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122nd pilots earn medals for heroism in Iraq tour

December 20, 2005 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Three Indiana Air National Guard F-16 pilots, Lt. Col. Stohler, Capt. Rusch, and Capt. Frazier, were honored for their role in protecting soldiers on the ground in Iraq.

163rd FS - F-16 Fort Wayne Falcons (Ludo De Beuckeleer collection)

The three pilots fly with the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard based in Fort Wayne.

Lt. Col. Michael D. Stohler, 38, Capt. Timothy D. Rusch, 33, and Capt. Brian K. Frazier, 35, were awarded the high-ranking Air Medal for single acts of heroism and achievement during their 100-day tour of duty in Iraq last year.

This is the first time members of the Fort Wayne unit have received Air Medals tied to a single event. Ten F-16 fighter pilots from Fort Wayne's 122nd went on the mission that spanned the months of May through September 2004. Their mission was to give air support to Army and Marine ground troops.

Rusch, a part-time pilot with the 122nd, destroyed three buildings in Samarra, Iraq, from which insurgents were shooting at Army soldiers. When the buildings were crushed, the shooting stopped, eliminating the threat, he said.

This latest mission in Iraq was drastically different from the several other times the pilots had been sent to Iraq. Before, they had patrolled the no-fly zone for Iraqi aircraft. This time, they were in a combat zone watching over ground forces.

This mission was "more satisfying" than the previous ones, Frazier said.

The job was drastically different from the previous ones but that didn't throw them off. Because the 122nd practices every day for missions like this, the whole event had a routine feeling to it when they were in the air. "It just seemed like training and that's good," Stohler said.

The only difference of course was that a real weapon came off the jet...

The 122nd successfully completed their first overseas deployment with the F-16C when they deployed to Egypt in February 1993. The exercise, "Coronet Avenger," served as a training exercise, testing the capability of the unit to deploy and operate at an overseas location.

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