By Maj. Enrique Vasquez
Combat Aviation Brigade
1st Infantry Division
TIKRIT, Iraq – Four AH-64 Apache Longbow pilots assigned to the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, "Gunfighters" where awarded Air Medals for their actions during a combat air patrol while flying in support of Task Force Iron in northern Iraq.
Mission Commander Lt. Col. Mike Mahony, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Duane Crawford, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Coy Pennington, and Capt. Nate Thompson, received their Air Medals for their actions, Jan. 24.
The Apache pilots flying in two gunships distinguished themselves while providing direct combat support to Multi-National Division-North ground forces near Tikrit, Iraq.
After conducting two hours of security operations with ground forces about 40 miles south of Contingency Operating Base Speicher, the team was contacted by Blackhorse Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment. They asked the Gunfighters to assist the Sons of Iraq, who were being engaged by black-hooded enemy with automatic weapons.
Shortly after receiving the call, Thompson in the trail aircraft quickly located the five enemy fighters moving in a palm grove. The crews maneuvered their Apaches to maintain contact with both the enemy and friendly forces while coordinating actions between the aircraft and the Soldiers on the ground.
Crawford in the lead descended into small arms range and dropped flares above the enemy location in order to get them to surrender. Mahony radioed the ground forces to maneuver thus preventing the enemy from escaping. This allowed Pennington and Thompson to close in and positively identify the weapons employed by the enemy forces.
With both Apache helicopters in position, the enemy made the mistake of moving toward the friendly ground forces. "We knew that we had cut the enemy off from escape, and we could not allow the insurgents to get into close combat with the ground forces," said Mahony.
The two Apaches responded with 30mm chain gun fire and within minutes the threat to friendly ground forces ceased. Three enemy insurgents were killed and the two others surrendered.
After the initial enemy force was defeated, the AWT refueled at a forward arming and refueling point and provided route security for Blackhorse vehicles as they returned to base.
Other enemy forces alerted by the Apache's gunfire set up an ambush in an attempt to shoot down the aircraft. As the helicopters passed, the enemy launched rockets and fired heavy machine guns from numerous locations at the aircraft. The Gunfighter pilots maneuvered and escaped further ground fire.
The decision was made to break contact with the enemy and return to base. The ground forces and the AWT all made it safely back to their bases.
In a ceremony, March 7 Mahony, Thompson, Pennington and Crawford were all awarded the Air Medal for their actions. Col. Jesse O. Farrington, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, commander pinned the Air Medal on the pilots in front of the other Soldiers of the task force.
"You guys are the quiet professionals with a huge reputation," said Farrington. "You're so clinical and precise in all that you do and you deal with the craziness of the battlefield in a calm and deliberate manner that speaks highly of your great outfit."
This work, Gunfighter Pilots Awarded Air Medals, by MAJ Enrique Vasquez, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.