions and satellite communications were target complications we saw most of our deployment,” said Capt. Danielle Kangas, now a 64th Aggressor Squadron assistant chief of training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “It required us to modify our orbit over the target area in order to hear the JTACs giving us our clearance to drop air support.”
For Capt. Mathew Park, now the 14th Fighter Squadron training officer, he explained how these conditions were routinely battled during this deployment.
“During our time there, I did the best I could every day even with the circumstances we encountered daily,” said Park. “We treated the mission no differently than others we accomplished during our rotation. The Air Force has a lot of assets, capabilities and people requiring close coordination to be effective, but when implemented, I am so impressed with everything we can achieve as a team.”
Col. Bill Bowman, the 35th Operations Group commander, said it is no surprise that members from the 35th Fighter Wing claimed this trophy for the second year in a row. The pilots here train to be the best and to flourish under the strains of combat; they truly embody the qualities of outstanding Airmen and aviators.
“Receiving this trophy is just another example of how men and women from the 35th Fighter Wing exemplify dedication, professionalism, airmanship and bravery,” said Bowman. “I am proud of all the Samurai Airmen who were a part of this successful combat mission. They showcased the talent and fortitude rooted in all of Misawa's Wild Weasels."