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    Six members of NY Air Guard's 105th Airlift Wing to be honored for valor on June 4

    105th Airlift Wing Airmen honored for valor

    Courtesy Photo | The seven members of the crew of Reach 824, a C-17 Globemaster III flown by the New...... read more read more



    Story by Eric Durr 

    New York National Guard

    STEWART AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Newburgh, New York --Six New York Air National Guard Airmen assigned to the 105th Airlift Wing will be recognized for their bravery and teamwork, during the August 2021 evacuation of Americans and Afghans from Kabul, Afghanistan during a Saturday, June 4 ceremony at Stewart Air National Guard Base.

    Capt. Matthew McChesney, a Liverpool, New York resident, the aircrew commander of a C-17 designated by its call sign, reach 824, will receive the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor – the nation's highest honor for heroism during aerial operations – while the other five members of the crew will receive the Air Medal with Valor.

    A seventh member of the 105th Airlift Wing, Technical Sgt. Bryon Catu from Monroe, New York, was also on board the aircraft as a flying mechanic. He was recognized previously with the award of the Meritorious Service Medal.

    They are being recognized for actions taken on August 16, 2021, as the United States and other allied nations moved to begin evacuating Afghan allies from Afghanistan as the Taliban took over Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

    McChesney and the other crew members, "exhibited personal courage and overcame obstacles in order to fly into the blacked-out airport (in Kabul) using night vision goggles and not knowing if the Taliban would open fire on them," according to his citation.

    The 105th Airlift Wing airmen delivered 22 Army special operations Soldiers as well as an MH-47 Chinook special operations helicopter. The helicopter was being landed in Kabul to help evacuate Americans in Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban.

    The Airmen being recognized with the Air Medal are:
    • Lt. Col. Andrew Gray Townsend, C-17 pilot, Air Medal (4th Award) with Valor, from Goshen, New York
    • Capt. Jonathan Guagenti, C-17 pilot, Air Medal with Valor, Bloomingburg, New York
    • Technical Sergeant Joseph Caponi, instructor loadmaster, Air Medal with Valor, Staten Island, New York
    • Staff Sergeant Evan Imbriglio, loadmaster, Air Medal with Valor, Poughkeepsie, New York
    • Staff Sergeant Corey Berke, loadmaster, Air Medal with Valor, Carmel, New York

    "We could not be more proud of our Airmen,” said Col. Gary Charlton II, the wing commander. “They executed their missions with the highest degree of professionalism and compassion upholding our Air Force and American values.”

    "When faced with up unprecedented or unforeseeable challenges, their training, leadership, and perseverance enabled them to successfully complete
    their mission. They are great American Airmen,” Charlton added.
    The mission began August 13, 2021, when the crew was tasked with delivering an MH-47 Chinook helicopter flown by the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment along with 22 members of the regiment from the United Arab Emirates to Hamid Karzi International Airport in Kabul.

    The aircraft was one of four to be delivered to Afghanistan to retrieve American personnel as the Taliban closed in on Afghanistan's capitol city.
    On the night of August 15, the crew first attempted to deliver the special operations helicopter and troops to the airport.

    However, the Taliban were now approaching the city and panic on the ground resulted in aircraft taking off with no airspace control at the airport.

    Enroute to Afghanistan, the crew was informed by another Air Force C-17 already in Kabul that there was heavy small arms fire and people overrunning the airport. Without ground control and airspace management, they were forced to abort the landing.

    On August 16 they tried again.

    On the morning of August 16 television news was reporting that the Taliban were on the airport and that panicked civilians were flooding runways, trying to climb onto aircraft.

    McChesney worked with the MH-47 crew to coordinate with another Chinook crew already on the ground in Kabul to determine whether they could land.

    As they approached Kabul they passed C-17s which had turned back because the runways were closed, the Taliban threatened the safety of the airport and they were low on fuel.

    Only one of four MH-47s bound for Kabul had been delivered. Two other aircraft had broken down and it was necessary to get the remaining helicopter on board Reach 824 to Kabul to accomplish the recovery missions.

    The crew pressed on with its critical cargo but was unable to land when they arrived at Kabul during the night. The crew orbited above the airfield until the last minute possible before they again turned back to return to Qatar, about a two-and-a-half-hour flight, according to Air Force records.
    Ninety minutes into their return flight they were contacted by a KC-10 fuel tanker whose commander informed the 105th Airlift Wing crew that they had fuel to sustain them. The crew coordinated for air-to-air refueling and took on enough fuel to fly for four and a half hours while heading back to Kabul.

    Townsend is credited with coming up with the refueling plan and flying the aircraft to a non-standard rendezvous, while Imbriglio managed communications with the tanker, according to their citations.
    Guagenti, meanwhile, “took to the radios and without hesitation coordinated through other aircraft their return to Kabul,” according to his citation.

    McChesney, knowing that the Kabul airport could not provide refuel, requested that the tanker accompany them back to Kabul to ensure they could refuel after landing and taking off. He refueled once more before approaching Kabul for landing.

    Meanwhile, the loadmasters, led by Caponi, the loadmaster instructor, developed a plan that would allow them to rapidly offload the MH-47 and crew.

    Arriving in the dark, the crew made contact with a military team acting as a temporary control tower.

    While waiting to get clearance from American personnel on the ground at the Kabul airport, Townsend also helped a French A400 cargo plane coordinate its landing by relaying communications with American team on the ground.

    Using night vision goggles, the 105th Airlift Wing crew negotiated the mountainous terrain to the runway which was without lights, observing small arms fire and lasers directed at them from the ground as they approached. Small arms fire hit the left wing of the aircraft as they landed.

    “Within the vicinity of the airfield, and under cover of night, Captain McChesney expertly navigated mountainous terrain, no air traffic control, and diverse uncontrolled aircraft departures,” his award citation says.
    After landing, the taxiways were littered with garbage, rocks, personal effects, stray animals, and abandoned cars and SUV's.

    The crew lost contact with the tower due to jamming and when they turned onto a parallel taxiway discovered they were on the Taliban side of the airport, according to the Air Force.

    They were immediately confronted with 12 armed Taliban trucks, which drove alongside the C-17 as it taxied to the side of the airport under U.S. control.

    Berke, “quickly took position in the paratroop door and showed great poise, operating without provocation despite having multiple adversary vehicles directly under the wingtips escorting them through the Taliban controlled side of the airfield,” his citation says.

    Once the aircraft was parked the loadmasters worked with the Army special operations aviators to offload the MH-47 in 40 minutes instead of the four hours initially planned.

    After 55 minutes on the ground the 105th Airlift Wing crew was airborne again. But they returned again to take their turn in flying Afghani allies of the United States out of Kabul.



    Date Taken: 06.01.2022
    Date Posted: 06.01.2022 12:26
    Story ID: 421943
    Location: NEWBURGH, NY, US

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