(Via Ho’okele News)
Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Martinez
15th Wing Public Affairs
Gen. Hawk Carlisle, Pacific Air Forces commander, presented the Air Force Aerial Achievement Medal to Capts. Michael Hank and Edward Sutton, 535th Airlift Squadron, for their contributions to Operation Damayan during a medal presentation Sept. 9 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“I can’t say it enough. Thank you for what you do, and thank you for stepping up for this mission and being absolutely incredible,” Carlisle said. “Your whole crew did an amazing job, and you have a lot to be proud of.”
Hank and Sutton were members of two C-17 Globemaster III crews who flew humanitarian sorties in and out of the Tacloban region of the Phillipines, after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the area, killing more than 6,000 people.
Lt. Col. Gregg Johnson, 535th AS commander, presented the Air Force Aerial Achievement Medal to five other crew members at the presentation: Capt. Jason Birdsall, 1st Lt. Gavin Walter, Tech. Sgt. Robert Wyman, Staff Sgt. Dylan Porras, and Senior Airman Samantha Holley.
“It was amazing today to have our crews get the Aerial Achievement Medal,” Hank said. “It’s the result of the hard work everyone put into completing the mission and helping others.”
Their crews were the first U.S. C-17s to land at Clark Air Base, Philippines, to provide humanitarian relief for the operation.
“What an honor and a humbling experience to be presented the Aerial Achievement Medal,” Sutton said. “Sometimes it just feels like it’s another day in the office, but then you look back and see the impact your work had on the overall mission and on helping others —it’s amazing.”
When the crews arrived, more than 20,000 people were waiting for humanitarian aid and evacuation, many grieving due to missing family members and the devastation in the area.
“The moment that stands out for me was when we had that first load of 674 passengers,” Walter said. “To see these people finally having a little hope on the plane after going days without food and water is something I’ll never forget. We were able to take them to safety and that was an amazing feeling.”
The 674-passenger sortie set a record for the most number of passengers on a single C-17 sortie.
In all, the two crews airlifted more than 2.5 million pounds of life-saving cargo and rescued more than 2,000 people.