Rescue of the Year

The crewmembers of the Rescue of the Year crew are Pilot in Command CPT Michael A. Stone, Co-Pilot CW2 Ezekial J. Coffman, Medic SGT Frank l. Caudill, Crew Chief SPC Jose Peru of the 57th Medical Company stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At approximately 0910Z on 27 July 2002, DUSTOFF operations received a 9-Line MEDEVAC request for numerous casualties located in the vicinity of Ab Khail. Elements of U.S. Special Forces, 1/505th PIR, and Afghan militia fighters were conducting a search of the village of Ab Khail. The search was intended to locate weapons in the village. The crews of DUSTOFF 36, Wings 11 (a Quick Reaction Force UH-60), and two escort AH-64s  (Widowmaker 23 and 26) were launched at 0920Z for pickup.

Since the intelligence on the objective was minimal, the Widowmakers briefed that they would push forward 20 minutes out from the Landing Zone (LZ) to perform a reconnaissance and security sweep. Wing 11 and DUSTOFF 36 were still 12 miles out from the LZ when Widowmaker 26 first made contact with the ground unit Cobra 20 on secure FM. Upon contact, Cobra 20 notified Widowmaker 26 that the TACP was on the same frequency and needed the Apaches to make attack runs against the enemy compound where soldiers were still receiving fire.

Immediately, Widowmaker 26 coordinated with the TACP and his wingman to set up the axis of attack to ensure clearance of fires from friendly forces. At this time Wings 11 and DUSTOFF 36 had closed on the objective. DUSTOFF 36 led Wings 11 to the east, where they held one mile away behind a ridgeline for security. 

Widowmaker 23 and 26 began making multiple runs against the compound, first employing 30mm cannon fire and then 2.75-inch rockets. This went on for about ten minutes. Finally, Cobra 20 cleared DUSTOFF 36 and Wings 11 to ingress for casualty retrieval.

DUSTOFF 36 coordinated with Widowmaker 26, who informed them that the LZ was still “Cherry,” which meant that it was still hot. The Apaches had reported receiving ground fire during their attack runs, but it was time to get the casualties to a higher level of care. DUSTOFF 36 sequenced their approach behind Widowmaker 23 as they made a rocket attack against the objective.

Wings 11 and DUSTOFF 36 landed on the LZ at 1028Z. The medic and the Special Forces doctor got off the DUSTOFF aircraft to assess and load the patients. At that time SPC Basham also left the Wings aircraft to escort the wounded PUC (person under confinement) onto Wings 11.

While DUSTOFF 36 was in the LZ, a pair of F-18s checked in with the TACP and proceeded to drop two Mark-82 bombs on the compound, now located only 400 meters away to the South. While the patients were being loaded, DUSTOFF 36 was in communication with Widowmaker 26, who informed them that they were receiving ground fire from their current location to the Northeast, and to make their departure to the North. The area from which they were receiving ground fire was the exact location Wings 11 and DUSTOFF 36 had been holding prior to their ingress for pickup.

Once the casualties were loaded onto DUSTOFF 36 and the PUC was secure on Wings 11, both aircraft made their departure to the North. For the return trip they flew without the Apache escort. The two Widowmaker aircraft remained to expend their remaining ordinance in support of the ground unit. On departure, two A-10s also checked in with TACP to provide their support to the continued suppression of the enemy in the compound.

From the time the flight arrived, until DUSTOFF 36 and Wings 11 departed, enemy troops were firing on U.S. forces while CAS continued their suppression of the ground target. At 1130Z, DUSTOFF 36 and Wings 11 arrived at Bagram Airfield and transferred the patients to the waiting ambulances.

Congratulations also to the other great Americans nominated by the unit commanders for the DUSTOFF Crewmember of the Year Award. Those DUSTOFF Crewmembers are: SPC Brian Basham,  57th Medical Company, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; CPL Brandon Buttram, 507th Medical Company, Fort Hood, Texas; SSG Glen Johnston, 571st Medical Company, Fort Carson, Colorado; SGT Frayne Fowler, 1042nd Medical Company, Oregon ANG; and SGT Bruce Conger, 1085th Medical Company, South Dakota ANG.

Congratulations also to crews from the following units who were nominated: 45th Medical Co., Germany; 50th Medical Company, Fort Campbell, Kentucky; 159th Medical Co., Weisbaden, Germany; 236th Medical Co., Landstuhl, Germany; 507st Medical Co., Fort Hood, Texas; 571st Medical Co., Fort Carson, Colorado; 1042nd Medical Co., Oregon ANG, Stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; 1085th Medical Co,  South Dakota ANG, U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment, Fort Drum.