Originally established in 1995 as the DUSTOFF Crewmember of the Year and DUSTOFF Rescue of the Year, our awards program was expanded to recognize outstanding members of the DUSTOFF community at individual levels of DUSTOFF Aviator of the Year, DUSTOFF Medic of the Year, and DUSTOFF Crew Chief of the Year in addition to the Rescue of the Year. Generous support of these programs is provided annually by our corporate sponsors. Sikorsky Aircraft division of Lockheed Martin provides trophies for the unit as well as all crewmembers of the DUSTOFF Rescue of the Year award. AirMethods provides funding for the trophy awarded to the DUSTOFF Medic of the Year. Breeze Eastern provides funding for the trophy awarded to the DUSTOFF Crew Chief of the Year award. Currently, the DUSTOFF Association is funding the DUSTOFF Aviator of the Year award through donations by several Executive Council members.
Normally, these awards are presented at the annual reunion. However, as were many other events this year, the DUSTOFF Reunion was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts are currently underway to have members of the Executive Council along with our corporate sponsors to travel to the home station of the awardees and make the presentations.
The DUSTOFF Rescue of the Year for 2019 was a mission flown by the Nebraska Army National Guard G Company 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion. In March of 2019 historic flooding struck Nebraska, the combination of heavy rainfall from the “bomb cyclone” and snow melt caused large scale flooding along the Platte, Missouri, and Elkhorn Rivers. On March 14th, the levees along these waterways failed and water flooded into fields, towns, and roadways. By the afternoon, the Nebraska Army National Guard was responding to calls for assistance from several county and city officials. The Nebraska Army National Guard Aviation assets were activated at 17:00 to conduct immediate search and rescue efforts within devastated communities throughout Nebraska. Swift water rescue hoist missions would be conducted under Night Vision Goggles (NVG’s) with sustained wind of 40 knots and gust to 50 Knots. The temperature would be 35 degrees. On March 14th at 21:00, a seven-person firefighting team was responding to a call from residents as part of a large flood response near Arlington, NE. The team’s two airboats capsized leaving all seven firefighters in rushing, ice-cold water. NEARNG UH-60 #556 was over 60 miles away with only 45 minutes of fuel remaining when called to respond. All seven were still clinging to the overturned boats. Four previous rescues had been conducted by this crew when the boats capsized. Both boats were located directly under power lines. There was no possible landing site. At the time, the aircraft was in a critical fuel status, 500-600 pounds. The crew made the decision to perform the rescue immediately as going for fuel and returning would have fatal for those firefighters in the water. All six were rescued and taken for medical care, one in critical condition with hypothermia. Two additional rescues were performed that night following the night hoist mission. The crew that night conducted 6 continuous flying hours performing extremely high-risk rescues under the most demanding conditions saving 17 civilians and 2 animals.
The DUSTOFF Aviator of the Year is CPT Samuel R. Stalons. Captain Stalons, a highly skilled and experienced combat aviator currently assigned to Charlie Company 3-82nd General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), embodies all the positive aspects of an Army Aviator and DUSTOFFer. CPT Stalons has served in the active aviation component for 16 years, first beginning Army flight training in February 2004, and now as a DUSTOFF aviator. He has served Army Aviation in three operational deployments to Afghanistan, with two previous deployments as an infantry Marine, and currently serves as the Area Support MEDEVAC Platoon (ASMP) leader for C/3-82 GSAB DUSTOFF. With a career spanning over 21 years, CPT Stalons is an excellent example of a DUSTOFF aviator. As a previously branched Aviation warrant officer aviator, Sam demonstrated a typical DUSTOFF mindset. On one occasion in Farrah, while providing a month-long MEDEVAC chase mission, a unique mission presented itself which would change Sam’s future aviation plans. The MEDEVAC received a 9-line from a Marine infantry unit based at a FOB between Farrah and Bastion: three Marines had critical gunshot wounds to the chest. Upon takeoff, the MEDEVAC aircraft experienced hydraulic malfunctions, and returned to Farrah, unable to continue the mission. Informing the TOC at Kandahar of the problem, they were told that there were no other Army or Air Force units able to respond to the 9-line, and the Marines would have to be ground evacuated. Sam realized the severity of the situation and requested that the medic and medical gear from the broken MEDEVAC aircraft be transferred to his aircraft, so he could launch single ship to answer the 9-line. The MEDEVAC platoon leader agreed, but the TOC in Kandahar denied the request for single ship flight for risk reasons. CW2 Stalons departed nonetheless, understanding that the Marines would likely die on the two to three-hour long ground evacuation due to the severity of their wounds. CW2 Stalons landed at the POI, picked up the wounded Marines, and transported them to Nightingale, the Role 2 at FOB Bastion. Sam refueled and returned to Farrah single ship, where he was met with armed guard and returned to Kandahar immediately. The command threatened to remove him permanently from flight status and push UCMJ proceedings for his actions. Sam’s reply was simply, “did they live?” Realizing the sacred contract with the fighting man or woman on the ground was more important than his career, which he had willingly risked saving the lives of those three Marines. The answer to his question was yes, all three had lived. In the end, Sam received only a slap on the wrist, free to continue his aviation career. Then as a new Medical Service Corps aviator and returning from another deployment in December 2014, Sam was selected to stand up the Army’s newest Air Ambulance Detachment in Ft. Benning, Georgia in May 2015. Upon arrival, he was presented with a unique challenge: to create a unit and their mission from nothing. Sam was the only Soldier in the detachment for two months, and the only officer for four months, all while accepting and inventorying 11 MES sets, 6 aircraft, ordering new class VIII and procuring all of the daily living needs of the detachment. CPT Stalons is now a member of C/3-82 as a DUSTOFF platoon leader. He remains dedicated to the DUSTOFF mission and mentorship of the next generation of DUSTOFF aviators and medics. CPT Stalons’ resilience and professional manner, steadfast courage and commitment to his Soldiers and the mission has led to the successful accomplishment of the DUSTOFF mission, in both training and real-world environments.
