Pilot in trouble finds wingman
What started as a routine refueling mission over the skies of Afghanistan late last month turned out to be anything but for the son of a Delta couple.
Oklahoma Air National Guard Lt. Col. Aaron Wardlaw, the 41-year-old son of Len and Cindy Wardlaw, was servicing fighter jets over Afghanistan when the last plane to be fueled ran into some trouble.
The jet was having computer and navigation problems when its turn came to refuel, according to public affairs officials with the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing that oversees Wardlaw’s unit, the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron that was flying out of Manas, Kyrgyzstan, at the time.
That fighter pilot, whose identity has not been revealed, was late getting to his refueling rendezvous point, leaving Wardlaw and his five-man crew to search the skies and radio frequencies for him.
Wardlaw, a Roaring Fork High School graduate who learned to fly in flight school at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, eventually spotted him, according to Air Force officials.
Wardlaw and his crew stayed with the troubled fighter jet pilot, talking him through re-booting his onboard computer and acted as his wingman until the fighter pilot reached safety.
“This is not the first time he’s been in these kinds of situations,” Cindy Wardlaw said of her son. “His was the first plane to land in Baghdad when the bombs were still going off. He flew over Kuwait years ago. This was his 16th mission over there.”
Cindy Wardlaw said her son has served in the Air National Guard for 21 years, primarily flying C-130 transport planes. A few years ago, he was cross-trained to fly the KC-135 Stratotanker.
She said she and other family members, many of whom live in the Paonia-Crawford area, hope Wardlaw finally will be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
She said he’s earned the medal twice before, but because of military “politics” between the regular Air Force and the Guard, has never been given the medal officially.
Cindy Wardlaw said she isn’t worried about her son’s safety or for her Marine son-in-law who also has served in the Afghan-Iraq region.
“I put in the hand of God that what’s going to be is going to be,” she said.