The pilot and crew of a B-1B bomber from Ellsworth Air Base have received Distinguished Flying Cross medals for their April 7 strike on a house in Baghdad where Saddam Hussein was believed to be meeting with other Iraqi leaders.
Military officials in Washington, D.C. announced Sunday that they gave the medals to Capt. Chris Wachter, commander; Lt. Col. Fred Swan, weapons-system officer; Capt. Sloan Hollis, pilot; and 1st Lt. Joe Runci, offensive-systems operator.
The Central Command, which is in charge of military operations in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, announced the awards along with another set of commendations for the pilots of two U.S. jets that bombed a complex March 19 where Hussein and his sons were thought to be staying.
Lt. Col. David Toomey and Maj. Mark Hoehn were flying the F-117A attack jets that night. Both overcame equipment problems and short notice to perform the mission effectively, the military said.
The news that the B-1B crew was honored was the talk of Ellsworth personnel Sunday, even as the base took time off for the Easter observance. Don Olson, a civilian public-affairs representative for the base, said Swan and another crew member were home, and the other men were expected to arrive soon.
Olson said he didn't want to disturb Swan for interviews on Easter Sunday.
"It's a very high award. It's very nice for the base, and especially nice because the B-1 contributed greatly to the overall war effort," Olson said. "We're also grateful that there were no casualties, especially with the anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad."
The bomber crew is part of Ellsworth's 34th Bomb Squadron. The bomber was in the air and had finished refueling when the crew received the mission call. It took 12 minutes to reach Baghdad.
With F-16 fighters for cover and Navy EA6 Prowlers jamming the radar of Iraq air- defense systems, the crew confirmed target coordinates and dropped four 2,000-pound bunker-buster bombs. The bombs penetrate the ground 10 to 20 feet before exploding.
Military officials hoped the bombs killed Saddam, his sons and other top Iraqi officials. But that hasn't been confirmed either way.
After striking the "leadership target" the crew hit six additional sites in Baghdad, then moved on to nine more targets. They included missiles, radar and support vehicles.
Ellsworth B-1s have flown more than 432 sorties and dropped more than 4.5 million pounds of munitions in the Iraq operation. There are still more than 900 Ellsworth personnel deployed, although they are beginning to return home in small numbers.
"We're going to see people coming back in ones and twos in the coming weeks, and eventually, there may be a larger group," Olson said. "It's really just getting started."
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or email@example.com