By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 24, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 24, 2013) -- Army Aviation's primary mission is to support commanders and troops on the ground, and one Soldier put his life and his aircraft on the line to complete that mission one summer day in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
And for the heroism CW3 Michael Otto, E Company, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment, and his crew performed that day, he received an Air Medal with Valor device Oct. 18 at Lowe Army Heliport.
"We still have Soldiers from the Vietnam era doing great things for our Army, and we honored one today," said Lt. Col. Raymond Herrera, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment commander. "We want to recognize those things that we want others to emulate, and in the face of danger, one of the most dangerous things you can do is to try to accomplish your mission."
In 2011, Otto, then with C Company, 1st Battalion 214th Aviation Regiment, heroically distinguished himself by valorous conduct in the face of the enemy as a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot in command during Operation Enduring Freedom.
"On May 15, as a medevac crew commander in Forward Operating Base Edinburgh, he took on the mission," said Herrera. "He couldn't launch at the point of injury, knowing that the enemy was active in the area."
During his recon of the landing zone, Otto noticed that the area was in a triangle-shaped, confined area with extreme moon dust, and during the approach the entire LZ was engulfed, prohibiting the visibility of the victim's location.
"The landing zone could barely fit my helicopter, and the fine dust that was about six inches thick was everywhere and I could barely see five feet in front of me," said Otto. "It was pretty dangerous between that and the amount of incoming fire.
"I had to make the decision right then on if we could land, and I decided by looking outside my helicopter and I could see directly below me. So, I decided to land right exactly there where I could see," he continued.
As soon as the visibility improved, Otto cleared the medic and crew chief to find the patients, but almost immediately the crew was fired upon, and the surrounding Marines began to take cover under their vehicles.
After the two patients were secured and returned, the crew received another medevac request for the same LZ.
"Upon returning, about 30 seconds from the point of injury, the crew saw a giant cloud of dust approximately 150 meters southwest where the gunships were suppressing the enemy. Otto told the crew to be careful because they were going to be shooting at them again, and again upon landing, moon dust engulfed the LZ," said Herrera.
Otto released the crew to find the patients while the Maries were still pinned under their vehicles, according to the citation.
After the crew chiefs were successful in finding the wounded Marine and safely got him aboard they took off and masked themselves from enemy fire, but upon returning to Edinburgh, Otto found no damage to the helicopter.
"This one is a very unique award. It's not a typical or traditional award, especially with valor. It speaks to the heroism that he has done," said Herrera. "You have to put aside your own mortality to see that someone else is relying on you to bring them out of danger, despite your own severe danger."
Otto said that it was just another day on the job for him, especially since people were shooting at him, and that that was the lesson he wanted to teach the attending flight students.
"The stuff we teach you here is what you're going to have to use out there, and then somebody is going to be shooting at you," he told them. "There was nothing special about this day. I flew like I normally fly, but somebody had a gun that day and they wanted me to prevent me from accomplishing my mission."
He said he never expected to get the award, but that it still felt wonderful to be recognized by "his" people.
"To be surrounded by them and they say, 'Hey, good job,' that always feels great," he said.
Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, attended the ceremony and congratulated Otto on his outstanding achievement.
"He had a choice," said Mangum. "Fear is a reaction, everyone gets scared, but courage is a decision and he made a decision during that mission to continue."