4 More Airmen Get Distinguished Flying Crosses for Afghanistan Mission

Two pilots and two loadmasters were honored with Distinguished Flying Crosses at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., on Dec. 20, perhaps the final Mobility Airmen to be recognized for their actions during the August 2021 noncombatant evacuation of Kabul, Afghanistan. 

Capt. Thomas Jividen, Capt. Bandna Choudhary, Master Sgt. Eric Pietras, and Tech. Sgt. Justin Lyles, all of the 62nd Airlift Wing, received their DFC with “C” device from Lt. Gen. Randall Reed, deputy commander of Air Mobility Command.  

The recognition follows earlier ceremonies at Joint Base McGuire–Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; Travis Air Force Base, Calif.; Joint Base Charleston, S.C.; and Scott Air Force Base, Ill. In all, the Air Force has awarded nearly 100 DFCs for Operation Allies Refuge, most with the “C” device indicating the award was for actions under combat conditions.

Jividen was one of several C-17 pilots forced to take decisive action on Aug. 15, 2021, when the airfield at Hamid Karzai International Airport was breached by desperate Afghan civilians and the Taliban seized control of the capital city. After offloading more than 100 Soldiers and boarding 200 Afghan nationals, Jividen safely taxied through hundreds of civilians on the airfield and executed a daylight tactical departure, despite dangerous runway incursions and the threat of small arms fire. 

Fifteen days later, Choudhary, Pietras, and Lyles arrived at HKIA on two of the last five flights out of Al Udeid Airbase, Qatar. Despite air defense artillery, flares, and heavy machine gun fire, they landed safely, and Choudhary, a pilot, secured her aircraft while Pietras and Lyles loaded the last remaining U.S. personnel and equipment onto their jets in less than 60 minutes. With no ground controllers and the airfield unsecure, they then took off. 

“It will be years before you truly understand just how big of a difference you made,” Reed told the DFC recipients in a speech. “But thanks to you … we can take tremendous pride in the fact that our military, our Air Force, our members of McChord are ready any day of the week, any hour of the day or night, and we can trust that you’ll always get it done.” 

The Distinguished Flying Cross is the nation’s fourth-highest award for heroism and the highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement