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Brave pilot keeps crew safe during hostile flight

Brave pilot keeps crew safe during hostile flight

U.S. Air Force Capt. Mark King Jr., 39th Airlift Squadron assistant chief of tactics and C-130J Super Hercules pilot, centered, poses with his aircrew after an airdrop in Afghanistan during the summer of 2018. King was awarded the U.S. Air Force Exceptional Aviator Award for his efforts and leadership during an airdrop in a hostile environment while deployed. (Courtesy photo)

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Capt. Mark King Jr., 39th Airlift Squadron assistant chief of tactics and C-130J Super Hercules pilot, received the U.S. Air Force Exceptional Aviator Award in August 2019 at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.

The award is presented annually to an aviator selected by the USAF, based on exceptional deeds performed to assure mission success, acts of valor as an aviator, or an extraordinary display of courage or leadership in the air in support of air operations.

King displayed many of these qualities during a deployment in Afghanistan last summer with his crew.

“We were tasked to supply an Afghan National Army camp that was going to be overrun by the Taliban,” said King. “The camp was low on fuel, so they would not be able to escape the area with the resources they were currently working with.”

During this situation, King worked as the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron chief of tactics and was quick to analyze the situation and come up with a strategic plan. This would help ensure the crews were able to get in as quickly and safely as possible within the amount of time allotted.

After working with other Airmen, leaders and intelligence, it was time to execute the mission. The number of heavily armed Taliban continued to grow to approximately 1,000 troops and the situation was becoming dire as the Taliban continued to travel closer to the camp that was awaiting the airdrop.

“As we were getting ready to depart, I was told this was going to be a no fail mission and we were only going to be allowed one pass due to the threat picture,” said King. “It was imperative we got the 17,000 lbs. of fuel to our coalition partners.”

Not only did the crew face the challenges of a one-time pass with potential threat to their aircraft, but weather was also not on their side that night.

“We had a 100% illumination night with clear skies,” said King. “What this meant was the moon was full and was very bright that night. Not only did it allow us to see everything on the ground, but this also allowed the enemy on the ground to see us.”

About 10 seconds before the drop, the plane was illuminated by spotlights and lasers from the left side as the enemy tried to blindside the pilots and crew to prevent them from dropping. Luckily, with no reports of surface to air fire from the Taliban, the crew was able to successfully deliver the much needed fuel for the awaiting camp below.

“I have the utmost respect and confidence in them,” said Senior Airman Nolan Brandt, 39th AS aircraft loadmaster, regarding King and his co-pilot. “They are amazing pilots and I never had a single doubt in my mind during the mission.”

After refueling, the Afghan National Army was able to retreat from the camp before the Taliban could arrive to overrun them.

“That airdrop was nothing special to me,” said King. “Just because there was roughly 1,000 Taliban, it doesn’t mean anything. We have crews here from Dyess that go every day to execute those kinds of missions, if not even more complicated ones. This is why I have complete faith in my crew and believe I could go anywhere with them to complete any mission.”

King continued on, stating the training he receives and the “Herk” community has given him the skills and knowledge to execute missions without fail.