Pilots Awarded Mackay Trophy for Sinjar Flight

Two F-16 pilots who flew an eight-hour night operation to break an ISIS assault on tens of thousands of stranded Yazidi civilians last year have been named the “most meritorious” flight of 2014. The pilots, Capt. Gregory Balzhiser and Capt. David Kroontje, were awarded the Mackay Trophy for 2014 on Dec. 3 by the National Aeronautic Association during a ceremony in Arlington, Va. The two pilots, deployed with the 13th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron out of Misawa AB, Japan, made up Ironhand Flight 41 and were called on to provide air support to protect 40,000 trapped Yazidi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar in August. The two pilots flew four attacks during the eight-hour mission, destroying ISIS roadblocks, vehicles, observation posts, and killing dozens of ISIS fighters. The attacks helped Peshmerga forces the next day set up a safe corridor from Mount Sinjar, saving the lives of the stranded civilians. “Thanks for showing us how this business is supposed to be done,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said when presenting the trophy to the pilots. “Thanks for showing that humanity is the root of air?power. And thanks for showing how professional our airmen can do a job in a horrible situation, at night, in a place you never dreamed of going when you were a young guy.” (See also Breaking the Siege on Sinjar from the October issue of Air Force Magazine.)