JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
An Air Force captain who is training to be a pilot
instructor at the 12th Flying Training Wing’s 560th Flying Training Squadron
has earned an honor whose past recipients have included acclaimed aviators such
as Gens. Hap Arnold and Jimmy Doolittle and Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager.
Capt. David Kroontje, a 560th FTS pilot instructor training
student, received the National Aeronautic Association’s 2014 Mackay Trophy for
the role he played as an F-16C co-pilot in destroying three Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant blockades, numerous armored vehicles, an observation post
and some 80 ISIL fighters in Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains in August 2014.
The NAA, the oldest national aviation organization in the
United States, has awarded the Mackay Trophy since 1912. It is presented for
“the most meritorious flight of the year” by an Air Force military member or
Kroontje and the lead pilot, Capt. Gregory Balzhiser, the
aircrew of the Pacific Air Forces’ Ironhand 41 Flight during the sortie,
received their honor at the NAA Fall Awards Ceremony Dec. 3 in Arlington, Va.
They were assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan, but
deployed to Jordan at the time of the sortie.
Kroontje said receiving the award was a “humbling
“It’s what we’re trained to do every day,” he said. “The
positive impact this sortie had is what separates it from others.”
Balzhiser and Kroontje’s eight-hour night sortie, which included
four attacks, came in response to an August 2014 ISIL invasion of Iraqi towns
that were home to the ethnic minority Yazidis. ISIL forces began a mass
execution of Yazidi civilians, causing more than 40,000 Yazidis to flee north
to Mount Sinjar, where they received humanitarian airdrops of food and water,
but were subjected to brutal heat, ISIL blockades and constant gunfire by ISIL
“We didn’t know it was going to go down the way it did,”
Kroontje said. “We were just keeping an eye on the cargo birds dropping food
Because of the gravity of the situation – the mass murder of
innocent civilians – Balzhiser and Kroontje were instructed to destroy specific
“We dropped bombs and hit all our targets, so it was a
successful sortie,” Kroontje said.
In a letter to Gen. Lori Robinson, Pacific Air Forces
commander, informing her of the selection of Balzhiser and Kroontje as Mackay
Trophy winners, Gen. Mark Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, described the
“Capt. Balzhiser and Capt. Kroontje distinguished themselves
while operating in the Sinjar Mountains, Iraq, in August 2014,” he wrote.
“Captains Balzhiser and Kroontje expertly coordinated and employed numerous
munitions helping to free 40,000 Yazidi refugees being executed by the Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant.”
Kroontje, who said the conclusion of the sortie included a
joint simultaneous attack with Marine F-18 fighter pilots, said it was the
first time he had dropped all his weapons in one sortie.
“Later we realized the impact of our attack,” he said. “It
was not something we initially set out to do.”
Lt. Col. Joe DeBoer, 560th FTS commander, said it is
exciting to see Kroontje honored for his actions.
“I am amazed at the incredible airmanship and absolute professionalism
of our instructors and students,” he said. “Many times, their acts of courage
and the impacts of their actions in the skies are not publicized and often go
unnoticed. Fortunately, the Air Force was able to recognize one of our
students, Capt. Kroontje, as one of the two individuals to receive the Mackay
“Their actions saved the lives of thousands of the trapped
Yazidis,” DeBoer said. “Many, if not all of them, will probably never know