On 2 May 1999, then-Lieutenant Colonel David Goldfein was the commander of the 555th Fighter Squadron (Once Green…) at Aviano Air Base, Italy. While flying his Block 40 F-16CM over Serbia on a mission to destroy enemy air defenses (now referred to as Destructive SEAD), Goldfein’s jet–which also happened to be his flagship–was hit by an SA-3 “Goa” Surface to Air Missile (SAM). Goldfein ejected safely, and managed to narrowly evade capture before being rescued by fellow USAF airmen. This is their story.
Then-Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hardy, a pararescueman, and his fellow airmen were on alert in Bosnia on May 2, 1999, when they got the call: An F-16 had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Serbia and an Air Force pilot was trapped behind enemy lines.
Hardy and the rest of his team immediately jumped into action. Their bravery saved the life of the man who would, 17 years later, be nominated to become the next chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein.
Their mission was harrowing from the start. The three-helicopter team dodged two SA-6 and one SA-9 surface-to-air missiles as they crossed the border, and had to evade 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft fire throughout the flight, said Hardy, who has since retired as chief master sergeant, in a May 5 interview.
The team got to where they thought then-Lt. Col. Goldfein was and orbited the site for a few minutes — all while dodging more fire — before getting the updated coordinates and moving to his actual location, Hardy said.
The MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter on which Hardy was riding was the first to spy the downed pilot. They radioed Goldfein, and used a classified code to authenticate it was actually him, before breaking formation and landing in a clearing. Hardy, then-Senior Airman Ron Ellis, also a pararescueman, and then-Staff Sgt. Andy Kubik, a combat controller, jumped out and ran toward Goldfein as he emerged from the woodline where he taken cover.