Air advisor earns Distinguished Flying Cross with valor
By Master Sgt. Rebecca Danét, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
/ Published November 11, 2011
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The commander of Air Education and Training Command, Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., presented the Distinguished Flying Cross with valor to Lt. Col. Gregory A. Roberts, 19th Air Force, during a ceremony here Nov. 10.
As an air advisor to the Afghan Air Force in July 2010, Roberts piloted one of two Mi-17V5 helicopters and lead a combined U.S. and Afghan team to rescue more than 2,000 people from severe flooding in the Nangahar and Kunar provinces. The same floods that devastated Pakistan that year, also killed more than 60 people in Afghanistan - but the toll could have been much higher without Roberts and his team's quick response.
"How many times in anybody's lifetime do you have the opportunity, much less have the ability to execute, something that impacts within a 48-hour period, the lives of more than 1,000 human beings?" the general asked.
"As you listen to the citation you will recognize and I think appreciate, that this mission that took place over two days, also has a place in Air Force history," he added.
On July 28, 2010, Roberts was the U.S. air advisor to the Afghan Air Force's Brig. Gen. Mohammed Barat, Kabul Air Wing commander. Barat received the mission to render aid to a nomadic group who needed help as flood waters were rising. He decided to fly the mission himself and hand-selected the team of Afghan flight engineers, crew chiefs and advisors to accompany him.
Roberts and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bernard Willi flew with the team as none of the Afghans had yet completed familiarization with the new aircraft they were about to employ. There were also no Afghans trained to operate a new internal rescue hoist aboard the aircraft. U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Fife quickly volunteered to man the position.
"The weather was not too bad at mission notification time," Roberts said. "But everyone knew the weather in the mountains surrounding Kabul would be treacherous."
Within an hour, the two aircraft were in the air headed north up the Kabul River. The air advisors guided the Afghan crews into a routine picking up flood victims and transporting them to safe ground. By the end of the first day, the crews had rescued 380 people.
Heavy weather and crew fatigue led Roberts to keep the teams in the local area overnight. By 5 a.m., they were in the air again. Taliban activity was reported nearby throughout the day in an area known for being an insurgent "hotbed." But the two rescue crews worked tirelessly. By the end of the second day, they moved more than 2,000 people to safety.
"The fundamental responsibility of any legitimate and sovereign government is to provide security and stability to those governed," Roberts said.
"During this rescue mission," he said, "the advisors guided the new Afghan Air Force in establishing the government of Afghanistan's legitimacy, in full view of the Taliban insurgents in the Kunar Valley."