During the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, elements of the 3rd Infantry Division had come under fire from Iraqi forces, including T-72 tanks. That's when the boots on the ground called for air support.
According to a report by the Air Force Times, two A-10s, one of them flown by Gregory Thornton, responded to the call. During the next 33 minutes, they made a number of close passes.
Thornton came within 1,000 yards of the enemy, using his A-10's GAU-8 cannon in some cases. Ultimately, he and the other pilot would be credited with killing three T-72s, six other armored vehicles, and a number of other targets.
Fourteen years after that battle, Thornton, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, will receive the Silver Star in a ceremony in July that will be presided over by Gen. Mike Holmes, the commander of Air Combat Command. The ceremony will take place at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
"This courageous and aggressive attack, while under withering fire and in poor weather, along with Capt. Thornton's superior flying skills and true attack pilot grit, allowed Task Force 2-69 Armor to cross the Tigris River with minimal combat losses and successfully accomplish their objective of linking up with coalition forces completing the 360-degree encirclement of Baghdad," the citation that outlined the award reads.
Thornton had been assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron at Pope Field, near Fort Bragg, prior to his retirement. At the time of the incident, Thornton was a captain in the Air Force.
The Air Force is reportedly considering replacements for the A-10. Aircraft involved in what is being called the OA-X program are going to start testing this summer. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to get new wings to prevent the premature retirement of some A-10s.