Posted on April 11, 2024 by Romi White

It was an unordinary day at Holley-Navarre Middle School when a teacher walked into the library wearing a military uniform, April 3, 2024. Surrounded by students, family and friends, he would be presented the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight two years ago — back when he was an evaluator flight engineer at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Frank Veres Jr. was participating in a routine nighttime tactical-training sortie, Jan. 18, 2022, when chaos suddenly ensued, testing his mettle and courage. 

Initially, the MC-130H Combat Talon II crew noticed seeping hydraulic fluid in the aircraft cabin. They made the call to terminate their low-level navigation training to climb to a safe altitude. However, the cabin began filling with smoke. An electrical fire had ignited in the aircraft’s main circuitry hub, crippling all electrical systems.

“My first thought was that we as a crew needed to do something quickly,” said Veres. “The years of training took over. Being I was closest to the fire; I knew that I was in the best position to fight it while the rest of the crew performed the emergency procedures.”

He emptied a nearby fire extinguisher and then ran to the back of the darkened aircraft to retrieve an oxygen mask and additional cannister.

As Veres returned to the fire, he discovered a member on board without an available mask inhaling fumes and coughing. Placing himself at risk, Veres gave up his mask to help the other member, then continued working to battle the fire.

“I took a couple of breaths from my mask and then gave him my oxygen,” Veres recalled. “The only thing I was thinking was I needed to help a crew member and get back to fighting the fire. I am sure that if there was another crew member in my shoes, in the moment, they would have done the same.”

After extinguishing the flames, Veres jumped in to configure the crippled aircraft for landing. He remembered immediate relief washing over him as he felt the aircraft touch the ground, knowing the crew had done exactly what was needed to help each other make it through the dire situation.

“The crew as whole is the reason we were able to overcome the odds,” said Veres. “We were all heroes that night, and I was very proud to be part of that Talon II crew that night.”

Veres’ response to the high-intensity, hazardous situation resulted in the safe recovery of all nine aircrew members.

“Let us salute Master Sgt. Veres for his extraordinary bravery and selflessness, for his unwavering commitment to duty, and for his indomitable spirit in the face of adversity,” said Col. Patrick Wnetrzak, 492d Special Operations Wing commander, during the DFC ceremony. “May his story serve as a testament to the power of the human spirit and the enduring legacy of those who have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation.”