In response to David Hebert’s letter to the editor dated 7 January 2018, “Where are Downing’s Combat Awards?”, my name is Stephen Spillane, and I served as Troy Downing’s Squadron Commander in Kandahar, Afghanistan during the Summer of 2007. Although I’m not a Montanan, I’m writing to set the record straight and correct the ignorant and uninformed accusations written by Mr. Hebert about Troy Downing.
I first met Troy when he enlisted and joined my unit, the 129th Rescue Squadron, after the devastating attacks on our country on September 11th, 2001. I flew and deployed with Troy for over 6 years, so I have personal experience with him and his military career that Mr. Hebert obviously lacks. During the 6 years I served with Troy and the years that followed, I’ve come to believe that he’s a true American hero. You’ll never hear Troy call himself a hero, because that’s not the kind of man he is.
Regarding Troy Downing’s combat decorations, he was awarded the following for his service during 2 combat deployments to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom:
- Air Force Achievement Medal (Awarded by USCENTAF 23 August 2007)
- Afghanistan Campaign Medal with service star for 2 combat deployments (Awarded by 451st Air Expeditionary Group, Kandahar Afghanistan, 3 July 2007)
- Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border (Awarded by 451st Air Expeditionary Group, Kandahar Afghanistan, 3 July
- NATO Medal (Awarded by 451st Air Expeditionary Group, Kandahar Afghanistan, 3 July 2007)
- Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” device (Awarded by 451st Air Expeditionary Group, Kandahar Afghanistan, 3 July 2007)
- Air Force Overseas Ribbon- Short Tour (Awarded by 451st Air Expeditionary Group, Kandahar Afghanistan, 3 July 2007)
Mr. Hebert states, “The real heroes did not return, or at least those that did were awarded a Silver Star, an Air Force Cross or possibly a Medal of Honor”. As much as I admire and respect Mr. Hebert’s service as an F-4 pilot during the Vietnam War, he’s sadly mistaken and uninformed about the realities of modern war. The truth is that every single day, thousands of American men and women are deployed to combat zones across the globe, often in places you’ll never hear about on TV. The reality is that these men and women ARE true American heroes, putting their lives on the line daily to support and promote American foreign policy. Most of these young people will not be awarded a Silver Star, an Air Force Cross, or a Congressional Medal of Honor, so according to Mr. Hebert they don’t qualify as “heroes”.
I adamantly disagree with Hebert’s statement. I believe Americans who serve honorably, who VOLUNTEER for multiple combat deployments, are heroes -- every single one of them. Just because they aren’t awarded a higher-level combat decoration doesn’t diminish their heroic efforts, or their sacrifice. It’s sad that Hebert has apparently forgotten this since he left the military.
Troy Downing left his family and a lucrative career to enlist and serve as a combat aviator, one of the most hazardous jobs in the military. He volunteered twice for combat, and he performed flawlessly in multiple life-and-death missions in some of the most dangerous conditions imaginable. Troy Downing truly is an American hero.
Stephen R. Spillane, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)
Cherry Hill, New Jersey