Military News

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Airman receives Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor

by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa
325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

3/18/2014 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.  -- An Airman received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor March 11 at Naval Support Activity Panama City, Fla. for providing rescue to soldiers surrounded by improvised explosive devices.

Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold, United States Special Operations Command vice commander, presented the cross to Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper, NSA Panama City 342nd Training Squadron Detachment 2 Air Force Combat Dive Course pararescuman, for his acts during a 2011 deployment.

Members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves in support of operations by "heroism or extraordinary achievement" while participating in an aerial flight receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, according to the Air Force Personnel Center website.

"I was surprised," Culpepper said. "It's an odd thing when you feel like you went out and did your job one day, get a medal out of it, when you don't feel like you did anything outside your job description."

While deployed as a pararescueman at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, his team received an important mission.

The team received a call to rescue three injured Army Pathfinders that were trapped in a ring of IEDs. The soldiers could not just walk away. The team arrived on a Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk, hovered 50 feet above them, and Culpepper was hoisted down from a cable to bring those in danger to safety, he said.

After getting one soldier safely on the Pave Hawk, Culpepper started bringing up the second soldier when things went from bad to worse.

"As I hoisted the second patient up, the aircraft lost power," Culpepper said. "It started to fall out of the sky as I was coming up. The pilot then called for a 'shear cable,' which is where they would of cut the cable I was hanging on."

However, Culpepper's team member slammed the hoist to go up and brought them into the aircraft. At that point the aircraft dropped to about three feet from the ground, he said.

"Had we touched ground, we would have set off IEDs," he added.

At the time, he didn't think much of what he and his team members did. He was just going by their pararescue motto, "these things we do that others may live."

"'These things we do that others may live,' we've all read it, we have all said, it and I think without a doubt, we all and work by that." Culpepper said. "We were focused on the mission, and we knew the risk going in. We knew there was IEDs. We put aside personal desires and comforts. There was never a question of should we put ourselves at risk to pull these guys out."

While flying back to safety, the rescue team rotated in performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation to an injured soldier but he eventually passed away due to his wounds. Culpepper's team saved the lives of two soldiers.

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