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Press Availability with Colonel McFadden and Captain Crawford from the Pentagon

Presenters: Maryland Air National Guard Colonel Nahaku McFadden and Air Force Captain Barry Crawford
April 11, 2012

             COLONEL NAHAKU MCFADDEN:  Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today.  I'm Colonel Nahaku McFadden.  I'm going to be moderating this afternoon. 

             We are pleased to have with us Captain Barry Crawford.  Captain Crawford is a Special Forces airman who, tomorrow, will be presented with our second-highest award for valor, the Air Force Cross.  He earned this high honor for his combat actions in Afghanistan during a 14-hour battle that took place near Laghman Province on May 4, 2010.  

             Captain Crawford is here today to talk about his work as an Air Force combat controller and the events of May 4, 2010.  Captain Crawford will have a short statement, and then I will take your questions.  And what we will do is that you can have one question and a follow-on and then we'd like to like to have opportunity for the next    person to ask their question.  So please direct your questions to me, and I will call on you at that time.  

             So here's Captain Crawford.

             CAPTAIN BARRY CRAWFORD:  Thank you all for being here.  

             A quick overview.  I was a Air Force combat controller assigned to a Army Special Forces unit who were acting as U.S. mentors to the Afghan commanders, which are highly specialized infantry mirrored off the U.S. Army Rangers.  

             The day of 4 May was an operation we were spearheading for a larger battle plan into a complete denied area in the mountainous areas east of Kabul.  We were tasked with conducting helicopter infiltration into a village that was sympathetic to the Taliban, but we wanted to put a friendly face on it, let the Afghans lead the operation, interact with the locals and let them know that the government of Afghanistan, you know, is taking charge of their country and that they're trying to show them that they're there to support that -- they shouldn't be going to the Taliban for help.

             We infilled in the early morning hours when it was still dark. We started picking up -- intercepted enemy radio communications that there was a superior enemy force in the area.  They knew we had infilled, but they didn't know exactly where we were yet, and that they were just waiting for the sun to come up to initiate their attack.  

             Ground force commander made the call to initiate as we had briefed, so we started clearing through the village looking -- interacting with the locals -- or that was our intent -- looking for any possible weapons or anything like that.  

             We started moving through the village, there was no women or children which we expected there to have been for that time of day. As the sun came up, shortly thereafter, one of our elements immediately came under small-arms fire from multiple enemy positions, and a few minutes after that, every one of our elements was under fire.  

             At that point, once the sun came up, it turned into a battle of survival for about the next 14 hours, where every element was under continuous enemy fire from multiple positions.  The enemy was completely around us.  They had called in reinforcements and they were using the terrain to their advantage. 

             Unfortunately, we did suffer several casualties.  They were all Afghan.  We suffered two commando killed-in-actions and three commando wounded-in-actions.  There were a lot of other close calls along the way.  Some of the -- one of the -- Special Forces medic took several rounds to his -- to his medbag, destroying some of his medical equipment.  Another Special Forces medic took a grazing gunshot wound to his ankle.  I had an antenna shot off my back.  Several commandos had ricochets off their helmets, but, fortunately for us, we were able to take the fight to the enemy.  

             We had a large impact in the area.  The enemy suffered pretty severe casualties, and we were able to make it out of there.  

             COL. MCFADDEN:  (Off mic) -- go ahead and take any questions that you might have.  

             Q:  Well -- 

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Markeisha?  Go ahead, Markeisha.

             Q:  Markeisha Ricks, with the Air Force Times.  Could you just talk to us a little bit about your mindset -- we know from reading your citation and some of the stories that have already been written about you that you were being shot at, at times out in the open.  How were you processing that in your mind as you were doing this thing that probably saved a lot of lives?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  As a combat controller, we're the -- someone described it in the past that we're kind of the insurance policy for the Special Forces team that we're attached to.  

             As a air-to-ground interface, we control all air, be it for kinetic or targeting purposes, for just building intelligence.  So that's what we're trained to do.  And when the ground force -- when we're using our organic weapons -- weapons we're carrying -- and when that's not enough, then that's where I come into play as the combat controller, calling in the heavy ordnance from Army Rotary Wing and Air Force and Navy Tac Air.  

             That's -- we spent several years training just to even get to a team, and once you're an operational team you then add to your core skill sets, and -- could that, combined with several combat deployments -- you just react; it's muscle memory.  And that's why we train like we fight, so when we are put in those situations we don't have time to think because there's lives on the line.

             Q:  Thank you.

             Q:  Captain, how did you maintain com with the air support, with your antenna shot?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  I had two -- I carry back-ups and I also had two radios with a third backup just in case.  

             Q:  What happened with -- (off mic)?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  I had to -- had to trim it.

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Kimberly, you had a question?  Q:  Yes.  Captain, can you tell us what went through your mind when you heard you would receive this unique and rare honor?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Honestly, it came as a complete shock.  At first, I thought it was kind of a joke.  But once it was confirmed that this was taking place, I was deeply honored and humbled just by the gravity of the award.  

