National Guard officer only second nurse to receive Distinguished Flying Cross

Katie Lunning helped rescue, treat at least 20 during suicide bombing in Afghanistan

The Distinguished Flying Cross award was authorized by an Act of Congress on July 2, 1926. In the nearly 100 years since then, only one nurse has received the honor — until this Saturday, that is.

That’s when Maj. Katie Lunning of the Minnesota Air National Guard will receive the award “for heroism during the collapse of Afghanistan when U.S. troops worked frantically to evacuate as many allies as possible as the Taliban took over the country,” according to

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During the attack on Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Lunning, who is assigned to the 133rd Airlift Wing, helped rescue and treat at least 20 people. According to, the suicide bombing killed 13 U.S. troops and at least 160 Afghan civilians.

“We were pulling them out as they are getting injured,” Lunning said in a Department of Veterans Affairs press release. “August 26th, when the suicide bomber exploded at Abbey Gate, we were the first (critical care air transport team) in. It was the largest medical evacuation out of that coalition hospital ever, and very dangerous on the ground. We had to leave the airplane to go get our patients as well. We took injured Marines and Afghan civilians who really weren’t flight worthy, but there was no choice. We just had to get them out of there. So, a lot of medical events occurred on the airplane, but we ended up being able to safely deliver everybody to Landstuhl, Germany (for further medical care).”

The Minnesota Guard officer was serving a six-month deployment based in Qatar, as a member of a critical care transport team. These three-member teams care for critical patients during flights to hospitals.

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“We focused very much on getting people home,” she said in the news release. “We all have kids right around the same age that we wanted to get home to. So, we just focused on getting everybody home to their people because everybody’s going to have a why, right? We talked about that and how it was our role to get them back to their reason for being there.”

The only other nurse to receive the honor was 1st Lt. (Nurse Corps) Aleda E. Lutz, who was awarded the cross posthumously “for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight while serving as a Flight Nurse with the 802d Medical Air Evacuation Squadron during World War II.”

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