2005 Superior Achievement Award

Presented to: Lt. Col. James J. Gallagher

Citation: For his accomplishments and leadership as a commander, for his combat acumen and valor in Iraq, and for his assistance in the recovery of the space shuttle Columbia and its astronauts.


Lt. Col. James J. Gallagher was selected to command the 21st Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS), at Fort Polk, La. Under his leadership, Lt. Col. Gallagher revitalized the squadron which became recognized as the top ASOS in 9th Air Force and one of the most decorated Air Force combat units during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

In responding to the space shuttle Columbia break-up, he directed air and ground search teams, and using aspects of his navigator training, he personally performed debris trajectory analysis, computed ballistics for projected impact points, and led recovery teams to the engine parts and landing gear impact points. The NASA Recovery Team chief singularly credited him with accurately re-directing search teams to within meters of underwater sites and to within meters of undetected and missing remains.

Lt. Col. Gallagher was one of few airmen decorated for both aerial and ground combat achievements during Iraqi Freedom. As the airborne Close Air Support (CAS) controller aboard JSTARS on its first mission, as described by the ground commander, he prevented certain annihilation of 7th Calvary ground forces cut off on the wrong side of the Euphrates River, at night, blinded by a sandstorm, and outnumbered 10 to 1. He detected repeated Iraqi attacks masked by the sandstorm. He directed CAS and coordinated rocket artillery strikes, which decimated Iraqi armor attacks and became the 7th Cav's sole source of fire support for over eight desperate nighttime hours of intense fighting. This action is credited with one of the major U.S. victories of the war. Lt. Col Gallagher then aligned with ground units to fight from Kuwait to Baghdad.

He is a master navigator with over 2,500 flight hours, primarily in the B-52. His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars with Valor, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, six Air Force Meritorious Service Medals, three Air Medals, an Aerial Achievement Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, two Air Force Commendation Medals, the Air Force Achievement Medal, and twenty-six additional awards.