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