HURLBURT FIELD, FL (Senior Airman Ryan Conroy) – Two 1st Special Operations Wing Airmen have been nominated for the 2015 Cheney Award by distinguishing themselves through conspicuous acts of valor during an aerial flight while deployed in support of combat and humanitarian operations.
Maj. Matthew Gidley and Staff Sgt. John Minnich, lead pilot and flight engineer with the 8th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, showed significant self-sacrifice and courageous conduct of aerial flight during an unusually precarious ten days while assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command-Central in eastern Africa.
“Maj. Gidley and SSgt. Minnich represent all Air Commandos in their steadfast devotion to duty,” said Maj. Christian Helms, commander of the 8th ESOS. “Throughout their deployment, Matt and John went where the fighting was thick, never hesitated and brought great credit to their squadron and their country. I am proud to serve with Gidley and Minnich. They truly represent all that is righteous about our country and our cause.”
The Cheney Award is an aviation award presented in memory of 1st Lt. William H. Cheney, who was killed in an air collision over Foggia, Italy, Jan. 20, 1918. It was established in 1927 and is awarded to an Airman for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with an aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.
On Oct. 13, 2015, Gidley and Minnich forward deployed from their interim staging base in east Africa to a forward outpost deep in Somalia’s southern forest region. This outpost would act as home for three CV-22 Osprey aircraft, 12 aircrew and seven maintenance personnel for the next 10 days.
The events consisted of several long flights – and long days – to and from Somalia, according to Minnich. These flights included delivering a variety of supplies to the forces there.
“Once there, we conducted several flights assisting the [African Union Mission in Somalia] forces by providing [casualty evacuation] support for their missions,” said Gidley. “We were also able to accomplish some familiarization training with the AMISOM forces, increasing their trust in our ability to support them.”
Immediately following a ground assault force action against multiple terrorist camps on Oct. 15, Gidley’s flight was informed that an American contractor conducting clandestine operations on a U.S. Naval vessel in the Red Sea began exhibiting signs of cardiac arrest. The position of the naval vessel was more than 250 nautical miles from any shoreline and flight by normal medical evacuation would have been too long and complex, according to the citation.
Gidley and Minnich began planning the recovery of the patient immediately, leveraging the speed and range of the CV-22. Within two hours of notification, they led a two-ship formation of CV-22 aircraft into a zero-illumination night over more than 250 nautical miles of open water to land on the moving naval vessel at full speed.
“We were able to overcome these factors by hashing out a solid plan during mission planning, and equally important, all the training we had done up to that point,” said Minnich.
The crew was able to safely land on the vessel, pick up their patient, refuel and deliver the American in critical condition to medical care waiting on shore.
The citation states that the quick planning and deft performance of a night-time, zero-illumination landing aboard an underway naval vessel saved an American life and proved the flight’s mettle in the face of uncertainty and adversity.
“Despite this being awarded to only the two of us, in reality, any other of my fellow flight engineers is fully able and willing to do what I had the privilege to do,” said Minnich. “I was just fortunate enough to be put in the right position to be able to succeed.”
Fourteen hours after delivering the cardiac patient to medical care, Gidley and Minnich’s crew were tasked to redeploy to the forward outpost once again to deliver critical food, ammunition, first aid and communication equipment.
The equipment delivered was directly responsible for AMISOM pressure on terrorist activities throughout southern Somalia, feeding AMISOM forces, host-nation personnel and their families as well as providing first-aid medical care to local and third-country nation personnel.
Over the ten days of operations, Gidley and Minnich covered 5,000 air-miles, delivered 4,500 pounds of critical combat and humanitarian supplies and rescued an American.
Gidley and Minnich’s nomination at the Air Force Special Operations Command level will now compete at the Air Force level.