CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
The Cannon military flying community, leaders, family and local supporters gathered at Hanger 196 to recognize a group of heroes who risked their lives in combat late last year to save the lives of others, Oct. 16.
Captain Jonathan D. Seagle, Capt. John F. Vandenbemden, Staff Sgt. Spencer J. Seymore and Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Teel, all from the 20th Special Operations Squadron, received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with Valor from Lt. Gen Bradley Heithold, U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command commander for their rapid airpower response to an enemy attack on American forces Dec. 5, 2014.
"On the night of Dec. 5th we got an opportunity to display the full capability of the 20th Special Operations Squadron, and we did,” said Heithold. “I am humbled to share this stage with these fine Air Commandos.”
While deployed, the CV-22 crew responded to a special operations assault force that had come under heavy fire from enemy combatants. Their timely actions led to the successful evacuation of critically wounded ground personnel.
According to the citation, Seagle and Vandenbemden quickly identified access and exit routes and plotted potential unplanned landing zones in the area. Undeterred by the intensity of enemy and friendly fires, Seagle and Vandenbemden identified the special operations team, cleared the landing zone and provided critical radio approach calls that led to flawless execution of an extremely difficult, 80-foot restricted-visibility landing.
At the same time, Teel analyzed the aircraft’s systems and quickly determined that the CV-22 would be overweight, which would jeopardize the mission. He immediately initiated dumping procedures to ensure they had adequate power for a safe approach and takeoff. Meanwhile, Seymore manned the .50 caliber weapons system while ensuring safety and providing approach calls for a successful dust out landing. Once on the ground, Seymore departed the aircraft, exposing himself to enemy fire in order to aid in loading the critically wounded.
"This is a great honor,” said Seagle. “Any member of the 20th would have done the exact same thing. We are all very humbled.”
The crew ensured all patients were securely loaded despite receiving distress calls that they were taking direct fire from the enemy, according to the citation. During their flight from the objective, they continued to perform evasive maneuvers, using the terrain for cover, which enabled them to safely depart the area.
Once clear of danger, the crew coordinated critical aerial refueling to guarantee the safe transport of the wounded to a U. S. Navy vessel for immediate surgery. Upon reaching the vessel, they achieved a first: performing a CV-22 shipboard contingency landing.
“The individual and team efforts of this crew speak to the superb qualities and character of our Air Commandos,” said Col. Ben Maitre, 27th Special Operations Wing commander. “Their actions and ensuing recognition today make this a great moment for the 20th SOS and for Cannon Air Force Base.”
Editor’s note: Congress authorized the Distinguished Flying Cross July 2, 1926, to award any U.S. military member who exhibits heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial fight against an enemy of the United States. The Air Medal was authorized May 11, 1942, to award anyone who, while serving in any capacity in or with U.S. Armed Forces, distinguishes himself or herself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.