             So many of the people I looked up to paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives that were awarded this and earned it with their blood.  And -- but it's -- the award, even though it's an individual declaration, it's bigger than me.  It's about my team.  I mean, I wouldn't be here today if my Special Forces teammates -- the Afghan commanders who were fighting -- didn't go above and beyond for that 14 hours.  We counted on each other -- we had to, because our lives were on the line.  And, you know, I'm just grateful that they did their -- they're heroes, in my eyes.  You know, that's the only reason I'm here right now.

             Q:  (Off mic) -- tell us a little bit about yourself.  Are you married, do you have children?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Yeah.  I'm married -- I've been married coming on -- closing on nine years, and I have two small boys.  One's 3 (years old) and one's 20 months.  So they're keeping me busy.  

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Chris (sp), you have a question?

             Q:  Yes.  You just mentioned the Afghan commanders that were being mentored in this operation.  Could you talk a little bit about, you know, your interactions with them, who they are and, you know, what -- I guess, what sort of drove you out to, you know, risk your life and almost get shot bringing in the helicopters to save them?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  The -- that is who -- we were attached to, they're our teammates.  Doesn't matter if they're American or if they're Afghani -- like, they're our teammates.  So there's never a question of, well, he's Afghani, I'm not going to risk my life for him.  And that day, everyone did heroics for -- didn't matter what their nationality was.  

             The commanders are the elite of the Afghan National Army; that's who they pull from when they go through an arduous training.  And like I said, they mirror on the Army Rangers so, larger troops, when we go into these operations.  And when it came time that we had to get these guys out because their lives were on the line, neither myself, my Special Forces teammates, or even the Tac Air and the medevacs    questioned and hesitated, just because it was Afghans wounded or killed.  They knew that, hey, there's friendlies on the ground, they're wounded, they're dying, we need to get them out.

             Q:  How good are they -- these Afghan -- (off mic)?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  They're really good.  They're definitely -- they're very professional; they're hardened fighters.  

             Q:  Forgive me if you've answered this before; I came in late. Can you talk about the numbers that were there on that day -- the number of Afghans, the number of Americans?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  The total assault forces numbered around 100, with a preponderance being Afghan commanders.  And when we infilled, we were initially briefed there would be 10 to 15 possible insurgents in the area, not specifically in that village.  And what we found out after the fact -- once we got back -- after analyzing the intelligence, that there was over a hundred that had moved into the area during the fight.

             Q:  And you are in the process of becoming a pilot, is that correct?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  That's correct.  In June, I transitioned into the Maryland Air National Guard, and I swore into the 104th Fighter Squadron -- I fly the A-10.  And I just found out yesterday I'll be going to pilot training this summer.  So -- for -- in about two years, there should hopefully be a brand-new A-10 pilot.

             Q:  So can you talk about the decision to go from someone who was on the ground, in an action like this, to someone who now would be called in, potentially, for this kind of action?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  The -- I was offered the opportunity to apply, and I jumped at it just because I know how great of a close air support platform the A-10 is.  Just its mere presence in an objective area -- I witnessed firsthand as the enemy fighters saw it and they backed off, they didn't want to mess with it.  And that -- it didn't even have to fire its gun or drop a bomb.  

             So when that opportunity was offered to me I jumped at it, and that will enable me to stay in the fight for a lot longer, to take my experience on the ground.  And once I've learned the specifics of flying, then to add on top of that -- and hopefully be an asset to my Guard unit -- the Maryland Guard and just the Air Force, in general.

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Kimberly, you have a  quick question?  Q:  May I ask a follow-up question?

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Yeah.

             Q:  As you mentioned, unfortunately, five Afghans died.  No Americans?

             MR. CRAWFORD:  Two Afghans died; three were wounded -- 

             Q:  Three were wounded, pardon me.

             MR. CRAWFORD:  But no Americans were killed or severely wounded.

             Q:  Was that just random, or was there a training differential there?

             MR. CRAWFORD:  It was purely random.  There were so many close calls and -- you know, we -- when we got back we all realized someone higher than us was looking over our shoulder that day, because this situation, it -- we can't really explain it, because U.S. -- we were mixed in and out with the Afghans, so -- we dressed the same; you couldn't really tell the difference.

             Q:  Captain, can you talk about how you acquired your infantry skills, your ground skills?

             MR. CRAWFORD:  As a combat controller, we go through just under three years of arduous training.  We have several core skills, one of which is air traffic control.  So we're certified air traffic controllers.  And we really specialize on austere landing zones.  So we go back behind enemy lines, we can go to an area -- we're also trained in survey and assessment, so we can go into an area, survey a patch of land, and actually control airplanes to conduct landing operations, infills, exfills, things of that nature, supply drops. 

