News: French award National Defense Gold Medal to pararescue Airmen
Story by Staff Sgt. John Wright
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MORALES-FRAZIER, Afghanistan -- French forces awarded three 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Airmen the National Defense Gold Medal with bronze star during a ceremony at Forward Operating Base Morales-Frazier, July 8.
French Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Maurin, Task Force La Fayette IV commander, presented Capt. John Mosier, HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot, Tech. Sgt. Kristopher Burridge and Senior Airman Jackson Rogers, both pararescue jumpers, the medals for their heroic actions for rescuing two French Gazelle helicopter pilots, June 11.
The 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron just cancelled a nighttime training mission due to severe winds when they received a call that a French helicopter crashed landed in the extreme weather. They immediately dispatched two Pave Hawk helicopters the downed French pilots. Additionally, two Army Apache AH-64D Longbow helicopters took off to help provide security.
As the Pave Hawks approached the crash site, limited visibility and the presence of a nearby village presented challenges for the team. Mosier, who is deployed from the 33rd Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, decided to drop his crew off and provide security from the air.
“The village was very close to where we were. So we set up a blocking pattern, putting ourselves between our operators on the ground and the village, so the PJs could focus on their mission,” said Mosier, a Santa Rosa, Calif., native.
While Mosier and the other Pave Hawk (Chalk II) provided security, Burridge and Rogers, who are both deployed from the 31rd RQS at Kadena Air Base, quickly set up a casualty collection point. Maj. Matthew McGuinness, 83rd RQS Pave Hawk pilot, posted as a sentry on the ground as the two pararescue Airmen began searching for the downed French aircrew in the dark.
“The first person we found was the pilot,” Rogers said. “He was waving a strobe light and told us he couldn’t feel his legs. I could tell by his movement that he was going to be OK.”
Rogers quickly assessed the French pilot and determined he had a broken back. While Rogers treated the pilot, Burridge began searching for the co-pilot.
“We found him still in the helicopter, strapped to his seat, but his seat had been dislodged and thrown to the back of the aircraft,” Burridge said.
Burridge, who hails from Clearwater Beach, Fla., performed a medical procedure known as a cricothyrotomy. The procedure establishes a patent airway during certain life-threatening situations, and involves making a small incision in the patient’s neck and inserting a breathing tube.
Due to the severity of the co-pilot’s injuries, Mosier instructed Chalk II to immediately set out for the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Air Field, while Rogers and Senior Airman Andrew Nichols, 83rd ERQS pararescue jumper, loaded the pilot into the other aircraft.
All told, the pararescue team was on the ground barely nine minutes. Burridge said it was one of the fastest rescue events he’d ever seen.
For Rogers, a Des Arc, Ark., native, it was his first combat aircraft rescue, but felt like he had done this a thousand times before. He credited the three years of intense pararescue training all PJs go through in preparing him for the mission.
“The training we get is intense,” he said. “But once you make it through and actually come out and do a mission like this, it’s great.”
Burridge echoed the junior pararescue jumper’s words.
“It feels good,” the 17-year combat veteran said. “There’s a lot of training that gets us to this level and to see it pay off and save somebody’s life … it doesn’t get any better than that.”
For all the airmen involved in the rescue, it was bittersweet receiving the decoration since the co-pilot passed away shortly after arriving at Bagram. However, due to their actions, the pilot with a broken back survived and will walk again.
“I love this job,” Mosier said. “Getting guys out of tough spots; that’s what it’s all about. Getting a medal is a huge honor, and I’m very grateful, but getting this guy back to his family is what’s most important.”
French officials said the courageous, prompt and effective actions of the 83rd ERQS airmen were greatly appreciated by the French forces and were the highest example of professionalism and dedication to duty.