General reminisces with 41 RQS commander about close call

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nicholas Benroth
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
More than 11 years after a fateful incident, a downed pilot and the man who came to his rescue met to reminisce and reflect on old times.

During a base visit, Maj. Gen. David Goldfein, Air Combat Command director of air and space operations, and Lt. Col. Thomas Kunkel, 41st Rescue Squadron commander, still look back to the day when the general's life was saved.

In May 1999, the two individuals didn't know each other yet.

Then- Lt. Col. Goldfein commanded the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and led the first of many missions of Operation Allied Force over Serbia.

Then-Maj. Kunkel was flying the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, the aircraft that came to the rescue when General Goldfein's F-16 Fighting Falcon was shot down.

"My plane got hit and went down behind enemy lines along with another pilot," he said. "The rescue team didn't waste a second coming to my rescue."

When the rescue helicopter arrived, it brought enemy fire with it. Within seconds of its arrival, General Goldfein was in the helicopter. A later inspection revealed five bullet holes in the fuselage of the F-16.

"I truly respect those individuals in the rescue community because I'm a proud recipient of their services," he said during the base visit. "I am honored to represent them and I'm glad to see that they are living up to their motto, 'That Others May Live'."

To this day, General Goldfein continues to thank the individuals who saved his life.

"Even though the Airmen who participated in the rescue have rotated out of the squadron, I still try to keep in touch with the over the years," he said. "They get a bottle of scotch from me every year-- a single-malt, good quality."

General Goldfein said the unit saves the last of the bottle and when he is able to bring the new bottle in person, they drink it together.

"I watched them grow over the years and try to keep in touch with many of the Airmen on that rescue team," said General Goldfein. "It's amazing to see how far they come over these past few years."

The team members who were part of the rescue mission in 1999 still remember that night and have stayed in touch until now.

"Later this year, General Goldfein and I will be going down to Florida to see one of the members of the team pin on master sergeant," said Colonel Kunkel. "It's great to see how much my team has grown, along with everything they've accomplished in their careers."