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58th SOW Airman awarded Distinguished Flying Cross

Col. Bradley Downs (left), vice commander of the 492nd Special Operations Wing, pins the Distinguished Flying Cross on Maj. Michael Tolzien, 58th Special Operations Wing during a ceremony July 6 at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Col. Bradley Downs (left), vice commander of the 492nd Special Operations Wing, pins the Distinguished Flying Cross on Maj. Michael Tolzien, 58th Special Operations Wing during a ceremony July 6 at Kirtland Air Force Base. Tolzien’s Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded “with Valor,” which denotes an act of heroism at grave personal risk far above and beyond while engaged in direct combat with and exposure to an enemy’s hostilities.

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Maj. Michael Tolzien from Kirtland’s 58th Special Operations Wing was recognized at a July 6 ceremony with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts as an aircraft commander who provided airdrop support to allied forces under heavy fire.

Tolzien’s Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded “with Valor,” which denotes an act of heroism at grave personal risk far above and beyond while engaged in direct combat with and exposure to an enemy’s hostilities.

In January 2016 while deployed in Afghanistan, then-Capt. Tolzien received an alert call for a high priority mission stating that a special operations forces ground team was under heavy enemy fire, isolated from conventional support, and would soon be overrun by enemy forces.

Tolzien immediately prepared his aircraft with 1,600 pounds of combat-critical supplies that could be airdropped to the SOF team and would allow the team to drive back the enemy forces and survive the battle. Minutes after the aircraft was loaded with the supplies it was off the ground and flying toward the fight.

The ground battle was so intense the airdrop location was changed multiple times, putting immense pressure on Tolzien’s crew to accurately recalculate the perfect release point. If the supplies did not land exactly where they were needed, the ground team would be unable to access the supplies and they would be overrun by the enemy forces.

As conditions rapidly deteriorated for the ground team, Tolzien proceeded with the airdrop at the best determined location, flying at critically slow airspeeds at just 800 feet above the ground. Although his aircraft was struck multiple times by enemy fire, Tolzien’s courage under heavy enemy fire and his ability to make quick decisions in combat resulted in providing life-saving ammunition and medical supplies within 50 meters of the special forces team, halting any further loss of life and directly contributed to a successful counterattack.

“The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Captain Tolzien reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force,” the award citation stated.

Tolzien, who is the chief of current operations in the 58th Operations Group, said his training at the 58th SOW prepared him to be successful in the operation.

“I’m humbled to receive this award,” Tolzien said, “and I know the training you’re getting here will prepare you to do the same thing in similar circumstances.”

Col. Bradley Downs, vice commander of the 492nd Special Operations Wing, presented the award to Tolzien and called him one of the most “humble and unassuming aviators you’ll ever meet.”

“Tolzien is someone who lives the professional ethos we all hold dear,” Downs said.

Also at the ceremony was the mother, Joyce Montoya, and other relatives of Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock of the Washington Army National Guard. McClintock was the only casualty of the attack that day.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is a military decoration awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.