On January 17, 1991, Captain Gentner Drummond's mission was clear. He led a 40-plus aircraft strike mission into the southeast corner of Baghdad. His task was to provide aerial protection for a strike package into Baghdad under cover of darkness. It was the United States' first combat mission into Iraq in the Gulf War.
When Capt. Drummond went to fly, he strapped that F-15 fighter jet to him. It became part of him. He knew the F-15 as well as the F-15 knew itself.
"We engaged and drove out eight MIG 29s from the target area as our fighter bombers destroyed key targets", Capt. Drummond said. "On our egress I was ordered back toward Baghdad to kill a declared enemy aircraft that was in pursuit of the egressing strike package."
The young fighter pilot had clearance to fire on what mission command deemed a hostile aircraft. "I had my finger on the button," Drummond said.
Ultimately, he identified the aircraft as an ally, not an enemy fighter. The plane was a Saudi Arabian Tornado fighter jet. Captain Drummond escorted the pilot safely back to base.
In awarding him the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Force stated that Capt. Drummond's situational awareness, airmanship and understanding of the rules of engagement prevented the tragic loss of a coalition force crew and aircraft.
Additionally, Capt. Drummond's decisions and disciplined execution highlighted a significant shortfall in the combat identification process. Because of his actions, all F-15 units adopted a more discriminatory approach to aircraft identification.