By Steven Simon
Academy Graduate Liaison
A 2004 Academy graduate has been selected to receive the 2010 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship.
Capt. Prichard Keely distinguished himself through heroic actions April 2, 2008, while he was a first lieutenant assigned as lead weapon systems officer of an F-15 Eagle two-ship during a sortie supporting U.S. and Afghan National Army ground forces.
His F-15 flight was tasked to support a special operations force mission to capture or kill a known insurgent leader in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan. The tasking required the F-15s to provide armed escort and overwatch for the special forces team’s infiltration and egress. Then-Lieutenant Keely provided armed escort for the three helicopters that carried the ground forces.
Soon after landing and advancing toward the objective, the ground team began to take heavy fire from more than 200 enemy fighters. The challenging terrain made the battle even more difficult, as enemy fighters had the high ground and pinned the Allied forces in the valley below.
When the joint terminal attack controller on the ground was wounded early in the engagement, Captain Keely recognized the severity of the situation and provided the JTAC with timely situation updates and began to coordinate air strikes to suppress the enemy fire. The captain took control of the battle space over the next four hours, enabling an effective counterattack. He coordinated the five AH-64 Apache helicopters, allowing them to identify and engage the target. When the JTAC requested two 500-pound General Bomb Unit-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions from Captain Keely’s aircraft, he engaged the targets. The attacks suppressed the enemy’s fire long enough for ground forces to regroup and better assess the situation.
While refueling, Captain Keely maintained battlespace awareness through sensor management and communications with his wingman and the JTAC. After refueling, he returned to the scene and managed fixed-wing assets in the area, including four A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, while the JTAC coordinated Apache helicopter strikes.
When the captain experienced a malfunction that prevented him from employing his aircraft’s weapons, he began troubleshooting while simultaneously directing his wingman to engage targets. He led his wingman through two strafing runs, one GBU-12 laser-guided bomb drop and one GBU-38 attack on multiple enemy positions.
As the special forces team egressed the area, the JTAC asked Captain Keely’s flight to drop a 2,000-pound GBU-31 JDAM on an enemy position, forcing the enemy to disengage. Once the ground troops were safely out, the captain provided armed escort for evading and aeromedical evacuation helicopter assets until they returned to their forward operating base.
Captain Keely’s actions in combat resulted in the deaths of 40 enemy insurgents, with more than 100 enemy fighters wounded. The ground battle diminished the enemy’s will to fight, leading to the capture of eight insurgents. Most importantly, the captain’s actions saved the lives of 150 allied servicemembers and allowed the aeromedical evacuation of 10 wounded servicemembers.
Captain Keely currently serves as the chief of standardization and evaluation and as an F-15E weapons systems officer instructor with the 335th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. His prior awards include the 2008 Daedalian Warrior WSO, 2008 355th FS Warrior WSO and 2009 Instructor WSO of the Third Quarter.
Captain Keely is the 49th Air Force Academy graduate to receive the Jabara Award. Previous Jabara Award recipients include Vietnam War veterans Karl Richter and Steve Ritchie, astronaut Karol Bobko and Hudson River-landing pilot Chelsey Sullenberger. The award is presented to an Academy graduate, living or dead, whose actions directly associated with an aerospace vehicle set the recipient apart from contemporaries. It is jointly presented on behalf of the Academy, the Association of Graduates and the Jabara family.
The Academy will present the award to Captain Keely May 7 during the noon meal at Mitchell Hall, and will be feted with a dinner and award reception at Doolittle Hall later that evening.
The award is named for Col. James Jabara, the first jet ace and the second leading ace in the Korean War. In 1951, Colonel Jabara won the Air Force Association’s most prestigious award and in 1957 was recognized as one of the 25 Americans who had contributed the most to aviation.