Maj. Kyle Adkison, an A-10C Thunderbolt II test pilot with the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, on Tuesday accepted the Distinguished Flying Cross at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for his combat achievements in Afghanistan in 2019.

Adkison and his wingman, Capt. Erin Fullam, drove away enemy forces — likely Taliban fighters — protected the positions of friendly forces and kept members of the U.S.-led military coalition alive, the Air Force said in a release Wednesday.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is the Pentagon’s highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement.

As part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Adkison toggled between two radio frequencies to work with separate ground controllers while offering protection overhead for friendly forces as they secured the area, and helping find enemies in a difficult urban area. He also controlled who flew in and out of the surrounding airspace during combat operations and coordinated four firefights, disrupting a surprise grenade attack.

When friendly forces came under fire on three occasions, Adkison coordinated attacks with Army AH-64 Apache helicopters.

The pilot also flew within five meters of coalition forces as he launched strafing runs to slow the enemy’s advance.

“The quality training the A-10 community provided and faith in the superb capability of the A-10 gun system helped us grapple with the challenges we faced that day,” Adkison said in the release. “The [joint terminal attack controllers] were extremely professional and competent, and their composure under fire was critical in enabling us to do what we did.”

Afghanistan endured constant bloodshed in August 2019, two years before the U.S. ended its two-decade war there, as negotiations with the Taliban to avoid more violence crumbled.

About 160 people — largely Taliban fighters targeted in airstrikes — were killed and 50 injured in a single day, Aug. 27, 2019, the BBC said.

The automatic gun-toting A-10 was one of the most pivotal aircraft in the Afghanistan War for its firepower and hardiness, even as the Air Force has tried to retire the aging planes.

“You don’t have to go far in the A-10 community to find someone with a similar story, many of which have received no recognition,” Adkison said in a release. “The A-10 community is filled with incredible people doing exceptional things in an exceptional aircraft and I’m honored to count myself among these heroes.”

Dozens of airmen who served in the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 also received Distinguished Flying Crosses in the Air Force’s largest DFC ceremony to date on Monday. Fifty-one DFCs were awarded in one sitting at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.

The Air Force said in October it planned to present 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 12 Bronze Star medals and one Gallant Unit Citation to mobility airmen who supported Operation Allies Refuge.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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