SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — Col. Daniel Lasica, former 20th Fighter Wing commander, presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Capts. John Nygard and Salvador Cruz, both 79th Fighter Squadron instructor pilots, June 7 at Shaw Air Force Base.
The fourth highest medal of recognition is not simply given, it is earned, said Lasica. Doing that takes courage and trust from the ground and air.
The DFC is awarded to individuals who distinguished themselves in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.
Nygard and Cruz earned the award by providing four close-support, air-to-ground weapon employments during a battle with ISIS in the Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, saving the lives of 88 coalition soldiers.
During the pilots’ flights, fragmented and chaotic information was pieced together in order to determine the location of friendly and hostile forces to ensure continuous close-air support coverage.
“Every single person that was there really made a huge difference and really made a bad situation come together,” Nygard said. “They trusted us to employ weapons really close to them and trusted us to do our job professionally, quickly and without error. We trusted them as well to give us the right information as to what to target and where they were. It was that communication back and forth that made things happen.”
Both Nygard and Cruz said they were honored and humbled to earn the DFC and both believe that all you can hope is to be good enough in the moments that matter the most.
Two U.S. military members made the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in action on the ground during this mission.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like,” Cruz said to the mothers of the KIA military members. “But I can tell you what [they] mean to me; I’ll never forget your sons. I promise you. I try to live my life in a way that honors their sacrifice. I tell their story so that other pilots, the new guys, are ready when their number is called.”