Captain Kim N. Campbell is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism while participating in aerial flight as an A/OA-10 fighter pilot, 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, 332d Expeditionary Operations Group, 332d Air Expeditionary Wing at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait on 7 April 2003. On that date, at North Baghdad Bridge, Iraq, flying as Yard 06, Captain Campbell’s professional skill and airmanship directly contributed to the successful close air support of ground forces from the 3d Infantry Division and recovery of an A-10 with heavy battle damage. While ingressing her original target area, Captain Campbell was diverted to a troops-in-contact situation where enemy forces had positioned themselves within 400 meters of the advancing friendly forces and were successfully preventing the lead elements of the 3d Infantry Division from crossing the North Baghdad Bridge.
Unable to eliminate the enemy without severe losses, the ground forward air controller had requested immediate close air support. After a quick situation update and target area study, Captain Campbell expertly employed 2.75 inch high explosive rockets on the enemy position that had been threatening the advancing forces, scoring a direct hit and silencing the opposition.
During her recovery from the weapons delivery pass, a surface-to-air missile impacted the tail of Captain Campbell’s aircraft. Immediately taking corrective action, she isolated the hydraulic systems and placed the A-10 into the manual reversion flight control mode of flight and prepared for the long and tenuous return flight to Kuwait.
Captain Campbell’s aviation prowess and coolness under pressure directly contributed to the successful comletion of the critical mission and recovery of a valuable combat aircraft. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Captain Campbell reflect great credit upon herself and the United States Air Force.
3/29/2004 - WASHINGTON — The Iraqi republican guard may have had luck on their side that miserable Baghdad day, but they did not know who was flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II they had just hit with a rocket.
It was April 7, 2003, and an elite unit of Iraqis had U.S. forces pinned down along the Tigris River, firing rocket-propelled grenades into their position, not far from the North Baghdad Bridge. The word from the forward-air controller on the ground with the U.S. forces indicated assistance was needed immediately.
Capt. Kim Campbell of the 75th Fighter Squadron, speaking to a large crowd at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum on March 24, said she knew there would be considerable risk involved in the mission. But she said that it is the nature of the beast for an A-10 attack pilot.
“These guys on the ground needed our help,” said the captain. “That’s our job — to bring fire down on the enemy when our Army and Marine brothers request our assistance.”
The day’s mission had not been ideal by any means. Once she and her flight leader were airborne, with instructions to target Iraqi vehicles and tanks in the city, they had trouble finding the tanker for gas, because of inclement weather conditions in the area. Before leaving Kuwait, the weather prompted Captain Campbell’s flight leader, who was also her squadron commander, to ask if she had her lucky rabbit’s foot.
“I did not know how much luck I would later need,” she told the Smithsonian crowd.
As soon as the call for close-air support came through, Captain Campbell said she knew the two planes would be over the target area within minutes. The pilots kept their planes above the weather as long as possible before descending in time to identify both the friendly and enemy locations. Then they unleashed their fury, beginning with the flight lead applying his 30 mm cannon on the enemy, and ending with both pilots making several passes, firing both cannon and explosive rockets.
Captain Campbell was leaving the target following her last rocket pass when she felt and heard a large explosion at the back of the aircraft. There was no question in her mind, she said, that the plane had been hit by enemy fire.
“The jet rolled fairly violently to the left and pointed at the city below, and the jet was not responding to any of my control inputs,” she said. “I had several caution lights, but the ones that stood out in my mind the most were the hydraulic lights. I checked the hydraulic gauges and both read zero.”
With both hydraulic lines gone, the only option was to put the jet into “manual inversion,” a system of cranks and cables that allows the pilot to fly the aircraft under mechanical control. The captain said she saw it as her last chance to avoid a parachute ride down into the city.
It was a huge relief, she said, when the jet started to climb out and away from Baghdad. But that relief was short-lived. She still had to maneuver the plane back to Kuwait, much of the way through hostile territory.
“I knew that if I had to eject, my chances of survival and rescue would be much better if I could get out of the city,” she said. “As we started maneuvering south to get out of Baghdad, we noticed that anti-aircraft artillery was coming at us from several locations.”
With little control to keep the jet moving in the manual inversion configuration, Captain Campbell said she could only hope for the best.
“I was hoping that the theory of big sky, little bullet would work out in my favor,” she told the crowd. “Amazingly, we made it out of Baghdad with no further battle damage.”
The design of the A-10 restricts how much the pilot can see of the rear portion of the jet, so Captain Campbell was limited to her flight lead’s description of the damage to her aircraft. His words were not encouraging.
“He did an initial battle-damage check and told me that I had hundreds of small holes in the fuselage and tail section on the right side, as well as a football-sized hole in the right horizontal stabilizer,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I knew that that didn’t sound great.”
Soon thereafter, the captain began the long process of going through several emergency checklists. She said she had a decision to make — stay with the jet and try to land, or get to friendly territory and eject. Pilots do not train very often in manual inversion — only once during initial training to find out how the jet will respond, she said. In fact, one of the items on the checklist is to “attempt manual inversion landings only under ideal conditions,” she said. Still, Captain Campbell said she was confident she was going to get the jet back safely on the ground.
“I felt that I had a lot of things going my way that day,” she said. “The jet was flying extremely well, the winds at our home base were down the runway, and I had a very experienced flight lead on my wing, providing me with mutual support.”
At the same time, the captain also said that A-10 manual-inversion landings had been attempted three times during Operation Desert Storm, and not all had been successful. One pilot had been killed when his jet crashed, and one survived after touching down only to find out that his jet had no brakes.
“The trip back to Kuwait was probably one of the longest hours of my life,” she said. “I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen when I slowed the aircraft down in an attempt to land.”
After she completed the emergency-gear extension, the gear came down with three green-light indicators, telling Captain Campbell that the gears were down and locked. Now it was just a matter of flying the aircraft through the continual haze of dust storms associated with Kuwait. The pilots contacted the tower and the supervisor of flying to say they were on the way in.
As Captain Campbell started on final approach, the aircraft was flying extremely well, she said. But, as the A-10 crossed the landing threshold, the aircraft started a quick roll to the left. The captain quickly counteracted that with flight controls, and the A-10 touched down.
“When all three wheels hit the ground, it was an amazing feeling of relief, but I still had to get the jet stopped,” she said. “So I accomplished the procedure for emergency braking, and once again, that jet worked as advertised.”
Looking back on the ordeal, Captain Campbell said she has nothing but kind words for those responsible for building the A-10, and for those responsible for maintaining it.
“I am incredibly thankful to those who designed and built the A-10 as well as the maintainers who did their part to make sure that that jet could fly under any circumstances, even after extensive battle damage,” she said.
Captain Campbell told the Smithsonian crowd that experts believe a surface-to-air missile hit near the right rear stabilizer, a missile fired without the aid of any type of navigation system — it was a lucky shot.
But that luck pales in comparison to the good fortune of Captain Campbell’s A-10. Thanks to her, the plane has since found a nice resting place amongst the heroes of days gone by — in the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. — instead of becoming a burning heap of metal in Iraq.