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Air Force Cross recipient relays lessons learned

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Air Force Cross recipient, retired Master Sgt. Tim Wilkinson, recently spoke to Airmen on base about the events that led him to receive the medal and how lessons learned on the battlefield apply to the Air Force mission on the homefront.

The former pararescueman and current Joint Special Operations Command Personnel Recovery Branch chief visited at the request of Col. Claude K. Tudor, Jr., Vice Commander, 20th Air Force, and Task Force 214 deputy commanding officer, with whom Wilkinson has worked in the past.

Wilkinson talked about his experiences in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu, perhaps best known for its depiction in the movie "Blackhawk Down." He shared details about the events leading up to the battle, the preparation going into the battle and the lessons learned from it.

"We can take all those lessons learned and apply those to everything -- from how we do our pre-deployment preparation to actually deploying out into our battlespace," Tudor said.

Tudor mentioned Wilkinson's lessons would apply well to security forces plans and operations across 20th AF's missile wings due to their unique mission that includes convoys. However, Airmen of various ranks and career fields attended, and could all gain something from his stories.

"I hope everybody can benefit from [the information I shared] in some way," Wilkinson said. "Not everything is applicable to everybody, but hopefully, as we all have our roles and missions, we can find some piece applicable to what we do on a daily basis."

As an Air Force pararescueman in the battle, Wilkinson's vital role was to provide medical care and recover the wounded. His team consisted mostly of Army Rangers sent to engage enemy forces in Somalia after local militias disrupted humanitarian relief efforts during a civil war there.

The famous battle itself was fought Oct. 3 and 4, 1993, when a special operations forces team deployed from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to capture enemy leaders at a meeting in the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu. Wilkinson said the mission escalated into a battle when enemy forces downed two of the helicopters with rocket-propelled grenades, which necessitated a drastic change in tactics.

In order to change those tactics the team needed to be flexible and their ability to do so was a direct result of their extensive training and planning. Wilkinson imparted that being prepared is integral to mission success.

The planning process is similar in any mission, although each situation must be taken into account, he said. Using a critical eye, employing honest and frank debate, and determining the utility of potential actions is important during any challenge.

Although pararescuemen hope to not be needed, Wilkinson was called to action when the RPG attack left his comrades wounded. He exposed himself to enemy fire on multiple occasions at the site of the first helicopter crash in order to provide medical care.

"At crash site 1, we basically had what we had," he said. "We hunkered down. We fought the fight in close proximity to us as we understood the battlespace and as adversaries presented themselves."

The citation for his Air Force Cross described his actions as exhibiting "uncommon valor" and "extraordinary heroism," but in Wilkinson's words, it was just what he thought was expected of him.

"All I know is, from my perspective, it was my duty to do everything I could to assist the guys around me," he said. "They were counting on me to do my job."

While different in nature, this fundamental principal is the same in all aspects of the military. People are counting on service members to do their jobs, and both operators and Airmen in support roles are vital to success in the ICBM mission. It is a concept that lends itself to mission success, and at times, like in Mogadishu, it can even save lives.