By Jeremy Wise, Army Flier StaffFebruary 25, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- It started out as an ordinary transportation run, but Lt. Col. Michael Burns' reactions to the events that occurred on July 28, 2007, recently earned him an Air Medal.
Brig. Gen. Kelly J. Thomas, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker deputy commanding general, presented Burns, the 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment commander, with the award during a USAACE staff meeting Feb. 17.
"Lt. Col. Burns' personal actions serve as an example of his commitment to our Warrior Ethos. While faced with an imminent threat, (his) leadership and personal courage serve as examples of bravery and the highest standards of an Army combat Aviator," Thomas said.
Burns, then a major, was serving in Afghanistan with Task Force Corsair -- 2nd Battalion, 82nd Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C. He and two UH-60 Black Hawk crews flew from Kandahar to Qalat to pick up a Canadian one-star general and two colonels and transport them back to Kandahar.
En route, Burns and the other pilot, encountered 14 insurgents on seven motorcycles about 45 minutes away from the nearest air support, Burns said. The insurgents openly brandished rocket-propelled grenades and satchel charges, giving Burns, the mission leader, a dilemma - while carrying VIPs, do you engage the target'
"Do you just ignore that' We knew in our hearts they were going to hit a convoy, and I wasn't going to stand by," Burns said. "We used appropriate techniques to mitigate risks."
Being too far away from other air support, the door gunners opened fire to chase the enemy force into a nearby village on Burns' command. The enemy force left behind their weapons and equipment, which coalition forces captured and destroyed.
After they landed, Burns explained to the VIPs why they engaged, and they concurred it was the right course of action. Burns said earlier that year, a Canadian convoy was attacked, something that still resonated in the mind of the Canadian general.
Burns said situations like these arise every day in the war zone.
"What I'm being recognized for is happening every day in Afghanistan. The bottom line is there are great crews doing great work every day," he said.
The commander noted an important lesson can be learned from the situation.
"Not just Apache crews need to remain vigilant. Every air crew can make a difference. It doesn't matter the platform," Burns said.
He said he felt indebted to Thomas, who served as the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade commander at the time. Thomas ensured Burns and the Black Hawk crew members received their medals.
"Simply, it was the right thing to do," Thomas said.