Lives on the Line

Captain Larkin, Mackay Trophy Recipient

In the call of duty, servicemembers perform acts of bravery on a daily basis. One such airman is Capt. Leigh “Breaker” Larkin, an Ohio native who earned the 2010 Mackay Trophy for her bravery in Afghanistan.

Captain Larkin, one of four pilots taking part in a combat mission known as “Dude Flight,” took off to support troops in contact with the enemy in Bala Morghab, Afghanistan. The coalition ground forces were ambushed and experiencing casualties as they reached the head of the town they were to clear of Taliban fighters.

When a force dispatched to help the ground troops was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) the joint terminal attack controller requested a flyover from Dude Flight, as a show of force to the Taliban fighters.

After realizing that dropping ordnance wasn’t an option in the heavily populated area, Captain Larkin studied the terrain, and instead used terrain-following radar to help guide the pilots through the best possible flyover route. Their show of force bought the troops on the ground some valuable time and interrupted enemy operations, though only temporarily.

The Taliban fighters were again targeting the ground forces, even more intensely now, as they surrounded the coalition troops, who were outnumbered and low on ammo.

Weather had rendered standard target identification methods useless, so Captain Larkin and the Dude Flight pilots used air-to-ground radar to determine the exact location of the coalition troops relative to the Taliban fighters. They were a mere 190 meters apart; one misplaced weapon could easily kill their own troops.

Captain Larkin used satellite radio to reach Combined Air and Space Operations Center and described the activities and terrain on the ground, working to find the best placement for ordnance to be dropped to avoid coalition casualties. Dude Flight was cleared and the F-15s dropped six joint direct attack munitions- more than three tons of ordnance.

The bombs all impacted their targets with precision, and the Taliban fighters were forced to draw back and abandoned the town. More than 80 Taliban insurgents were killed that day, and approximately 30 coalition troops were saved, making the mission a success.

Captain Larkin said the main thing on her mind that day was making sure the guys on the ground lived to fight another day.
"Did the guys make it home safe? How are they doing," Capt. Larkin asked herself. "My emotions were a combination of thrill that we did everything right and stress that the soldiers on the ground were still outside the wire."

The Mackay Trophy is administered by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association and is awarded yearly by the U.S. Air Force for the "most meritorious flight of the year" by an Air Force person, persons, or organization.

On winning the award, Capt. Larkin was humbled and credited the success of the mission to the joint forces command. "Winning the award recognizes a small sliver of this war where all the assets, surface, air and space, smoothly worked together and conquered," she said.


Read the full story by Staff Sgt. John Wright,
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Bagram Airman selected as 2010 Mackay Trophy recipient


Photo caption: BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Capt. Leigh “Breaker” Larkin, a weapons system officer from the 389th Fighter Squadron here, was recently named one of four Airmen to receive the 2010 Mackay Trophy for her part in a combat mission near Turkmenistan April 6, 2010. The award is administered by the United States National Aeronautic Association and is awarded yearly by the United States Air Force for the "most meritorious flight of the year" by an Air Force person, persons, or organization. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago)