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COMACC presents Distinguished Flying Cross to 363 ISRW Airman for extraordinary efforts

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt
  • 363d Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing
U.S. Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, participated in the 363d Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing Spring Commander’s Leadership Summit as a keynote speaker, March 28, 2023, and took the time to present the Distinguished Flying Cross to an Airman for his actions during a force protection patrol clearing operation against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda presence in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
363d ISR Wing commanders, incoming commanders, senior enlisted leaders, first sergeants, co-workers, friends, and family were in attendance as Kelly presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Master Sgt. Zachary Cooper, a Tactical Systems Operator who was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2019.
"What a great day as we celebrate and recognize Master Sergeant Cooper with the presentation of the Distinguished Flying Cross," said Kelly. "Equally important, we were able to open this gathering to family and friends. With Coop being a Tactical Systems Operator – because there's a lot of information our TSOs can't share – you are going to hear just a little about Coop's heroic efforts when they read his citation. Keep in mind, DFCs are not handed out for routine sorties. You have to display heroic efforts. In fact, this is the fourth highest award for extraordinary achievement and the highest award for heroism while participating in aerial flight."
Cooper distinguished himself by his actions when he displayed his knowledge and outstanding airmanship under hazardous conditions culminated in the survival of more than 180 United States and partner ground forces, who were under intense and effective enemy fire.
While serving as the sole armed overhead asset, Cooper’s crew engaged in combat operations providing intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, airborne command and control, casualty evacuation, and armed overwatch.
Cooper was pivotal in troubleshooting and resolving a malfunction with the aircraft’s weapon release system. Due to Cooper’s efforts, his crew was able to conduct multiple kinetic strikes, several of which were danger close to friendly forces.
He expertly contacted tactical C2 elements early in the sortie, alerting them of the dire and deteriorating ground situation and requested additional close air support assets. The reallocation of F-16s and rapid battlefield situational awareness built by the crew prior to their arrival on station, led to the immediate suppression of enemy fire and destruction of multiple buildings.
Finally, Cooper’s crucial initial communication and coordination initiated rescue forces for an urgent casualty evacuation of two partner force members enabling rescue forces to reach the patients within the most critical time known as the “Golden Hour.”
“As an Air Combat Command Airman in direct support of Air Force Special Operations Command, I am honored and humbled to be recognized with my crew for the support we were able to provide to the Assault Force that night,” Cooper said. “It was one of those nights, like many others, where things just clicked for us as a team and we were able to do the right things, at the right times. It really was a team effort and the professionalism of all involved was second to none.”
Cooper, who originally joined the Air Force in 2005 as an F-15 Tactical Aircraft Maintenance apprentice, knows the importance of teamwork, as he quickly learned about trust and daily teaming between pilot and maintenance crews.
“I am proud to have been part of such an amazing team,” he said. “The way we worked together still gets me. When I think back on the professional acumen in each crew position and fantastic Crew Resource Management exhibited through the multiple troops in contact situations, weapons malfunctions, and airborne C2 coordination - I feel very privileged to have flown with those guys. The way the pilots flew the aircraft at the edge of its envelope to ensure overwatch coverage throughout the entire period of darkness was phenomenal.”
A little more than a decade ago, Cooper made the decision to retrain into the (at the time “new”) Air Force Specialty Code 1A8X2 Airborne ISR Operator and has embraced it all.
“Senior Airman Zach Cooper didn’t imagine in his wildest dreams he would have the opportunity to do such interesting things, with amazing people, in unique places furthering our nation and its partners interests as a 1A8X2,” Cooper said.