Squadron Leader George Thomas (17722) Flying (Pilot) is posted to the Mi-8 flight of the IAF Contingent for the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone. He is the Flight Commander of the Flight.
Op Khukri, a joint Army Air Force UN operation, was conducted to extricate 22 UN peacekeepers, held hostage for more than 75 days by Revolutionary United Front rebels in Kailahun. The Mi-8 helicopters were tasked to carry out special heliborne operations in support of ground operations. These included insertion and extrication of troops into and from rebel stronghold. The helicopters were required to operate from unprepared sites and confined spaces under constant threat of enemy fire. Sqn Ldr George Thomas, a veteran helicopter pilot, was undeterred. Despite being fired upon on a number of occasions he led 24 missions into enemy territory, under extremely adverse weather conditions, over most inhospitable and thickly forested terrain. Throughout the conduct of this operation, the officer flew all the sorties assigned to him, with courage, enthusiasm and with utter disregard to personal safety.
On 08 Jun 2000, Sqn Ldr Thomas was tasked to escort a UN convoy from Hastings to Rogberi, which was captured by rebels. His task included providing fire cover to the ground column. It involved flying the helicopter at extremely low altitudes over treacherous and thickly forested terrain of Sierra Leone under constant threat of rebel fire. During this mission Sqn Ldr Thomas spotted an ambush the rebels had laid for the convoy. Realising the gravity of the situation, the pilot engaged the enemy while at the same time informing the advancing column of the impeding ambush. The rebels fired 03 rockets at the helicopter. With his exceptional flying skill, he successfully evaded these attacks. Undeterred, he held his position in the area and continued to guide the ground force. This timely action thus prevented the ground forces from suffering heavy causalities due to enemy ambush.
For this act of exceptional courage and professionalism, the Hon'ble President is pleased to award 'Vayu Sena Medal' (Gallantry) to Squadron Leader George Thomas.