KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Two pilots serving with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, earned the Silver Star, the nation's third highest war-time medal for valor.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates presented the awards to Lt. Col Mike Morgan, the commander of 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment (Task Force Saber), and Chief Warrant Officer James Woolley, a Chinook pilot assigned to 3rd Battalion, 82nd Aviation Regiment (TF Talon), in front of the Talon headquarters on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan March 9.
Morgan earned the recognition for his part in repelling an insurgent ambush directed at a U.S. Army Engineer unit known as Task Force Target Hazards, Open Roadways, or THOR, while they were performing a route clearance patrol. The RCP was sweeping a route west of Kandahar City for improvised explosive devices when they hit an IED. After the blast, the RCP began receiving heavy enemy fire in what they soon realized was an orchestrated ambush.
Morgan was air mission commander for a team of two OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters that arrived in support of the RCP. According to his citation, Morgan repeatedly maneuvered his aircraft between rocket propelled grenade fire and heavy machine gun fire, enabling him to fire on and destroy the enemy positions.
His "quick reaction, skillful employment of his and other attack weapons systems and coordination of multiple aircraft over a target" ultimately led to THOR's safe withdrawal from the enemy line of fire.
"I'm honored that the secretary of defense recognized the accomplishments of Task Force Saber, Task Force Talon, and Task Force Pegasus in southern Afghanistan," said Morgan. "Although there were singular, decisive acts that led to the receipt of this award, the incredible contributions and teamwork displayed by the 4th Engineer Battalion, aviation mechanics, armament technicians, forward arming and refuel personnel, and fellow aviators cannot be overlooked."
Woolley, also an air mission commander during the operation where he earned the Silver Star, is a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot.
In November 2009, Woolley and his crew were called for a casualty evacuation mission in Baghdis province, western Afghanistan. As Woolley and his crew approached the pick-up site, his left door gunner reported heavy tracer fire coming at them. Woolley and his co-pilot maneuvered to avoid the rounds.
Once they were able to land, ground troops began loading five wounded Soldiers on the aircraft. Very quickly, the aircraft began taking more enemy fire. With less than a minute on ground, insurgents fired a rocket propelled grenade at Woolley's Chinook. The round penetrated the nose, flew between the two pilots, and hit the flight engineer in the back of the head before coming to a rest inside the helicopter, unexploded.
Woolley and his crew continued to take a barrage of enemy fire, but Woolley directed the team to stay on ground until the last patient was loaded. Once the fifth patient was loaded, Woolley led the team out of the hot landing zone and back to a coalition base where the casualties could receive treatment.
After they determined the aircraft was still flyable, Woolley made the decision to conduct a second casualty evacuation of several wounded and dead Afghan National Army soldiers.
"I feel privileged," began Woolley. "I guess the best way to describe it is I feel the same as I did yesterday, but it is an honor to be recognized. I would've done it anyway, but it truly is an honor and a privilege to be wearing this on my chest."
"These two officers displayed great courage while under intense enemy fire, while serving as air mission commanders in support of combat operations in Operation Enduring Freedom," said Col. Paul W. Bricker, commander of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. "They exemplify the tremendous commitment to our mission and join the long line of 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers recognized for valor in defense of our nation."