1990's -- Technical Sgt. Tim Wilkinson received the Air Force Cross for his heroic actions in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. His mission was supporting Task Force Ranger during an 15-hour firefight, the longest sustained firefight by U.S. forces since the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo)
1990's -- HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Master Sgt. Tim Wilkinson retired from the Air Force July 2001. He was assigned to the 720th Special Tactics Group, Hurlburt Field, Fla., as the superintendent of the personnel recovery. In 1993, he was awarded the Air Force Cross for actions in Somalia. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Tech. Sgt. Tim Wilkinson was a recipient of the Air Force Cross for his heroic actions in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. His mission was supporting Task Force Ranger during an 15-hour firefight, the longest sustained firefight by U.S. forces since the Vietnam War. He became the first enlisted person to earn the Air Force Cross since 1975.
Wilkinson was part of a 15-man combat search and rescue team to get the crews out after Somalian clan militia shot down two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. The mission was originally a quick snatch and grab to capture henchmen of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
On the ground, Wilkinson and a fellow pararescueman, who had been wounded set, about treating and recovering the downed helicopter crew. Small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades crisscrossed the streets. As Rangers kept the militia at bay, Wilkinson raced through the fury to retrieve wounded and dead American soldiers. Even when shrapnel tore a chunk of skin off his face, Wilkinson did not falter.
"I learned then that life is a matter of millimeters and nanoseconds. If my head was turned a different way, I might be dead," said Wilkinson or "Wilky" to his friends. "Fortunately, all the bullets missed me, and my scars healed up nice."
As gunfire turned the city's streets into a shooting gallery, Wilkinson continued to risk his life to retrieve fallen comrades. When supplies and ammunition dwindled, he zipped outdoors to retrieve airdropped supplies. Reinforcements finally cut through the resistance to evacuate the task force.
He was born in Corry, Penn., December 1957, and graduated from high school in 1976. He attended Northern Virginia Community College and Old Dominion University to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.
Wilkinson enlisted in the Air Force April 8, 1981. He completed technical school training at Chanute Air Force Base, Ill., and was named honor graduate of his missile systems class. Selected for instructor duty with the 3360th Technical Training Group at Chanute, he was awarded a master instructor rating.
Wilkinson retrained into the pararescue career field in 1985 and was named honor graduate of Pararescue Specialist Course at Kirkland AFB, N.M. A frequent participant in numerous theater exercises and search and rescue operations, he was credited with eight lifesaving efforts including the rescue of survivors from an aircraft crash on Mount Spur, Alaska.
After successfully completing the 24th Special Tactics Squadron operator selection course in October 1988, he was assigned to Pope Air Force Base, N.C., in January 1989. He served as a key tactical operator and planner in support of numerous joint special operations exercises and contingency operations to include operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, United Nations Operations in Somalia and Uphold Democracy.
In his last assignment, he was assigned to the 720th Special Tactics Group, Hurlburt Field, Fla., as the superintendent of the personnel recovery. Wilkinson holds an associate's degree in survival and rescue from the Community College of the Air Force.
His awards include the Air Force Cross, Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Joint Services Commendation Medal and the Air Force Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster.
Along with earning the Air Force Cross, the pararescueman, or PJ, also earned the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in the Somalia battle and the 1994 recipient of the Air Force Sergeants Association Pitsenbarger Award for heroism. He was named the 1994 Air Force Special Operations Commands NCO of the Year; and subsequently named one of the Air Force 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. He retired from active duty as a master sergeant in July 2001.
Sources compiled from Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Force News Agency.