Salutes & Awards

November 15, 2013

Fighter pilot goes above, beyond call of duty

Tags:
Staff Sgt. LUTHER MITCHELL Jr.
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Maj. Adam Thornton, 56th Training Squadron instructor pilot, stands next to an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Thornton deployed to Aviano in support of Operation Unified Protector where he received an Air Medal for acts above and beyond the call of duty.

“It was dusk, one of the worst times to use night vision goggles. The sun was going down over my right shoulder. The Mediterranean was dark and the sky was dark, like being in a gigantic black hole.

It was hard to tell which way was up and which way was down. We started looking for targets outside of Tripoli. We had determined, by the amount of surface-to-air equipment there, the Gaddafi regime would be using it to target coalition aircraft. Eliminating the equipment was a high priority.”

Maj. Adam Thornton, 56th Training Squadron instructor pilot, says he will never forget this mission. It was the longest mission he had flown, one in which he eliminated multiple enemy targets and earned an Air Medal for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Thornton was in an airplane on his way to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., from Shaw AFB, S.C., for a temporary duty assignment, when in midflight his plane changed course and headed back to Shaw. His unit had been activated in response to Operation Odyssey Dawn, the 2011 U.S.-led operation in Libya to implement a no-fly zone and prevent forces loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi from carrying out air attacks on rebel forces.

Two weeks later, on a Thursday afternoon, Thornton got word he was deploying to Aviano Air Base, Italy, without word of how long he would be there.

“We got to Aviano on a Monday afternoon and by Thursday night I was flying my first combat mission into Libya,” he said.

By then Operation Odyssey Dawn had transitioned into Operation Unified Protector, which was led by North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces. Coalition forces spent the next three weeks gathering information and preparing to move in, Thornton said.

“We were kind of standoffish over the Gulf of Sidra, waiting to shoot down radars,” he said. “That progressed into us going over land into Africa looking for surface-to-air radars and missile sites.”

Thornton flew his longest single sortie mission in Libya on July 10, leaving the lush landscape of Italy behind and descending into the darkness of Africa.

“We took off out of northern Italy just before dusk,” he said, “and I could see the snow caps of the Alps going off into the distance, something I’m probably never going to see again in my life.”

Thornton “fenced in,” after arriving in the combat zone, checking his aircraft’s avionics first, doing chaff and flare, ground system checks and getting ready to go into hostile territory.

It was not long after arriving there he found his first target.

“We located a straight flush radar that had been broken down into travel mode,” he said. “We positively indentified it as part of the Gaddafi regime and in 15 minutes we had clearance to engage.”

Thornton, along with his wingman, readied to move in.

“We pressed in using the sniper pod to generate coordinates for the bomb,” Thornton said. “Typical time of fall for a bomb is about a minute, which is the longest minute of your life. When it struck the SA-6 radar, it was right on target.”

The bomb hit the chassis and exploded, leaving the target burning neon orange. Thornton and his wingman were then asked to assist another coalition strike force that needed their support. Thornton and his wingman, while on station, found another radar used for strategic SAM sites. Thornton again dropped his bombs and took out the target.

“It was a direct hit,” he said. “When the bomb hit, the site looked like it was made out of paper mache. It left nothing behind but a hotspot in the ground.”

Thornton had flown in the dark throughout these hits. All the lights on his jet had been turned off in order to remain undetected by enemy radar.

Thornton flew a total of 11 hours from takeoff to landing. For this mission, Thornton would earn an Air Medal, which is awarded to U.S. military and civilian personnel for single acts of heroism while participating in aerial flight in actual support of combat operations.

For Thornton, the most satisfying part of his deployment was not receiving a medal, but doing the job he’d trained for over the previous eight years.

“There were a lot of guys who received medals, but none of the guys who were there felt like they did anything special,” he said. “I feel flattered for the decorations, but the most rewarding thing is doing the job you trained for.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Pg-1-photo-150612-F-EC705-058

Emerald Knights go out with bang

Emerald Knights watch a burning piano during the 308th Fighter Squadron inactivation party June 12 at Luke Air Force Base. The 308th FS and aircraft maintenance unit have packed up and are transitioning to the 314th FS standing...
 
 
2_lemery_d2

Respect — want, earn, give, but don’t lose it

Lt. Col. David Lemery We all want it, some earn it, some are given it and some lose it. Respect can be defined as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements. As ...
 
 

Solve problems at lowest level

Crucial in our Air Force environment today is having the proper tools and skillsets available to deal with problems. There is literally something new almost every single day that will invoke problem solving skills. When faced with a problem, an important mindset to have is to resolve the issue at the lowest possible level. Some...
 

 

News Briefs June 26, 2015

607th ACS change of command Lt. Col. Charles Jones will relinquish command of the 607th Air Control Squadron to Lt. Col. Jerald Canny in a ceremony at 8 a.m. Wednesday in Hangar 999.   CMS change of command Maj. Scott Hall will relinquish command of the 56th Component Maintenance Squadron to Maj. Anthony Sutton in...
 
 

Fighting Falcons arrive at Holloman

Courtesy photo Six F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 308th Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base arrive in formation June 16 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 308th FS has inactivated and the soon to be activated 314th FS assumes the 308th FS mission of training F-16 pilots as a 56th Fighter Wing...
 
 
5_Courtesy-photo

Monsoon season blows in storms, rain, dust

Courtesy photo Arizona is known for being sunny with clear skies for the majority of the year, but every year “it” happens. As the clouds roll in, the sky darkens with thunderbolts streaming overhead, and the first drops of...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>