Presented to: Captain Samantha Ekwall
Citation: For her heroic actions as the lead navigator for a five ship formation during the refueling of the battle damaged CV-22 Ospreys during a U.S. Embassy evacuation attempt in South Sudan.
On December 21, 2013, Captain Samantha Ekwall was the lead navigator for a five ship formation with a two hour alert response to refuel three CV-22s during a 1,500-mile route through three countries across the African continent. Upon notification, Capt Ekwall and the crews arrived at the operations center within 20 minutes, and quickly planned to support two tilt-rotor air refuelings that included the evacuation of 65 American citizens.
On the approach to landing, the CV-22s came under intense surface-to-air fire from the roughly 2,000-man strong opposition force, crippling three aircraft and critically wounding four members of the SEAL security team. On route to a rendezvous, Capt Ekwall and the crew determined that the lead would take the most critically damaged aircraft, while the wingman would refuel the second two aircraft, a decision that likely saved 3 aircraft and 37 personnel.
If not for the bravery, sheer determination and aggressive decision making of Capt Ekwall and the crews of AGILE Flight, three CV-22s and countless lives would have been lost. Collectively, the rapid and certain actions of Capt Ekwall validated the flexibility and precise navigation of Air Force Special Operations Forces.
Capt Ekwall earned her navigator wings from Undergradute Navigator Training (UNT) at Randolph AFB, Texas. Following UNT, she completed C-130 training at Little Rock AFB and MC-130 training at Kirtland AFB. She is currently the Flight Commander, Aircrew Flight Equipment, 1st Special Operations Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida where she is responsible for life support systems and aircrew flight equipment across seven squadrons, including 66 personnel and 70 aircraft. She is also a navigation instructor with 9th Special Operations and has over 1,600 flight hours to include 305 combat hours.