FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- In modern U.S. military engagements, heroism and valor can be found not only on the ground but also in the air. In the challenging terrain of Afghanistan, Army aviators provide overwatch, fire support, medical evacuations, movement of personnel, and resupply on a daily basis.
Enemy contact can turn a routine mission into one that calls upon the skills, experience and instincts of an aviator. Occasionally, these events produce extraordinary aerial actions.
Three pilots from Task Force Falcon, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and 23 aviators earned the Air Medal with Valor for such actions during the unit's deployment to eastern Afghanistan from October 2010 to October 2011. Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, presented the awards Feb. 17 during a ceremony at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.
"While this ceremony does not recognize every act of valor or bravery during our recent deployment to Afghanistan, it is clearly indicative of the heroism, bravery and level of effort that our entire task force fought with over our time in Afghanistan," said Col. Pedro G. Almeida, TF Falcon, 10th CAB, commander.
Distinguished Flying Cross
The Distinguished Flying Cross was established by Congress on July 2, 1926, to be awarded to any person who distinguishes himself or herself through heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. Maj. Michael S. McFadden, Capt. Joseph A. Sinkiewicz and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Aaron N. Simbro each received the Distinguished Flying Cross during the ceremony.
As McFadden and his crew flew up the Kunar Valley, they saw the Air Force evacuation helicopters leaving.
"We'd heard reports that one of the aircraft had taken a lot of fire," McFadden said. "The area was very hot. There were multiple injuries and multiple locations."
Soldiers from Task Force Bastogne, 101st Airborne Division, were in a significant firefight, when McFadden and his medical evacuation crew from C Company "Dustoff," TF Phoenix, arrived overhead. McFadden quickly learned that their first casualty was located inside a mud building near a small landing zone -- so small that only a one-wheel landing could be performed on its muddy 30-degree slope. Under intense fire, McFadden expertly maneuvered his UH-60 Black Hawk and held its position for his medic to exit the aircraft and retrieve the casualty.
Once the casualty was taken to a nearby medical treatment facility, McFadden made the decision to return immediately to the fight. His crew evacuated six critically wounded U.S. Soldiers and three killed in action that day. His actions allowed the Soldiers of TF Bastogne to continue to maneuver in support of Operation Strong Eagle.
"It's always a team effort," McFadden said. "We don't do anything alone. It's a team effort between us and attack assets and the Soldier on the ground getting the right grid to us and getting the patients out to the aircraft as quickly as they can so we don't sit there and get shot up."
With reports of a massive impending attack by more than 200 Taliban fighters of the district center at Do-Ab in Nuristan Province, May 25, 2011, Capt. Joseph A. Sinkiewicz and Chief Warrant Officer Aaron 2 N. Simbro, AH-64 Apache pilots with B Company, 1-10 Aviation Regiment, TF Six Shooters, were tasked to provide security for a daytime air infiltration. As the Chinooks landed, the exiting Soldiers began to take heavy direct and indirect fires from terrain above and around the landing zones.
Sinkiewicz and Simbro recognized the threat and reacted immediately by providing terrain denial and suppressive fires. Despite taking fire from small arms and rocket propelled grenades and sustaining battle damage to their aircraft, they repeatedly exposed themselves to enemy fire for more than five hours. Because of their actions, ground forces were eventually able to maneuver away and take key terrain above the district center.
"The mission wasn't unique," said Simbro. "But I can't think of another air assault with this type of enemy activity where we didn't lose coalition forces. Our experience from earlier in the deployment helped us."
Air Medals with Valor
The Air Medal was established by Executive Order on May 11, 1942. It is awarded "for Valor" for heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy or while engaged in military operations. Twenty-seven Air Medals with Valor were presented to 23 aviators, as four pilots received an additional Air Medal with Valor for separate events.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew P. Rood, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael R. Arns and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Taylor P. Edwards, AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots with B Company, 1-10 Aviation, TF Six Shooters, each earned the Air Medal with Valor for their airmanship and bravery under enemy fire in the Watahpur Valley on Nov. 12, 2010, while providing security for evacuation of casualties and supporting an isolated platoon under fire.
Rood received an additional Air Medal with Valor for his actions April 23, in the Alah-Say Valley in support of ground forces responding to a downed aircraft. Edwards received an additional Air Medal with Valor for his bravery under fire March 29 in the Kunar Valley.
