The Taliban had more men. They had guns and rocket-propelled grenades. They were surrounding the American force opposing them and lobbing hand grenades at them from a few feet away.
Then came a Georgia-born man from Oklahoma.
As a result of his work in Afghanistan on April 30, 2018, Lt. Col. Michael Coloney of Tulsa, an F-16 fighter pilot with the Oklahoma Air National Guard, recently received the Distinguished Flying Cross, America’s fourth-highest award for combat valor, according to Task & Purpose.
During the award ceremony, Col. Ryan Jones quoted the ground commander of the U.S. forces, who said that if “Coloney had not executed his F-16 strikes flawlessly and decisively, more friendly lives would have certainly been lost.”
Jones said the nature of the fight was shown by the fact that “the amount of ordnance expended on this one particular deployment alone eclipsed all combined weapons employment events over the preceding 11 combat deployments” for the 125th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
On April 29, 2018, 53 US and Afghan troops were surrounded and pinned down in a village by 80 Taliban fighters.
LtCol Coloney, an F-16 pilot, provided close air support for 5 hours, preventing disaster https://t.co/4cymYEHLB9
— Task & Purpose (@TaskandPurpose) December 12, 2021
When Coloney received a call for support, “Friendly forces were completely surrounded and started taking fire from all sides,” Jones said. “The compound developed into an intense troops-in-contact situation.”
Coloney began by making a few passes over the field of battle to understand the fighting.
Then came the 20mm Vulcan cannons, delivered from a high angle to avoid hitting his own troops. Coloney and his wingman then dropped 500-pound GBU-38 bombs on the attackers.
But the job was not done. Eight wounded soldiers needed to be evacuated, but enemy fire was too intense to send in helicopters. Air support helicopters and other assets had arrived but needed to be managed to ensure success.
“Each attack brought great stress and discomfort in keeping track of the dynamic nature of the situation,” Jones said.
Although the day ended with the death of one American, and 11 others were wounded, the toll would have been vastly higher without Coloney’s skill during five hours of combat, Jones said.
“The level of difficulty is hard to explain unless you’ve been there,” said retired Lt. Gen Harry Wyatt III, past director of the Air National Guard, who spoke at the ceremony.
“The intensity of the fight that he was involved in is hard to understand. … I couldn’t help but feel my heartbeat speed up a little bit … start sweating down the middle of my back because that’s probably what he was doing that day too,” Wyatt said.
Brig. Gen. Derek O’Malley, who commanded the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing in the final months of the U.S. deployment to Afghanistan, said Coloney juggled an immense weight successfully.
“Understanding the ground force commander’s intent, while keeping track of friendly positions in a dynamic firefight and striking with surgical precision so that you don’t hurt any of the friendlies on the ground, is really hard” during a five-hour fight, O’Malley said.
Coloney noted that he was part of a team.
“It takes hours of maintenance to have these jets ready for combat power at a moment’s notice, let alone to cover the air over Afghanistan 24 hours a day for 90 days straight,” he said, according to Task & Purpose. “We flew a year’s worth of flying in those 90 days with half the jets we normally have.
“Thank the Lord for keeping us safe.”
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