US Air Force, July 30, 2014 - HURLBURT FIELD, FL by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie - In the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 2013, 8th Special Operations Squadron crews departed in three CV-22 Ospreys to evacuate American citizens from the remote city of Bor, South Sudan.
The mission was proceeding as planned through three countries and 790 nautical miles. The Ospreys arrived at the United Nations compound in Bor on time. After flying over the compound to gather intelligence on ground activities, the three crews made a turn into their final approach.
"On the initial approach, the formation came under heavy fire from heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire," said Maj. Benjamin Fingarson, 8th SOS pilot, who was the aircraft commander of the third CV-22.
The barrage of gunfire and RPGs from the ground hit the formation 119 times, which caused multiple system failures on each of the three Ospreys and wounded four Special Forces members.
"I couldn't tell immediately if we'd come under fire, but I knew I had to maneuver the aircraft out of the weapons engagement zone," said Fingarson. "I took swift corrective actions to make the aircraft as unpredictable as possible in order to make it difficult for gunfire to hit us."
After exiting the danger area, the formation commander called for an assessment of aircraft and personnel. The crews said there were flight control failures and hydraulic and fuel leaks on all three aircraft, and three of the wounded were in critical condition.
As the crews began life saving treatment, they acquired the blood types of the wounded and began drawing matching blood from personnel on board to ensure an immediate transfusion upon arrival in Entebbe, Uganda.
"We quickly created separation between us and the threat, continuing toward Entebbe," Fingarson said. "Because of the severity of the damage to the aircraft and multiple fuel leaks, we determined we would have to coordinate multiple air-to-air refuelings."
The formation of Ospreys made it to Entebbe with the wounded still alive.
"One moment that will always stick with me was a special forces member approaching me a few months after the flight and asking if I was the aircraft commander of the flight he was on," Fingarson said. "I nodded yes.
"He told me, as he heard the rounds hitting the aircraft, he felt me maneuver the Osprey in ways he didn't know were possible. He told me I saved his life," he added.
The CV-22 crewmembers' heroic achievements during this flight earned them the 2013 Mackay Trophy, which is given to the most meritorious flight of the year.