442d Operations Group deputy commander receives Bronze Star

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alex Chase
  • 442d Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Lt Col. Rick "McGraw" Mitchell, 442d Deputy Operations Group Commander, received the Bronze Star during Commander's Call over the February, 2022 UTA, in the 5-bay here.

Mitchell received the award for leadership of the 303d Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan in 2020, leading the only fixed-wing fighter squadron in the country, overseeing more than 4,000 combat flight hours over more than 330 missions, supporting 80 troops-in-contact situations and 145 priority taskings – all while navigating unprecedented turnover difficulties caused by a global pandemic.

"I’m honored to receive the medal," said Mitchell. "I appreciate my deployed leadership, Brig General Derek "Maestro" O’Malley and Col Brian "Yukon" Dewitt for putting me in for the award and feeling I merited it. Truly humbling. I also want to thank my home station leadership here in the 442d Fighter Wing for surprising me with a public awarding of it."

The Bronze Star is the fourth highest decoration any military member can achieve. Dating back to 1944, it is awarded for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.

"I think it’s important for people to understand that I earned my Bronze Star for sustained, meritorious service during our combat AEF cycle; not for a singular, combat exploit," said Mitchell. "There is a distinct difference, to me, between a Bronze Star earned for sustained, successful combat leadership vs. a Bronze Star with a "V" device for Valor. Both are significant, but the "V" device signifies a truly heroic, combat exploit which I did not have or earn. I want to make sure people understand that, as I am careful not to take away from those United States service members who’ve earned their Bronze Stars with Valor."

Mitchell has served nearly 20 years in the Air Force, and said he believes couldn’t have done it alone. When asked who his biggest supporters have been throughout his career, Mitchell, without thinking twice, said his wife and three children.

"For me, balancing between being a husband, father of three young kids, Air Force officer, commander, fighter pilot, and civilian airline pilot is a never-ending, momentous challenge," said Mitchell. "[My wife’s] ability to lead our family despite my long absences is truly a blessing and I’m forever grateful and thankful for her."

Mitchell also wanted to recognize and thank everyone at the 442d Fighter Wing. When asked what comes to mind when he thinks of the wing, Mitchell thought about all the men and women that come together to work as a team to carry out the mission.

"I think of all the enlisted members who’ve mentored and backed me. I think about the Maintenance Group hacking the mission to keep jets flying. I think about the Mission Support Group and the plethora of areas they support and keep going quietly behind the scenes. I think about my fellow fighter pilots and the trust and respect we have in each other. As I’ve always said, we’re not all friends, but we’re all in the fighter pilot brotherhood," said Mitchell. "I’d die protecting my wingman and he or she would do the same for me. That’s a special bond to put it lightly, and only we truly understand it."

For someone as busy as Mitchell, he has continued to show that with purpose, balance, and perspective, any Airman is capable of accomplishing anything.

"If an Airman knows their purpose of why they’re here, then it gives them motivation and an internal understanding of why they’re willing to come here one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and any other TDY’s or deployments that may come about," said Mitchell. "Maintaining balance in life is not easy. Knowing when it’s time to work a bit harder for your unit such as pre-deployment spin-up vs. when it’s time to focus more time on family is a real, stressful thing for many. Lastly, always keep a good perspective. Somebody is always going to get a better deal than you, but somebody is getting a worse deal than you as well. You have to take the good with the bad in this job. The U.S. Air Force is not perfect by any stretch but it also is pretty great at protecting American ground forces and delivering devastating airpower amongst other things operationally. If an Airman can keep the right perspective on things, it’ll help them continue to understand and refine their purpose and help with the critical balance we all need."