Jabara Award goes to fighter pilot

Maj. Matthew, Kuta receives the Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship Nov. 9. 2016 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, from Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson (left), the Academy's superintendent and William Thompson, the president and CEO of the Academy's Association of Graduates. Kuta, a 2005 graduate of the Academy, received the award for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.The Jabara Award, established in 1967, was named after Jabara, the first jet ace and second leading ace in the Korean War.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Maj. Matthew, Kuta receives the Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship Nov. 9. 2016 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, from Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson (left), the Academy's superintendent and William Thompson, the president and CEO of the Academy's Association of Graduates. Kuta, a 2005 graduate of the Academy, received the award for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.The Jabara Award, established in 1967, was named after Jabara, the first jet ace and second leading ace in the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --

Maj. Matthew Kuta, a 2005 Air Force Academy graduate and fighter pilot, was awarded the 2016 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship Nov. 9 at the Academy.


Kuta was nominated for the award earlier this year by Brig. Gen. Mark Slocum, director of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-United Kingdom, for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in 2014.


In the nomination letter, Slocum writes, “Major Kuta’s ability to effectively employ weapons in three nations, each with different rules of engagement, while leading young officers into combat, is exactly the type of officer the U.S. Air Force Academy seeks to develop.” 


Kuta, the 55th Academy graduate selected for the award, said the deployment changed his perspective on the Air Force.


“At the time I was a captain and a flight lead,” he said. “My team of lieutenants and captains and I were making life and death decisions. We had to make those decisions and the responsibility fell on our shoulders. Cadets here are going to be in those positions much sooner than they think. It’s important for them to get a reminder once in a while about what they really are about to be joining once they graduate.”


In Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Kuta was led two F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft. The pilots discovered a platoon of soldiers pinned-down in four positions; five soldiers were in a canyon under heavy enemy fire while trying to pull a wounded soldier to safety. 


According to award documents, Kuta took charge of the situation by coordinating with three formations of Army attack and rescue helicopters, a B-1 Bomber, a formation of Italian fighter jets, a remotely piloted aircraft and two Joint Terminal Air Controllers on the ground. Kuta ordered each resource to a different location to determine where all friendly forces were, established an air refueling location close to the fight, and began air-refueling operations with his wingman.


Despite several equipment malfunctions, other difficulties and heavy combat engagement, Kuta’s actions neutralized the enemy and saved the lives of 41 Americans. For his heroic actions, Kuta received the Distinguished Flying Cross in May 2014. 


Later, Kuta flew combat operations missions in Iraq and Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve. He provided airdrop support to C-17 aircraft and C-130 aircraft to assist in rescuing more than 10,000 Yazidi refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar under threat of anti-aircraft artillery fire, according to the award documents.


The Jabara Award, established in 1967, was named after Col. James Jabara, the first jet ace and the second-leading ace in the Korean War. It’s presented to an Academy graduate, living and dead, whose actions directly associated with an aircraft set them apart from their contemporaries. 


The award is given on behalf of the Academy, the Association of Graduates, and the Jabara family.