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Three years later: Epic Rooster 73 Flight remembered

  • Published
  • By Public Affairs Office
  • 920th Rescue Wing
In the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, in the same exhibit hall with Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and the Wright Brothers' 1903 flyer, under a case of protective glass, stands a massive silver cup, lined in gold, atop a three-tiered mahogany pedestal.

The pedestal is adorned with dozens of small, silver medallions inscribed with the names of U.S. Air Force Airmen in recognition of their surpassing acts of valor, bravery and patriotism--names like Capt. Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, pioneer of supersonic flight; World War I ace fighter pilot Capt. Edward "Eddie" Rickenbacker; and Lt. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, who planned and led the pivotal, maiden air attack on Japan during World War II, among many others.

Since 1912, the Mackay Trophy has been given annually in honor of the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force Airman, Airmen or organization. It is the oldest and most esteemed award of its kind in Air Force history.

In November 2014, the names of three 920th Rescue Wing pararescuemen, along with twelve Airmen from the 8th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., were added to the Mackay Trophy in recognition of their actions during a mission that took place Dec. 21, 2013 in South Sudan.

Tech. Sgt. Jason D. Broline, Tech. Sgt. Daniel C. Warren (now a combat rescue officer with the 212th Rescue Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard) and Staff Sgt. Lee R. Von Hack-Prestinary were part of the crews of Rooster 73, 74 and 75--three CV-22 Ospreys sent by the U.S. State Department to evacuate the American Embassy and other U.S. citizens from in and around the town of Bor in South Sudan, which was quickly destabilizing into civil war.

Upon reaching a U.N. airfield at Bor, all three aircraft took heavy surface-to-air fire. Four Rooster 73 crewmembers were critically wounded during the attack, and all three Ospreys sustained major damage. Yet the nearest location from which to safely meet medical support aircraft was at the Ugandan coastal city of Entebbe--roughly 450 miles due south of Bor.

The aircraft had been badly damaged. According to the battle damage assessment performed by flight crews following the attack, the Ospreys had sustained, "...flight control failures, hydraulic failures and punctured fuel tanks resulting in massive uncontrollable fuel leaks, and damage to multiple essential structural components."

It would be an incredible achievement for the aircrews just to keep the crippled planes flying. But it would be another thing entirely to make it to Entebbe in time to save the lives of the wounded crewmembers, who were deteriorating quickly.

To make things worse, the wounded were onboard Rooster 73, and the 920th pararescuemen were on Rooster 74, with no possibility of landing until Entebbe.

Cut off from the wounded but determined to help, Broline, Warren and Von Hack-Prestinary began looking for unconventional methods. What they found was an ingenious solution that resulted in every single crewmember returning home alive.

Their solution: a "flying blood bank." 

Time would be critical, they reasoned, once they finally touched down in Entebbe. The wounded needed blood desperately, and any delay could result in death for any or all of them.

So, the reservists got on the radio and retrieved the blood types of the wounded troops, after which they began drawing blood from matching healthy aircrew members.

As a result, they were able to transfuse fresh, lifesaving blood to the wounded mere moments after touching down at the medical rendezvous point at Entebbe.

At the ceremony honoring this year's Mackay Trophy recipients, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III praised the aircrew members of Rooster 73, 74 and 75, and spoke of the impact of their actions upon the Air Force in full.

"Their dedication to duty, professionalism, bravery, courage and airmanship was on display during the aerial flight supporting a non-combatant evacuation order in the vicinity of Bor, South Sudan," said General Welsh. "The distinctive accomplishments of Rooster 73 Flight reflect greatly on the caliber of our United States Air Force Airmen."