January 5, 2007 (by Maj. Krista Carlos) - It's not often an American four-star general has the opportunity to present prestigious war medals to coalition partners, but Jan. 2 was a special occasion.
Gen. William T. Hobbins, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, flew to Fighter Wing Skrydstrup, Denmark
, to present U.S. Air Medals to 35 Danish F-16 pilots who flew in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from October 2002 to October 2003.
"I am truly honored to present these 35 medals to the heroes standing before us," General Hobbins said in the awards speech. "Denmark continues to be an unwavering supporter of America's struggle for freedom around the world ... and I'm proud to recognize these individuals who fought alongside us, flying hundreds of combat and patrol missions over Afghanistan in the mighty F-16."
Lt. Col. Kurt Marisa, the U.S. air attaché to Denmark, explained why the Danish pilots received U.S medals.
During their time in OEF, the Danish fighter pilots were part of the 376th Air Expeditionary Operations Group, which operated out of Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, said Colonel Marisa. To qualify for the U.S. medals, the pilots had to fly at least 15 hours of aerial operations in a hostile combat zone.
During the 12-month deployment, the pilots flew nearly 900 mission hours over Afghanistan.
"We had a very good experience in OEF," said Capt. John Kristensen, who flew 10 missions during his deployment and also served a staff tour. "It was quite a challenge to see how everything worked, and it was great to be part of a real U.S. operation as opposed to an exercise."
Other F-16 pilots also had good things to say about the deployment.
"I've received a lot of medals in my career, but this is the first medal that I think I will actually wear," said Danish Capt. Per Zesach. "It was a great honor to receive it. The U.S. always recognizes what Denmark brings to the fight, and they understand the whole basis for working together as a coalition."
General Hobbins ended the ceremony by thanking the pilots for their commitment as NATO
allies as well as their service and sacrifices.
"I salute and honor you for your service, dedication and unending support, and thank your families for the sacrifices of lost time," the general said. "We do not stand alone in our accomplishments because it is all about the team that ensures freedom's future."