Six Soldiers belonging to C Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) received the Soldier's Medal during a ceremony last month for a daring rescue.
On Nov. 28, Staff Sgt. Beau Corder, Staff Sgt. Richard Weaver, Staff Sgt. Engel Becker, Sgt. Damon Seals, Spc. Christopher White and Pfc. Ryan Brisson were recognized by Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff, for their heroic actions following a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crash, Jan. 31, on Fort Campbell.
"I'm very humbled to be a part of this," said Milley. "I've been in the Army for 40 years and I've only seen a few Soldier's Medals. It's a very rare thing. What you (Soldiers) did took tremendous courage; you knew it was very likely you would be hurt yourself, but you did it anyway. You make anyone who has been associated with the 101st enormously proud."
The aircraft, flown by four crew members from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), crashed into a forest on the installation shortly after takeoff. According to eyewitness accounts, the location of the crash, and the fact that the aircraft suffered major fuselage damage and was inverted, created a complex scene.
"The way it landed upside down in the ravine made it very difficult to access the crew. It also began to catch fire very quickly," said 1st Sgt. Adolfo Dominguez, C Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment senior enlisted leader. "The whole experience opened our eyes that these emergencies can happen. But it was amazing to see the Soldiers' mentality of 'I will do anything I have to do' in order to save these pilots' lives."
A post-crash fire soon engulfed the aircraft wreckage in heavy smoke and flames. The responding Soldiers used water, fire extinguishers and soil to control the fire, allowing them to remove and treat three of the injured crewmembers. They then performed multiple immediate and inventive actions to remove the fourth trapped crew chief, ultimately freeing him from the still-burning wreckage. All of their actions were taken with full understanding of the significant risk to their own safety, and contributed directly to saving the lives of their fellow Soldiers that day.
"What this unit did, from the time the incident happened, was pure agility and pure instinct," said Lt. Col. Adisa King, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment commander. "It is what they do on a daily basis. When you know that your brother is down, nothing is going to stop you. We talk about leaving no Soldier behind, and they proved that. It didn't matter what it took to get that crew and those pilots out, these Soldiers were going to do it."
The Soldier's Medal is the Army's highest peacetime award for valor. According to Army Regulation 600-8-22, the directive that outlines military awards and decorations, the performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.
Col. Derek Thomson, 1st Brigade Combat Team commander, described the rarity of the Soldier's Medal and described the actions taken by the Soldiers that day in January.
"It is given for bravery and valor in a non-combat situation; this award was created for exactly the kind of act these Soldiers performed," said Thomson. "Very few are awarded each year. This is a remarkable recognition. These Soldiers knew they had only seconds to react as the aircraft became engulfed in flames. The fact that these six individuals stuck with it no matter what, putting the lives of others ahead of their own, is extremely special."
The Soldiers recognized were happy to receive this notable commendation, but at the time of the incident it was the furthest thing from their mind.
"At first, none of us really thought about it. We were just happy that everyone survived," said Corder. "We were just doing our job, we wanted to save them."
Although six individual Soldiers received the medal, the entire unit responded to the crash. Some commented that they were just a member of a great team.
"I'm happy to be receiving it, but it was a combined effort of everybody," said White. "I don't think I'm any more special than anyone else that was out there."
In attendance at the ceremony were friends, families and fellow Soldiers of the awardees. But one individual had an extremely close connection to the incident. Spc. Grant Long, 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade crew chief, was on-board the helicopter and injured in the incident. In a touching moment, Milley invited Long to help him pin the medals on the Soldiers who saved his life.