By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 07, 2006) -- Five C-130 Hercules crewmembers were recognized during a ceremony in Arlington, Va., Nov. 6 by the Air Force and the National Aeronautic Association when they were presented with the 2005 Clarence Mackay Trophy.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. John D. W. Corley presented the trophy to Maj. Michael Frame, pilot; Maj. Brian Lewis, instructor pilot; Senior Master Sgt. John Spillane, instructor loadmaster; Master Sgt. Thomas Lee, instructor flight engineer; and Master Sgt. Corey Turner, instructor loadmaster.
In February 2005, the five Airmen were assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in Iraq. Part of that unit's mission was to assist in training aircrewmembers in the new Iraqi Air Force. On Feb. 12, 2005, the five were chosen to participate as trainers on an operational mission to transport Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi from Baghdad International Airport to al Sulaymania civil airport near Kirkuk, Iraq.
As part of mission "Train 60," the five American Airmen served as trainers aboard an Iraqi C-130 flown by an all-Iraqi crew.
"This was the first Iraqi mission to move their prime minister," said Sergeant Spillane. "(It was) our equivalent to Air Force One. They took the prime minister up to meet Iraqi Kurds in the northern part of the country, to engage them, to get them to have a buy-in on the first national vote. It was historic."
The mission might have been relatively routine, but about half-hour into the flight, the crew encountered poor weather that forced them to fly lower that what the Iraqi crew was used to.
Additional problems were encountered at the airfield in Kirkuk. There, the newly built airfield had no tower communications, so the Iraqi crew had no way to know if they were supposed to land there. The Air Force crew used visual clues on the ground to determine they were cleared for landing.
"As we approached the airfield, we saw a red carpet laid out and a band there, so we confirmed we were in the right spot," Sergeant Spillane said.
Other crewmembers said the navigation system on the aircraft also helped to confirm the crew had taken the aircraft to the right location.
Also problematic was the fact that the landing strip at the airfield was not complete. There were major gaps in the pavement that prevented the aircraft from landing there. The Air Force crew consulted with the Iraqi prime minister to see what he wanted to do.
"We asked the prime minister if he wanted to continue on his airplane, to land there, as it was an Iraqi airplane. He said 'I have to do this,'" Sergeant Spillane said.
At that point, Major Frame took the stick and landed the aircraft on a taxiway rather than the runway, completing the mission. He later said that despite the difficulty in the mission, he thought the entire crew performed superbly.
"Everybody was on their A-game that day," Major Frame said. "Everything that happened was dealt with in the most professional manner. Nobody could have done anything better than the way we did it that day. We helped to improve some of the Iraqis' capability. They got to see some things they had never seen before, they got to see some of the capability of the C-130E. In the overall picture, it is going to improve the way they do things."
During the award presentation ceremony, General Corley said the crew's contributions to building democracy in Iraq is on par with what America's founders were doing in the 1700's, at the beginning of democracy in the United States.
"If you turn the clock back to 1776 and you think about some of the founding fathers, they were fighting for the democratic experiment, because they wanted to give it a chance," he said. "When we think about Train 60 and you think about the members here tonight, what were they fighting for? They were fighting to give democracy a chance. Tonight may be just a small point in history, it may be a small time in our lives, but is an essential piece, in my mind, of aviation history and of the vision of democracy. It is a story of bravery, a story of professionalism, it is a story about hope."
The Clarence Mackay Trophy was first presented in 1912 to then Lt. Henry "Hap" Arnold. The trophy has also been awarded to such legends of aviation as Capt. Edward V. Rickenbacker, Capt. Charles E. Yeager, and Lt. James H. Doolittle. The trophy itself was designed by New York City-based jeweler Tiffany & Company and is made from silver and gold with a mahogany base. The trophy is valued at $1.5 million dollars and is kept on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.