TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) --
Maj. Gen. Matthew J. Burger, Air Force Reserve deputy commander, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to four C-17A Globemaster III aircrew members during a ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, April 1.
Three Reserve Airmen assigned to the 349th Air Mobility Wing at Travis AFB, and an active-duty Airman assigned to the 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, were recognized for answering their nation’s call when they helped evacuate Americans and their allies out of Afghanistan during Operation Allies Refuge in August 2021.
During the ceremony, Burger, the former commander of the 349th AMW, presented the medals to Lt. Col. Dominic Calderon, 1st Lt. Kyle Anderson and Master Sgt. Silva Foster, from the 301st Airlift Squadron, and Senior Airman Michael Geller of the 517th Airlift Squadron. Also recognized during the ceremony was Staff Sgt. Dennis Gonzales-Furman, assigned to the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. Gonzales-Furman served as the aircrew’s flying crew chief during their mission in Afghanistan.
The DFC is awarded to officers or enlisted members of the U.S. armed forces who distinguish themselves in combat in support of operations through heroism or extraordinary achievement in combat aviation.
During the ceremony, Burger touched upon the significance of the four Reserve Airmen receiving the honor.
“Within the Reserves, we only have 45 people right now who have received this award,” Burger said. “Only five of those were mobility Airmen. The last time a mobility Airman was awarded this award was in 2004. This is a unique and special, and an extraordinary achievement while conducting flight operations.”
The aircrew was initially only tasked with delivering the 82nd Airborne Division to help secure Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, however the mission changed significantly when the capital fell on Aug. 15, 2021.
The aircrew was immediately forced to assess the heightened risk and adapt to updated orders to evacuate as many people as possible to safety. Calderon, the aircraft commander, and his crew worked tirelessly in unforgiving conditions to ensure the evacuation of 153 U.S. citizens, allied partners and vulnerable Afghans.
For the aircrew, this unique mission tested their training and pushed them to their limits. With a minimally manned aircrew, the Reserve Airmen relied heavily upon their training, personal resilience and Calderon’s leadership to accomplish a Herculean task.
“The conditions that day were like none I had ever seen,” Calderon said a short time after his redeployment from Afghanistan. “The airfield was breached and there were mass crowds entering the airfield. Still, the crew performed well under enormous pressure. I couldn’t be more proud of the way the entire crew operated.”
Calderon had great praise for his crew during the ceremony, and asked Gonzales-Furham, an unsung hero, to join them on stage to also be recognized for his contributions to the success of the mission. Calderon added that if he had a game ball for this mission, he would have given it to Gonzales-Furham.
During and after the ceremony Calderon and his crew shared what receiving the medal meant to them.
“The Distinguished Flying Cross is steeped in flying lore, having been awarded to some of the nation’s greatest aviators. To even be by association compared to those individuals is so incredibly humbling,” Calderon said. “I don’t think anyone of us will be able to put into words what this truly means.”
When you think of the Distinguished Flying Cross, you think of World War II and fighter pilots going into battle, Anderson added.
“So, for us to receive something like this is such an honor,” Anderson said.
“It was an honor to serve alongside such an experienced pilot like Maj. Calderon and a loadmaster like Master Sgt. Foster. It was paramount to our success that evening to have all that knowledge and breadth of experience onboard.”
Foster also shared his crewmate’s sentiment upon receiving the historic award.
“This award for my military career is the biggest honor I ever experienced,” Foster said. “You train for this throughout your entire career and you actually hope this moment never comes up.”
Following the presentation, Col. Jacquelyn Marty, 349th AMW vice commander, reflected on the honor bestowed upon the aircrew.
“This is a special honor for these Airmen and the entire 349th Air Mobility Wing,” Marty said. “Having these three Reserve Citizen Airmen recognized for their extraordinary achievement with this medal has woven them into our enduring history.”