Two A-10 Warthog pilots received the Distinguished Flying Cross on May 23 at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, for their actions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve’s mission to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Maj. Matthew “Chowder” Cichowski and Capt. William “Archer” Dana, both from the 74th Fighter Squadron, were awarded the medals for two separate engagements that occurred while they were flying combat missions from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
Those missions protected Syrian Democratic Forces and embedded allies as they waged war from the ground, according to an Air Combat Command press release.
The DFC is awarded to individuals who distinguish themselves in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.
Capt. William “Archer” Dana’s flight
The first engagement occurred on Aug. 14, when Dana and his wingman were alerted by a joint terminal attack controller that enemy forces had breached friendly lines in eight locations and inflicted multiple casualties.
“As soon as we checked in, there was an immediate need for support,” Dana said. “There was a sense of urgency felt. I needed to get out there quickly because good guys were dying.”
Over the course of the next three hours, Dana dropped 11,000 pounds of ordnance, killed 37 enemy fighters and destroyed 10 defensive fighting positions.
Low on fuel and munitions — and with pro-Syrian regime aircraft tracking his movements — Dana decided to conduct one more strike on enemy fighters holed up in a four-story building. They had been attacking friendlies from only 30 meters away.
“At the point of weapons release, I trusted my training,” Dana said.
Dana’s bomb was within “danger close” distance, meaning there was a chance friendlies could be injured due to their proximity to the target.
“I had to account for the wind, because that affects where the ordnance drops, and with friendlies being that close, I wanted to take responsibility for everything,” Dana said. “This is my weapon from my jet and the effects are on me.”
The weapon hit its target and silenced the enemy without any friendly casualties.
Throughout the squadron’s deployment, the Warthog pilots watched the enemies’ control of the region recede.
Maj. Matthew “Chowder” Cichowski’s flight
Roughly six months later, Cichowski, too, would find himself providing life-saving support to ground forces.
On Jan. 9, he was flying a routine combat patrol when he and his wingman were called upon by another JTAC to provide close air support for friendlies under fire. The sortie dodged “accurate surface-to-air fire” as they maneuvered to strike enemy forces that outnumbered friendlies three-to-one.
“We’d been diving a lot and had already been shot at once,” Cichowski said. “We started to realize this is a coordinated attack and not a random fight like we originally thought. At this point, neither of us were strangers to combat with friendlies close. We knew what to do and how to correctly do it.”
With the help of the JTAC on the ground, as well as an unmanned drone overhead, Cichowski was able to find 25 enemy fighters 150 meters from the friendly troops’ positions. He dropped a 2,000-pound bomb with a guidance kit on them, and immediately began strafing with his 30mm cannon.
Despite receiving a barrage of anti-aircraft artillery, Cichowski escaped unscathed while also “thwarting the largest coordinated attack of enemy fighters seen in that region without a single friendly loss,” according to Air Combat Command.
“For this, Cichowski was awarded the DFC with valor, which is a distinction given to those who earn the DFC while engaged in direct combat with exposure to enemy hostilities and personal risk,” the Air Combat Command press release reads.
By the time the two airmen returned to Moody Air Force Base, the Syrian Democratic Forces were able to take back most of their region and the major cities had been liberated.
“It’s unbelievable to get a mission like this and to see the enemies’ control of the area shrink each week,” Dana said. “The sense of pride I have to effect the fight the way we did leaves me at a loss for words. None of us could do this without our wingmen, JTACs and the RPAs. The trust and information flowing through the entire CAS team ensures we get the job done right.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.