DM combat pilot awarded Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Abbey Rieves
  • 355th Wing Public Affairs

Attention to orders: by direction of the President of the United States… The following individual is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while participating in aerial flight to the United States: 

U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Ross, 66th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Evaluator helicopter pilot, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross at a ceremony hosted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 23, 2023.

Holding true to Air Combat Command’s mission to maintain combat-ready forces ready for wartime air defense, Ross did just that on August 29, 2021.

“On this date, Major Ross led the last U.S. Air Force HH-60G helicopters out of Afghanistan through known Taliban controlled surface to air weapon systems, across hundreds of miles of hostile territory,” the citation read. 

Ross aerial piloted a 25-mile scud run through heavy rain during the combat mission. With visibility less than 250 meters, he ensured three aircraft arrived at a Pakistani airfield minutes before the thunderstorm made landing impossible.

“[Major Ross], ‘Wolf,’ awesome job; you have set the standard in what you do,” said U.S. Air Force Col. John Creel, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) deputy commander. “You didn’t leave anyone behind and you didn’t leave any equipment behind for the Taliban to use. That is—very commendable.”

Ross is a Davis-Monthan alumni, previously assigned to the 55th Rescue Squadron from 2017 to 2020, and assigned to the geographically separated 66th RQS, which organized under the 355th Wing but was inactivated on June 1, 2023.

DM’s rescue values have been ingrained in him: hostile environments or not, Ross must recover downed aircrew and isolated personnel regardless of the time of day or weather event.  

“I realized, after I flew that mission, how lucky I actually was,” said Ross. “When all the odds were continuing to pile up against us, I still knew what to do. I knew this from all of the training I had received throughout my entire career.”   

In the heat of that moment, when decisions had to be made, Ross said he relied on the knowledge and wisdom passed onto him through his career. He now reflects his experiences forward.

“I take that with gratitude, for those who taught me, and also responsibility to pass that on to the next generation,” said Ross. “Rescue is not just a job, it's a sacred mission.”