Capt. Kyle F. Rogers and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael C. Lee, AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots with B Company, 1-10 Aviation, TF Six Shooters earned the Air Medal with Valor for heroism while repeatedly exposing themselves to enemy surface-to-air fires Jan. 22 in the northern Kunar Valley. Rogers and Lee provided immediate suppression and effective fires, taking battle damage to their aircraft, yet successfully engaging the enemy for more than eight hours during Operation Cougar Strike. Lee received an additional Air Medal with Valor for his bravery under fire May 25 in Do-Ab.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Luke C. Stapelmann, an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot with B Company, 1-10 Aviation, TF Six Shooters, earned the Air Medal with Valor for his demonstrated superior skill and bravery as an attack aviator during Operation Strong Eagle where his heroism directly contributed to the successful evacuation of six critically wounded U.S. Soldiers and three U.S. fallen heroes March 29.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael A. Mogg, an OH-58D Kiowa pilot and the brigade's standardization officer, earned the Air Medal with Valor for his bravery and superior airmanship while supporting ground forces in the Alah-Say Valley on April 11. Mogg's gallantry and expertise while piloting his aircraft and employing overwhelming effective fires in order to enable coalition ground forces time to move their wounded to a secure area.
Mogg received an additional Air Medal with Valor for his actions April 25 in the Alah-Say Valley, where he repeatedly exposed himself to direct enemy heavy machine gun and RPG fire, while providing accurate overwhelming fires to support coalition ground forces.
AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rocky B. Jensen and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Aaron N. Simbro, B Company, 1-10 Aviation, TF Six Shooters; as well as UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief Sgt. 1st Class Janner T. Morgan and door gunner Spc. Jason R. Leaders, of G Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, TF Knighthawk, earned the Air Medal with Valor for their gallantry in response to a downed aircraft in the Alah-Say Valley on April 23, providing aerial security for ground forces while under persistent, intense enemy fire.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 William E. Butler, an OH-58D Kiowa pilot and the brigade's aviation maintenance officer, earned the Air Medal with Valor in the aftermath of a downed aircraft in the Alah-Say Valley two days earlier, for displaying leadership and bravery in the face of repeated direct enemy fire April 25. He led his team of OH-58D Kiowa scout helicopters, repeatedly exposing himself to direct enemy heavy machine gun and RPG fire, while providing accurate overwhelming fires to support coalition ground forces.
Through their courageous actions May 9, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott L. Burke and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brandon C. Murphy, AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots with B Company, 1-10 Aviation, TF Six Shooters, earned the Air Medal of Valor for providing overwhelming and lethal firepower against the enemy near Combat Outpost Monti.
Their bravery and actions under fire directly contributed to the security of ground forces and MEDEVAC aircraft, resulting in successful evacuation of friendly wounded and the accomplishment of a vital logistics operation in support of Operation Bronco Overwatch.
Capt. Brian C. Schlesier, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Randolph B. Ayers, Chief Warrant Officer 2 David A. Parry and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher M. Vonsik, 1-10 Aviation, TF Tigersharks, earned the Air Medal with Valor for exemplary airmanship, bravery and expertise as AH-64 Apache pilots in support of Operation Maiwan on May 16.
These crews took extraordinary measures, repeatedly exposing themselves to enemy fire in order to place effective fires on an overwhelming enemy force, which resulted in the successful destruction of eight insurgents and enabled ground forces to continue the fight against a determined enemy in the Spera District, Khost Province.
OH-58 Kiowa helicopter pilots Capt. John C. Dean and troop commander Capt. Chad A. Monroe, C Troop, 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, TF Six Shooters; and Capt. Brett L. Monette, AH-64 Apache pilot and commander of B Company, 1-10 Aviation, TF Six Shooters, earned the Air Medal with Valor for their response amid reports of a massive impending enemy attack by more than 200 Taliban who were maneuvering to take over the Do-Ab District Center on May 25.
The aviators provided effective fires and support for the ground forces while repeatedly exposing themselves to enemy fire. Their accurate fires kept friendly forces from being overrun by the Taliban fighters, and there were no coalition casualties.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael R. Brown and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew P. Gerlitzki, of B Company, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, TF Six Shooters, earned the Air Medal with Valor for their actions while conducting a resupply mission to a remote base in their CH-47 Chinook helicopter July 25.
On short final approach to the forward operating base, an insurgent fired upon and hit them with an RPG, causing an explosion and fire in their aircraft and forcing them to conduct an emergency landing outside the FOB. Through their superior airmanship and courageous actions, Brown and Gerlitzki landed their aircraft safely, led the follow-on extraction of their crew and movement of two wounded U.S. Soldiers to safety inside the FOB.
"Everybody was just amazing this year," said Simbro. "I'm amazed by the things that happened in Afghanistan. I will never forget it. We could have given every single pilot in Afghanistan the DFC in my opinion.