FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Jan. 4, 2011) -- A Soldier with the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, was awarded the Purple Heart and Air Medal during a ceremony here, Jan. 4.
Maj. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, the acting senior commander for the 101st Airborne Division, presented the awards to Spc. Leandro Garcia for exceptional meritorious service while serving as a door gunner aboard a CH-47 Chinook that was shot down by enemy fire during the 159th CAB's deployment to Afghanistan last year.
"It was an honor to have someone so high in the chain of command to take the time and present me with this award today," said Garcia.
Garcia is a truck driver who volunteered to serve as a Chinook door gunner with 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, during the deployment and participated in extensive training to prepare him for this role prior to.
"It was the training our unit instilled in the crew that brought us back," said Garcia. "Training was essential to this mission, and I am thankful that we were prepared."
The Jan. 17, 2009, mission that led to Garcia's awards was supposed to be a routine resupply mission to Outpost Restrepo. But Outpost Restrepo was located in the heart of the Korengal Valley, which was at one time dubbed "the most deadly place on Earth."
During the mission Garcia's aircraft was hit by a Rocket-Propelled Grenade that caused a fire to break out in the cabin.
While the flight engineer attempted to put the fire out, Garcia remained focused on helping the aircrew survive. He continued to scan for enemy threats. He also helped identify an adequate emergency landing zone, as the Chinook would not be able to reach a secure area.
Minus a rear port side fuel cell, and ablaze, the aircraft made a hard landing approximately 300 meters from Observation Point Vegas and proceeded to roll onto its side.
Garcia was immediately knocked unconscious and pinned under debris inside the aircraft.
"I am thankful to be here today, and that I only suffered minor injuries," he said.
When Garcia regained consciousness and freed himself of the debris, he exited the aircraft, but realized he'd suffered injuries to his right side.
Regional Command - East, Afghanistan