October 23, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Maj. Edward Linch and Capt. Brian Wolf are the winners of the 2003 Joe Bill Dryden Semper Viper Award. The two block 30 F-16 pilots won the award for their distinguished service during a mission over western Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Linch commanded a two-ship sortie supporting a scud-hunting mission during a four-hour vulnerability period. While en route, the pair received urgent calls on the emergency radio frequency from a coalition special forces team that was surrounded by a numerically superior enemy force only 300 meters away and closing.
The pilots descended through hazardous weather conditions at night with low ceilings, poor visibility, and limited illumination to provide immediate air support for the trapped team. They used a combination of jet noise, flares, and bomb drops to provide time for the special forces troops to abandon their vehicles, break through the line of enemy troops, and egress toward a safe extraction point.
Linch and Wolf are members of the 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama Air National Guard based at Dannelly Field in Montgomery.
The Semper Viper Award pays tribute to pilots demonstrating airmanship skills noteworthy of its namesake, the late Joe Bill Dryden. The award program began in 1996. A selection panel from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company evaluates candidates who carry on Joe Bill's tradition of excellence in airmanship and system knowledge.