Feb. 2, 2011
by Steven Simon Air Force Academy Development and Alumni Programs Office
1/28/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- 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. Mike Polidor, a member of Air Force Global Strike Command, distinguished himself through heroic actions in an Operation Enduring Freedom sortie supporting United States and Afghan National Army ground forces.
"This year's competition was extremely tough, and you can be proud of your selection. It is a true testament of your exemplary performance and professionalism," Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould wrote in his congratulatory letter to Captain Polidor announcing the selection.
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 the Nuristan province of 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 Captain 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 Ox 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 while 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 American and Afghan national army 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 extremely exclusive group, becoming the 50th Air Force Academy graduate selected for the award. Among the previous winners are such notable alumni as Vietnam War heroes Karl Richter and Steve Ritchie from the Class of 1964, pioneering astronaut Karol Bobko ('59), and Hudson River landing pilot Chesley Sullenberger ('73).
Captain Polidor 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 a USAFA 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 the 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, 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."
Captain Polidor didn't just excel in the classroom. He was also a member of the Academy ice hockey team. A four-year letter winner and three-year starter, he was named the Air Force Academy's scholar-athlete of the year and the College Hockey America conference student-athlete of the year in 2004. That year, he also earned College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America honors.
Hockey head coach Frank Serratore said he was not surprised that his former player has gone on to do great things in the Air Force.
"The focus, commitment, and discipline needed to become a great pilot are the same attributes needed to excel as an elite-level collegiate student-athlete," Coach Serratore said. "Mike Polidor displayed this and more as a hockey player at the Air Force Academy, excelling at one of the most dangerous and pressure filled positions in all of sports, that being an ice hockey goaltender. It should surprise no one that Mike went on to become a decorated pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Nothing surprises me when it comes to Mike Polidor. He is simply a remarkable person."
Captain Polidor will be presented the 2011 Jabara Award for Airmanship on May 6 during the noon meal at Mitchell Hall, and will be feted with a dinner and award reception at Doolittle Hall later that evening. Captain Polidor made the trip to the Academy last year to see his classmate receive the Award. Captain Keely hopes to repay the favor this year.