167th Airlift Wing advisor receives Bronze Star Medal for Afghanistan mission
By Staff Sgt Sherree Grebenstein, 167AW
/ Published November 09, 2010
Martinsburg, W.Va -- Maj. Peter J. Gross was awarded the Bronze Star Medal during October's Sunday UTA for his yearlong deployment as a senior command and control advisor to the Afghan National Army Air Corps.
Col. Roger L. Nye, commander of the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing, presented Gross with the award during a morning Commanders Call formation in front of Building 110.
Gross, a C-5Galaxy pilot is a senior active duty advisor to the Col. Nye for the C-5 conversion process. A member of the active United States Air Force, Gross has been on loan to the Wing since April 2007 from the Headquarters of the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
Gross is assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing through September 2011 when he will retire from active duty, but plans to continue with the Wing as a Guardsman. The C-5 pilot said he also hopes to resume flying for his former employer, American Airlines.
The Hedgesville resident said he was honored to receive the Bronze Star Medal for his 12 month deployment to Afghanistan beginning in July, 2009.
"I am humbled by the fact that I was honored with a Bronze Star," he said.
Embedded with the Afghan National Air Force, Gross' mission was to advise on command and control issues. He was responsible for scheduling, tracking and utilizing an array of Russian-made aircraft for use by the Afghan military to include the Antanov C-27, Mi-17 helicopter and Mi-35 attack helicopter. He advised members at every echelon of the Afghan National Army Air Corps.
Gross is credited with directly increasing the "combat capability of the Afghan National Security Forces by leading the Ministry of Defense Air Planning Division's growth from an untrained group of three officers into a seven-man team integrated with the International Security Assistance Force and Afghan National Army ground planners," according to the citation that accompanied the Bronze Star Medal Award.
"His efforts increased partnership and resulted in 7,240 sorties flown in direct support of combat operations. Additionally, his efforts led to the increase in Air Corps sorties from 690 to 804 per month, resulting in the airlift of 74,900 combat troops, 492,551 kilograms of combat support cargo and 607 wounded personnel," according to the citation.
As the senior advisor to the Air Corps Command Center, Gross is also credited with spearheading infrastructure improvements such as the installation of radios and Global Positioning aircraft tracking systems which proved critical in humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.
"He used the increased capabilities to coordinate the Ministry of Defense and International Security Assistance Force effort to rescue survivors and recover victims of the avalanche in Salang Pass and flooding at Kandahar in February of 2010," Gross' Bronze Star Medal citation noted.
Gross was also involved in organizing other humanitarian efforts which while not deemed lifesaving did provide hope to the local populace.
Tasked with scheduling, tracking and planning aircraft missions, Gross helped ensure that supplies - everything from books to pencils - were delivered via aircraft to schools in remote locations of the war-torn country.
"They were greatly appreciated by the local community," he said. "They recognize the value of an education."
Something Gross says will prove a deciding factor in the country's future.
"Educating the remote areas in Afghanistan is the most effective tool against the insurgency," he said. \
During his year deployed to Afghanistan, Gross worked in various capacities when carrying out his mission as a senior command and control advisor. He worked with Afghan officers from the operations level to those tasked with making strategic decisions.
Asked what aspect of his military mission he enjoyed most, Gross was matter-of-fact.
"I enjoyed most being able to work with young Afghan men, the young lieutenants," he said. "We were developing them into pilots and future leaders. These were exceptional young men."
Having a personal hand in helping to train the young officers who will fill the ranks of the Afghan National Air Force was a year well spent, according to the C-5 Galaxy pilot.
Working directly for Brig. Gen. Brig. Gen. Michael R. Boera, commanding general of the Combined Air Power Transition Force, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, Gross was assigned to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kabul.
Living at the Kabul Air Wing, home to the Afghan Air Corps, Gross found himself waking up at 4:45 a.m. each day to participate in an hour-long session of physical training with junior Afghan officers.
After PT, Gross and other senior Afghan National Air Force officers would eat a Western meal for breakfast with them and converse with the future Afghan pilots only in English.
"We were preparing these young men to go to the U.S. and Europe for their pilot training," Gross said of the English language speaking only rule which was in effect when eating dinner as well.
Adding: "English is the international language of aviation."
Gross said the young Afghan officers were college-educated young men in their 20s that spoke five to seven languages with English being one of them.
"These guys have grown up in a country at war their whole lives," Gross explained." They have seen a lot of difficult things."
"We were asking an awful lot of these young men," he said.
But Gross said the future Afghan Air Force leaders came through with flying colors.
"These were an impressive bunch of young men," he said. "I would put these guys up against any United States Air Force Academy cadet."
And although separated from his wife, Becca, and four children - Sarah, Katie, Ryan and Jenna - for 12 months, Gross said his deployment helped him gain important insight from a half a world away.
"I learned a lot by working with the Afghans," he said. "I gained a lot by the experience.'
Gross said the Afghan military has a "wealth of talent" and is more than capable of bringing that country out from the insurgency.