Members of a C-130J Super Hercules flight crew who escaped enemy fire after their senior loadmaster was wounded over Afghanistan last year received the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals at a May 10 ceremony.

Airmen from the 61st Airlift Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, were flying to an undisclosed operating location in support of a quick-reaction force deployed to the Middle East when their C-130J came under small-arms fire, the Air Force said in a release.

Onboard were pilots Maj. Christopher Richardson and 1st Lt. Christian Grochowski, loadmasters Senior Airman Dimitrious Carden and Staff Sgt. Jade Morin, and a team of combat controllers.

Their unnamed assailants fired multiple rounds at the aircraft, Morin told Air Force Times on Thursday. While she was standing watch at a window, as loadmasters do to scan for incoming fire, one round broke the window and pelted her in the head with shrapnel. Others aboard the C-130J treated Morin’s wounds.

Enemy fire broke a window on a C-130J Super Hercules airlift plane, injuring Staff Sgt. Jade Morin, during a mission in Afghanistan on Sept. 19, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Jade Morin)

In the cockpit, Richardson decided to approach the forward operating base again, but the plane’s flight controls malfunctioned. Rather than try to land, the airmen brought the C-130J back to Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield.

At Bagram, another Super Hercules with extra crew members geared up to fill in for the returned plane.

“I told them we were on our way back with a problem and the whole squadron jumped into action,” Richardson said in the release. “After we landed, another plane was loaded, prepped and ready.”

Briefed and ready to go, the airmen turned back toward the danger to finish the mission. Morin was taken to a hospital.

The incident has earned the aircrew multiple honors. Morin received the Purple Heart in Afghanistan later the same month; she has undergone two surgeries and is not cleared to fly. In December, Morin said, the airmen were presented with Army Combat Action Badges — a recognition of engagement with enemy forces during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Richardson received the DFC for “heroism or extraordinary achievement” during a combat flight, according to the Air Force. Morin, Carden and Grochowski earned the Air Medal for “single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements” in combat flight.

“As aviators, we put a lot of time and effort into making sure everything goes as planned,” Richardson said in the release. “Sometimes that isn’t how it works out.”

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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