Lives on the Line
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
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
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
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,"
Read the full story by Staff Sgt. John Wright,
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
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)