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Two F-16 pilots awarded Distinguished Flying Cross for saving 88 US and Coalition troops

U.S. Air Force Captains John Nygard and Salvador Cruz, 79th Fighter Squadron instructor pilots, present flowers to friends and family members during a Distinguished Flying Cross presentation (DFC) ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 7, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class BrieAnna Stillman)
June 15, 2018

Two U.S. Air Force F-16 pilots from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving the lives of 88 Coalition soldiers that were attacked by hostile forces in Afghanistan in April of last year.

Captains John Nygard and Salvador Cruz were presented the Distinguished Flying Cross on June 7 by U.S. Air Force Col. Daniel Lasica, former 20th Fighter Wing commander, according to a release.

Nygard and Cruz provided “four close air-to-ground weapon employments” while trying to determine the location of friendly and hostile forces despite communication problems and fragmented information.

The ground forces were taking fire from all directions, and Nygard and Cruz had to drop bombs at close range of friendly forces.

“Every single person that was there really made a huge difference and really made a bad situation come together,” Nygard said. “They trusted us to employ weapons really close to them and trusted us to do our job professionally, quickly and without error. We trusted them, as well, to give us the right information as to what to target and where they were. It was that communication back and forth that made things happen.”

During the mission, two American soldiers were killed in action fighting ISIS and other militants in April 2017.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like,” Cruz said to the mothers of the two soldiers killed. “But I can tell you what Joshua and Cameron mean to me. I’ll never forget your sons. I promise you. I try to live my life in a way that honors their sacrifice. I tell their story so that other pilots, the new guys, are ready when their number is called.”