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Lt. Col. Adam Darrow of Pleasanton receives a Distinguished Flying Cross. (Photo courtesy of Laura Darrow)

PLEASANTON — United States Air Force Lt. Col. Adam Darrow had no idea New Year’s Eve of 2019 would be quite as exciting as it turned out to be.

While ringing in the new year with his wife, Darrow received a call from Uncle Sam and was deployed as part of an evacuation that led to the rescue of 194 special operations forces from Al Assad Air Base in Iraq. The operation was prompted by information that Iran was going to attack Iraq in the vicinity of Al Assad. In the early hours of 2020, Darrow, who grew up in Pleasanton, and two other pilots flew three CV-22 aircrafts and a combined crew of 12 in a special evacuation mission.

For their actions, they were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“I don’t seek the limelight, but it was awesome to be recognized,” said Darrow, currently the commander of 58th Operations Group Detachment 1. “More importantly, people that were part of the crew were recognized and having my team be recognized is more important to me than me being recognized. I was happy to be a part of that.”

According to the Air Force Manual, the Distinguished Flying Cross was established by an act of congress in 1927 and is awarded to persons serving in the Air Force who distinguish themselves by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The description continues to state that heroism and achievement are distinctive, and the extraordinary act must result in an outstanding accomplishment.

Darrow and his team completed their evacuation in two parts, under difficult circumstances, piloting planes loaded to maximum capacity. The team overcame a missile attack, an ill crew member and low fuel to finish an emergency low-visibility landing near 18 other planes more than 19 hours after the mission began. According to the declassified report, Darrow then went on to execute an infiltration of special operations forces as part of a 13 aircraft dissimilar formation assault force to reoccupy the attacked location.

As a military pilot, Darrow spends a large amount of his time training for events exactly like this one. He said being able to complete his mission safely and utilize the training experience he has worked so hard to earn was gratifying.

“We had practiced to do it a lot, and then we got to go do it,” he said. “Because we practiced so much, we got to do it in extremis. So it was what we prepared to do, and we were executing that.”

Darrow attended UC Berkeley while working to earn money to pay for flying lessons. By the time he graduated in 2005, he earned his pilot’s license and received his commission in the Air Force.

His interest in aviation had been fixed since childhood, inspired by stories of his grandfather, a WWII pilot. Darrow’s mother, Laura Darrow, said the family is full of aviation; her son had always been interested in anything flying in the sky.

“He was a kid who knew he loved airplanes from the time he could look at them,” Laura Darrow said. “All his little drawings and his artwork were always of airplanes and helicopters. He’s been fascinated with flying since he was a little guy, and we took him to a lot of airshows.”

Laura Darrow’s husband works for United Airlines and one of her other sons works for Boeing, continuing the tradition of aviation into the next generation.

As a pilot, Darrow has been stationed in the United States and abroad. He is currently teaching Marines to fly at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. In October of last year, his family joined him at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico to receive his award, an event he said was “both humbling and exciting.”