Awarded for actions during the Global War on Terror
General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Central Command Air Force (USCENTAF), Special Orders G-334 (August 21, 2002)
Action Date: January 20, 2002
Service: U.S. Air Force
Company: 18th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat “V” to Captain James R. Sears, Jr., United States Air Force, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as F-16CG flight lead, 18th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron on 20 January 2002.
Captain Sears distinguished himself as On Scene Commander for a downed CH-53 in a heavily defended area of Taliban control in Northern Afghanistan during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. During the Combat Search and Rescue he organized, directed, and controlled a total of 13 aircraft including three Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, five helicopters, one C-130, two F-16s, and two F-18s. He rapidly developed a deconfliction plan that ensured the safety of all assets and allowed them to operate within a five nautical mile radius of the downed helicopter. After receiving the initial coordinates of the crash site he realized they were over one nautical mile off the actual location in heavily mountainous terrain.
After a diligent, methodical search of the area, Captain Sears was able to get his eyes on the site, provide a perfect talk-on for his wingman, and direct the other support assets to the crash site. Using on-board sensors, Captain Sears was quickly able to pass updated coordinates to the thousandth of a degree to command and control agencies without compromising the safety of the entire rescue operation. He expertly sanitized the 60 nautical mile ingress and egress route through enemy territory.
Captain Sears then executed the demanding task of rescue escort for two helicopters. This involved maintaining visual contact and constant coverage while flying over 300 knots faster and being 15,000 feet higher than the helicopters. Captain Sears, in conjunction with command and control assets, coordinated a plan to move three separate tankers close enough to the crash site to ensure constant command for the entire time on scene.
Captain Sears’ flawless flight leadership allowed him to intercept and visually identify a Red Cross aircraft flying in the vicinity of the downed helicopter, not identifiable by electronic means or talking to command and control assets, ensuring the safety of the entire rescue effort. Captain Sears passed off On Scene Commander duties to two United States Navy F-18s after 4.5 hours on scene.
Captain Sears’ tireless efforts and tremendous focus was unprecedented considering in his single-seat F-16 he flew more than 3500 miles, logged 11.1 hours, and ten air refuelings requiring more than 120,000 pounds of fuel to be onloaded through hostile territory. Captain Sears’ courage, superior airmanship, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of personal danger were instrumental in accomplishing this hazardous mission and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force.