An F-15E Strike Eagle pilot and 2004 graduate of the Air Force Academy was selected Jan. 25 to receive the 2011 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship.
Capt. Michael Polidor, a member of Air Force Global Strike Command, distinguished himself through heroic actions in an Operation Enduring Freedom sortie supporting U.S. and Afghan ground forces.
“This year’s competition was extremely tough, and you can be proud of your selection,” wrote Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, in his congratulatory letter to Captain Polidor, announcing the selection. “It is a true testament of your exemplary performance and professionalism.”
Captain Polidor was one of a record 12 Academy graduates nominated for the Jabara Award this year by major commands, forward operating agencies and direct reporting units.
Captain Polidor was the flight lead of an F-15E two-ship tasked Oct. 3, 2009, to support Coalition Observation Post Keating in Nuristan province, Afghanistan. More than 80 Coalition soldiers were pinned down and taking fire from a well-orchestrated, 360-degree attack of 250 Taliban insurgents in the steep and rugged Kamdesh Valley.
Shortly after arriving on station, Captain Polidor assumed the tactical air control-airborne role. He quickly assessed the ground picture, which revealed multiple fighting positions, several insurgents inside the boundary, and more than 90 percent of the post either on fire or destroyed.
He immediately began deconflicting aircraft and establishing a communications relay amid smoke, approaching thunderstorms and radio communication that was severely degraded by the surrounding terrain.
Captain Polidor was also forced to perform a battle damage check for his wingman, who experienced a severe hydraulic failure and had to return to base. The weapons systems officer on that aircraft was Capt. Prichard Keely, Captain Polidor’s Academy classmate and close friend. Coincidentally, Captain Keely won the Jabara Award in 2010, making it two consecutive Jabara Awards for the Class of 2004.
“Without (Captain Polidor) being overhead, there would have been significantly more casualties,” said Captain Keely, coincidentally the 2010 Jabara Award recipient, upon learning of Captain Polidor’s selection. “This was the first attack of its kind, and his quick thinking in the dynamic environment paid huge dividends for the American forces on the ground.”
Low on fuel, Captain Polidor continued to orchestrate incoming air assets during aerial refueling. Once he arrived back on station, he safely managed another airborne emergency when an F-15E experienced a rapid cabin decompression and had to leave the fight.
Later, while relaying target data, Captain Polidor recognized that one of the coordinates was within dangerously close proximity of friendly forces. He ordered the bombing run aborted until the coordinates could be updated, which resulted in the employment of 14 guided bombs with zero fratricide.
During his 7.8-hour sortie, Captain Polidor coordinated and integrated 19 aircraft, including six F-15Es, four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, two AH-64 Apaches and a B-1 Lancer, orchestrating precision strikes on the enemy. He also arranged for additional tanker assets, ensuring continued air power over the battle area.
He didn’t just remain above the fray, relaying information and direction. During four different attacks, he expertly expended four bombs and executed a perfect 20mm strafe against a target in close proximity to friendly forces, effectively destroying multiple enemy fighting positions.
In all, more than 30,000 pounds of ordnance and 170 rounds of strafe eventually eliminated enemy strongholds, saving 72 U.S. and Afghan lives. Eight Soldiers from Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team were killed in the battle, according to Associated Press reports.
Captain Polidor joins an exclusive group, becoming the 50th Academy graduate selected for the award. Among the previous winners are Vietnam War heroes Karl Richter and Steve Ritchie from the class of 1964, pioneering astronaut Karol Bobko from the class of 1959, and Hudson River-landing pilot Chesley Sullenberger from the class of 1973.
Captain Polidor said he was excited and humbled to learn he had won the Jabara Award.
“I am tremendously honored to be receiving this award from the Jabara Family, the Association of Graduates and the Air Force Academy,” he said. “Adding my name to a list of aviators that includes Richter, Ritchie, and Keely is a very proud moment in my Air Force career.”
Established in 1967, the Col. James Jabara Airmanship Award is presented to an Academy graduate, living or deceased, whose actions directly associated with an aerospace vehicle set him/her apart from contemporaries. The annual award is jointly presented on behalf of the Academy, the Association of Graduates and the Jabara family.
Col. James Jabara was the first jet ace and the second leading ace in the Korean War. In 1951, he won the Air Force Association’s most prestigious award and in 1957 was recognized as one of 25 Americans who had contributed the most to aviation.
The Jabara Award is not the first honor Captain Polidor has received for this mission. He and his WSO, Capt. Aaron Dove, also received Distinguished Flying Cross medals, which are awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievements during flying operations.
Col. Marty France, the head of the Academy Department of Astronautics and a 1981 graduate, said Captain Polidor showed clear signs during his cadet career that he had the potential for greatness.
“We’re just so overjoyed to hear that Mike won the Jabara Award,” Colonel France said. “Academic excellence is a huge part of one’s duty. Excellence and professionalism in the classroom and lab translates into excellence and bravery in the battlespace, too.”