17 receive high honors for heroism

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kelly Cahalan
  • Air Warfare Center Public Affairs
Seventeen members of the 66th and 58th Rescue Squadrons here were honored recently for their heroic actions and bravery in aerial flight while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the military's highest combat decorations, was awarded to: Maj. John Galik; Capts. Brent Beaulieu, John Mangan, Phillip Swenson and Jeremey Turner; Tech. Sgts. Troy Durocher, Patrick Harding and Robert Sullivan; Staff Sgts. Michael Ames, Michael Darin, Caleb Etheridge, Joshua Faine, Joshua Fetters, Gaylord Howe Jr., Robert Roberts III and Gregory Sisco; and Senior Airman Michael Flores.

The airmen were recognized for their roles in two separate missions during Operation Anaconda in March in Afghanistan.

On the night of March 2, two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters assigned to the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron launched to bring back critically wounded troops from a small valley surrounded on three sides by enemy forces.

The first helicopter, Gecko 11, entered the valley under intense small arms fire and located the landing zone. Almost immediately after landing, the crew was targeted by machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. One mortar round detonated within 50 feet of the aircraft.

As the pararescuemen from Gecko 11 began loading the injured, the flight crew guided the second aircraft, Gecko 12, in to land safely while an AC-130 Gunship provided close-air support.

That night, the Gecko 11 and Gecko 12 crews rescued nine soldiers from the battlefield.

On March 3, another two-ship mission put two different helicopter crews into another harrowing rescue situation.

"At the time, we weren't really thinking about anything other than executing the mission," said Turner, the flight commander on the second mission. "All the training we do every day kicked in, and we did our job."

The March 3 mission began with a rescue call that ended shortly after takeoff when the helicopter crews were notified that the retraction site was under intense fire. They were redirected to an alternate refueling and re-arming point and put on a 30-minute alert posture.

Fourteen hours later the crews were notified they needed to navigate through enemy-controlled mountainous terrain in low-illumination skies.

Gecko 11 located the landing zone, which was under mortar attack, and directed Gecko 12 in. After loading all the injured, both helicopters departed to a forward refueling area with less than nine minutes of fuel remaining.

The crews saved three lives that night, according to officials.

The bigger picture of the battle and the overall war is not lost on any of those honored by the recognition.

"We weren't the real heroes out there," said Darin, the pararescue team leader on the evening of March 3. "The real heroes were the guys (who) didn't make it home." (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)