             We're also trained in special reconnaissance, joint -- (inaudible) -- TAC control, which is controlling the air power for possibly kinetic strikes, targeting intelligence gathering, and special reconnaissance.

             Q:  Were A-10s involved in this particular incident?

             MR. CRAWFORD:  In this one, no.  Aircraft that were involved were Army AH-64 Apaches, Air Force F-16s, Air Force F-15Es and Air Force -- it was manned ISR platforms.

             Q:  Where exactly -- you mentioned that you'd seen the effect of the A-10 on the ennemy previously.  Where -- what were those incidents, sir?  MR. CRAWFORD:  I spent six months in Afghanistan, bouncing around with commandos in several different provinces.  And doing the count lists on several of the missions, I had A-10s in support.

             Q:  (Off mic.)  At one point, enemy trucks become involved, and what was going on there?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  There was -- there were pick-up trucks -- 

             Q:  (Off mic.)

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Yes.  The enemy likes to use -- you know, either to walk.  They'll use mopeds or high-lift (ph) pick-up trucks, sort of like Toyota Tacomas they sell here in the States.  And they had just entered the area quickly via their trucks.  And we were able to target them because they had heavy weapons onboard. 

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Anyone else have another question?  Chris, go ahead. 

             Q:  How old are you?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  I'm 31 now.

             Q:  And do we have your hometown and how long you've been in the service?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  I grew up -- born and raised in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia.  And -- what was the other question?  I'm sorry. 

             (Cross talk.)

             Q:  How long have you been in?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Active duty, just over eight years.  And then I've been serving at the 104th Fighter Squadron since mid-June.

             Q:  And it's Drexel Hill, you said?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.  Correct.  

             Q:  Sir, you just mentioned when you first came in and you expected to see women and children, but then when you didn't, did that put everybody on guard?  Is that why you mentioned that fact?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  When we came in, we just -- we -- the village was kind of empty, so that, combined with the intercepted enemy radio    communication saying that there was a enemy force, they want to attack us, we really -- our senses got very heightened.  So we started planning accordingly.

             We went about our operation as we had planned, but in the back of our mind, we were preparing to, OK, where are they going to attack us from, how are we going to react.  So kind of dual-hatting everything as we were moving. 

             Q:  Do you know now what -- what the status of that village is? Has that come around or -- 

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Unfortunately, I do not.  We did learn after that for several -- or intelligence had predicted that for -- there would be a large impact, that it would be a friendly -- that the enemy had suffered so many casualties that there wouldn't -- they wouldn't expect any activity for several weeks or months after the operation.  

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Matt, do you have a question?  

             Q:  I do.  

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Matt (sp), you have a question?

             Q:  I do.  I'm with The Baltimore Sun.  Have you moved to Maryland, or are you coming to Maryland or -- 

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Eventually.  I'm currently serving, but we're just residing back in Philadelphia right now and commuting.  But once I become an A-10 pilot, then we'll be moving permanently to Maryland.

             Q:  And have you got a civilian job lined up for when you're off active duty?

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  Not yet, no.

             Q:  Thanks.

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Any further questions?

             OK, there was a request to have a quote read.  And this is from Lieutenant Colonel Park(sicParks) Hughes, the commander of the 21st STS -- I will have to get back to you on what that stands for. 

             "But multiple participants in the mission provided sworn statements that painted a consistent and compelling picture of Captain Crawford's technical expertise and exceptional courage under fire during the long day -- the day-long battle with the ennemy.  They credited his decisive actions with enabling the U.S. ground force and their Afghan partners to survive and escape an extremely dire situation."  And that is the quote from him, who happens to work with these fine gentlemen that are out there fighting every day on our behalf.

             We will also have another colonel that is available tomorrow afternoon, after the ceremony concludes, to have further opportunities for an interview if you would like, if you're available and around tomorrow after the ceremony.  But other than that, this is going to conclude our events for today -- unless you have one more question?

             Q:  Thank you.  What was the name of the colonel, again?

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Lieutenant Colonal Parks Hughes.  H-U-G-H-E-S.  

             CAPT. CRAWFORD:  And 21 STS is "Special Tactics Squadron."  That was my unit that I was assigned to back in the States.  Q:  Parks -- P-A-R-K-E-S?

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Yes.  P-A-R-K-S.

             Q:  I wonder how many of these crosses have been given out in its history with you?

             COL. MCFADDEN:  As I understand it, since 9/11, there have been five that have been given out -- three are those who are alive, and the other two were posthumously provided.

             Q:  And this is then the sixth?

             COL. MCFADDEN:  No, this is part of the five.

             Q:  Three of the five.

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Yes, so he's the third to receive it of those who are still alive.

             Q:  (Inaudible.)

             COL. MCFADDEN:  Thank you very much.  We really appreciate your time and coming today.  If you have any further questions and/or follow-ups, please provide them to me and we'll get back with you to answer those questions.  And this concludes our press conference for today.  Thank you.

             Q:  Thank you very much.