Attack Pilots Recognized for Valor
June 2, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - An AH-64D Apache attack pilot from 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, received the Distinguished Flying Cross in a ceremony May 22.
Geneva, Ala., native Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Ezell, an Apache pilot for 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div., was awarded the highest aviation-specific medal for his valorous actions in Iraq, April 10, 2007.
Ezell and his co-pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 Richard Fisher were flying a routine air mission over Iraq when they received a call to support ground forces being pinned down by enemy fire, he said.
As they headed out to help the coalition forces their tactical operations center (TOC) radioed them some bad news - severe weather was moving in, said Ezell.
"The way it is (in Iraq) weather will come in all of a sudden ... well that was just a spot where it wasn't clear," he said. "It started raining and the ceiling was coming down - that affects part of your engagement sequence."
Not only did they have to worry about the approaching weather, but the Apache crews that were there before they arrived had already left the area due to critical damage caused by enemy fire, said Ezell.
Ezell, despite these harrowing circumstances, continued on towards the troopers in peril.
Once there, Ezell, Fisher and their wingmen - Plantation, Fla., native Chief Warrant Officer 2 Craig Francis and Twin Falls, Idaho, native Capt. Matthew Carlsen - began searching the area for the exact location of the friendly forces and the enemy forces, said Fisher.
The TOC instructed the pilots to stand off from the target area and use their targeting systems to search the area in order to keep from getting shot down, but Ezell knew this was impossible.
"It's not just going out there like the old days, the Cold War era, where you stand off six (kilometers) and shoot a tank. Now you're in a close urban environment," said Ezell.
Ezell talked to his wingmen and they all agreed to go in and do some low passes - a dangerous but effective method of locating and disrupting the enemy, he said.
But, because the coalition forces were in such a densely populated area of Bagdad, it took some time to pinpoint the enemy's location even with descriptions from the ground forces.
Finally, after using a couple of different methods to identify the correct building in which the insurgents were firing from - they saw a man acting suspicious at the corner, said Ezell.
"On one of the passes I see a guy standing on the corner of a building with what I thought was a gun," he said. "Sure enough, he had an AK-47 (assault rifle)."
Normally the Apache team could have subdued the enemy in the building with a Hellfire missile, but the ground forces didn't want to risk injuring non-combatants, said Ezell.
When they came around to make a run with their 30mm chain gun on the insurgent, they got a surprise, said Ezell.
"When I came back around ... I saw five to six dudes in the alley-way with weapons," he said. "(Fisher) engaged right away; pretty quick shooting for him."
The reports later stated that they killed three of the insurgents, said Fisher.
"I was really surprised because when we came down they were just looking up at us ... and it was probably because they had shot down another aircraft and they were looking to shoot down another," said Ezell.
But this wasn't the case. In fact, their gun run enabled the ground forces to maneuver out of their pinned down location, said Ezell.
"When the ground guys saw (the engagement), it gave them a chance to maneuver a little bit and they engaged them as (the terrorists) came running out," he said.
At this time the weather was getting worse, but Ezell made the call to stay on station and support the friendly forces, he said.
Again, they were cleared for another gun run, but this time they had a close call, said Fisher.
Right as Fisher was about to engage a target, a coalition humvee drove into the line of fire, said Fisher.
Fisher, keeping a keen eye on the battlefield, called it over the radio and Ezell was quick to call off the run, said Ezell.
After a couple more runs, the ground forces were secure and the Apaches were no longer needed. They continued on with their day as normal, said Ezell.
"This stuff went on every day. To me, it wasn't like we did anything special. Our company did this every day - day in and day out for 15 months," said Ezell.
Ezell never imagined being awarded a DFC; it seemed an impossible feat, he said.
"Everything I've always heard about (the DFC) was like stuff you see in movies. It was something I've always put on a higher pedestal, thinking there's no way I could ever do anything to get that," he said smiling.
His fellow aviators and brother's in arms in this engagement were recommended for valorous awards as well.
Francis and Carlsen were both awarded Air Medals with Valor. Fisher was recommended for the same award, but his is still being processed, said Ezell.
"The other team ... did a really good job. I've flown with those guys a lot. They did a really good job on backing us up and also covering our butts," he said. "It's a hairy situation when you go in there and aircraft are getting shot - you've got to be able to trust your wing man and I trusted my life with them."
Ezell didn't want to fly into the face of danger for awards or medals, but for his comrades on the ground - he wanted to ensure their safety when they called.
"I always wanted to feel like I did something to help guys. And throughout this deployment we got emails from guys saying, 'hey, thanks for helping us out - we didn't lose any Soldiers' lives," he said.