By Sgt. Scott Davis, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Public AffairsFebruary 17, 2012
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Feb. 17, 2012--The most highly decorated soldier currently serving in the Australian army visited Fort Campbell Wednesday to thank aviation crews from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade for their courageous actions in Afghanistan.
The crew supported many of Cpl. Ben Roberts-Smith's missions during his deployment including one that resulted in him earning the Victoria Cross for Australia, the highest decoration in the Australian Honor System.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brant Edwards, assigned to C Co., 5th Battalion, 101st CAB, flew the Black Hawk helicopter the Australian sniper was on during the mission. The combined unit was going after a Taliban leader in Kandahar Province and landed in a valley under intense fire.
Edwards and his flight crew remained in the valley to give air support and cover to Roberts-Smith and the rest of the ground troops as they fought against insurgents.
"It wasn't uncommon to take fire during a mission, but it was uncommon to take that much fire," said Edwards. "I will always remember that mission. Up to that point, out of all the engagements I've been in, I've never seen anything at that level of intensity and I can't foresee myself seeing anything like that again."
During the four months Roberts-Smith worked with the 101st CAB, they were engaged by insurgents many times.
"That's another reason I'm here. I want people to know and recognize them for that. I get a lot of recognition and gratitude for getting the Victoria Cross but I try to talk about my mates and what all they did. I wasn't out there alone ... I want people to acknowledge that."
The mission that day could have gone in a very different direction. With multiple rocket-propelled grenades being fired, AK-47s bursting through clips and at least three enemy machine gun positions set up to dominate the battlefield, one would say it is a miracle that Edwards' helicopter was only hit twice by small-arms fire.
"We found out after we got back to our base we had taken a couple rounds, one through the main rotor system and one through the main landing gear which also severed our brake line," said Edwards. "So when we inserted them on the hill top we didn't have our brakes to the control the aircraft and we had to land with only two wheels."
Roberts-Smith met with the crews at their battalion headquarters where he presented them with a plaque as a gesture of his appreciation for them. They talked about the members of their once combined U.S. and Australian units and reminisced about past missions and future plans.
"This trip is very important to me," said Roberts-Smith. "These guys were critical to the mission, without them, this mission would have never had happened."
Roberts-Smith goes on to say that "more importantly, when we got in the valley, the intensity of the enemy fire was such that at any stage, any of those pilots could have pulled out of the mission and said 'I'm not risking my life over this,' but they took that risk to make sure we got in."
The crews were grateful that Roberts-Smith took a trip out to see and recognize them for their actions, not just during that one mission, but throughout their time together in Afghanistan.