By Kyle Ford, Army Flier EditorAugust 6, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- "We don't go downrange looking for any kind of notoriety," said the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization director before pinning the Air Medal with "V" device for valorous achievement on two of his Soldiers July 29 at the unit's conference room.
Col. Stephen Smith presented the awards to CW5 Howard Swan, DES directorate standardization instructor, and Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Quen, DES medical standardization instructor, who assisted in saving the lives of three coalition Soldiers while under fire from small arms and rocket propelled grenades during two medical evacuation missions Oct. 8, 2009.
DES Soldiers go downrange for three reasons, according to Smith. First, to help units fight complacency; second, to share new tactics, techniques, or procedures with downrange units; and finally, to learn from the unit and bring those lessons back to the next units preparing to deploy.
"The only way you can gather those lessons and take them back to the next units that are deploying is if you go and do what the units do," Smith said. "You can't do it by sitting at a (tactical operations control center), you can't do it by looking at map, you can't do it over a (video teleconference) or teleconference, you have to go live it."
Living it is exactly what Swan and Quen were doing with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade at Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan when they were called to medevac an Afghan commando who had encountered an improvised explosive device.
When they got to the area, Swan and Quen realized the landing zone picked out for the mission wasn't suitable, and played a key role in picking an alternate one.
While Swan sat on the ground waiting in the LZ, Quen and the 82nd CAB medic jumped out of the UH-60 Black Hawk and crossed 75 meters of open ground under fire to pick up the wounded Soldier and bring him back to the aircraft, said Smith.
What is not in the write-up was that the 82nd CAB had planned on Swan and Quen taking the wounded Soldier to Kandahar, said Smith.
"They only had one aircraft on station up there, so if we left we would have been out of the net for a good hour and half to two hours," Quen said, adding that the crew dropped the wounded Solider off at Tarin Kowt instead. "We ended up staying so we could maintain the cover down on that operation. Not even 20 minutes later, we got the call for the second 9-Line (medevac request) They said the same spot and I knew in my mind it was bad."
En route, the crew learned from low-level voice intercept traffic that the Afghan insurgents were planning to ambush the incoming medevac aircraft, said Smith.
Swan checked with the crew to make sure there were no reservations before going into a known ambush.
"I first asked the members of my crew if they understood the intelligence. They acknowledged and said 'drive on,'" Swan said. "I then asked our cover ship over the radio if everyone in her crew understood, and again, without hesitation, all understood and said drive on. Rather than worry about our potential problems, we all began to think through the best tactical strategy for success and put our plan into motion.
"When we made it into our selected extraction point on the second attempt, and despite rounds hitting around us and the LZ security force decisively engaged with covering fire from above and us in an unarmed medevac bird and unable to provide direct support, the medics never even hesitated or looked around - (they) just ran straight to the wounded, did exactly what was required of them and got the patient on-board in a quick but caring fashion," said Swan.
"We got them both on board by the time we got the rounds going off," Quen said. "At that time, the walking wounded (Special Forces) guy grabbed me and says, 'They're shooting at us,' and that they're taking RPGs, and then 'Let's get the hell out of here.' I said, 'Roger that.'"
Then Swan flew the aircraft back to Tarin Kowt and dropped the patients off.
Both the Soldiers said receiving this award was one of the proudest moments in their careers. However, both also said they had more pride in having completed a job and saving lives.
One of the people most proud of Swan and Quen is their commander.
"Meanwhile, as kind of a proud papa at Tarin Kowt, I'm hearing about all this," said Smith. "I'm at the TOCC and my heart is about ready to give out ... knowing this is all going on and waiting for these two guys because we're supposed to get on a helicopter to go back to Kandahar so we can out brief the brigade and go home.
"Meanwhile, they're off having fun, doing all this other stuff on their 'vacation' to Afghanistan," he said. "I'm very proud of (Swan and Quen) and the 82nd (CAB) for submitting them for this award."
"Things like this are going on every day in Afghanistan right now," Smith said. The DES people just happened to be there that day. "It's just a testament to the great Soldiers that we've got out there doing the mission."