The DUSTOFF Medic of the Year is SSG Danielle Black nominated by her previous commander while serving in C Company 6-101 Aviation Regiment. Now serving at the schoolhouse at Fort Rucker. As a young Private First Class, she earned her Expert Field Medical Badge on her first attempt in 2011, while serving as a medic at the 121st Combat Support Hospital in Korea. Serving with C/7-101st, SSG Black became an indispensable asset to the Eagle DUSTOFF team. In 2013, she deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where she treated dozens of patients in the volatile Wardak Province in Central Afghanistan. After returning from Forward Operating Base Shank, then-SGT Black attended the Critical Care Flight Paramedic Course to earn the coveted F3 identifier. After finishing the CCFP course, SSG Black was assigned to C/6-101st Aviation Regiment (Shadow DUSTOFF) and returned to Ft. Campbell, where she soon completed the UH-60 Aircrew Member Standardization Course. Shortly after her arrival, SSG Black became the first and only female to complete the demanding Special Operations Aviation Medical Indoctrination Course (SOAMIC). As the company’s senior medical flight instructor, she was responsible for the pre-deployment training of 25 flight paramedics. SSG Black prepared each of the 25 paramedics to provide lifesaving medical care in harsh environments and under intense pressure. No matter how difficult the situation, SSG Black has always performed to the highest standard. During a Taliban attack, SSG Black and her team were tremendously tested. In a 36-hour period, they flew five missions, including one involving 11 patients. In total, they cared for 15 severely wounded patients, of which SSG Black treated nine. Given SSG Black’s involvement with a majority of the patients, the FST Commander asked her to present her portion of patient care during these missions as part of the Joint Theater Trauma Conference, a weekly conference of Joint Medical Agencies around the world. SSG Black’s briefing helped further develop and refine patient care processes throughout theater. SSG Black’s tireless work ethic was also crucial to the unit’s success in conducting expeditionary operations. On nine separate instances, her team repositioned to an austere site to cover U.S. and partnered forces operating outside the traditional MEDEVAC “golden hour” ring as part of an Expeditionary Advisory Package (EAP). During these forward operations, SSG Black and her crew were called upon numerous times to evacuate and provide care to wounded Soldiers in the most dangerous of environments and situations. Ultimately, SSG Black flew more hours and completed more missions than any other crew member in her platoon.
The DUSTOFF Crew Chief of the Year is SGT Eric Cook. He previously served with All American DUSTOFF before his current assignment with Mountain DUSTOFF. His expertise and knowledge have contributed greatly to the development of his platoon’s relatively junior Non-Rated Crew Members with little to no deployment experience. Within four weeks of in-processing Fort Drum, SGT Cook deployed to Afghanistan for a second time, now in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel with Mountain DUSTOFF. SGT Cook regularly assisted his flight paramedic counterparts with patient treatment due to minimal personnel at his forward location. On one specific occasion, DUSTOFF received a mission for three CAT A patients after an IED blast struck a ground element during a clearance operation. Upon arrival to the POI, SGT Cook immediately sprang into action loading patients onto the aircraft, while simultaneously maintaining security. Once the patients were loaded on the aircraft, SGT Cook immediately began assessing patients and aiding the flight paramedic. He began applying pressure to control bleeding on a patient with a blast injury to their lower leg, thus allowing the flight medic to focus on the other two patients whose injuries required more immediate attention. SGT Cook maintained his care until the Forward Resuscitative Surgical Team (FRST) received the patients. SGT Cook has already provided over 1,500 hours of MEDEVAC coverage, enabling U.S., NATO and Afghan ground forces to perform operations with continuous MEDEVAC support. SGT Cook trained over 50 U.S. Military and partner forces in safely loading and unloading patients from a UH-60/HH-60 Blackhawk. Since arriving in country, SGT Cook has forward staged at various austere sites for more than 45 days, requiring him to conduct aircraft maintenance with minimal external support. SGT Cook serves as one of two Technical Inspectors (TI) in the platoon, increasing combat power by ensuring continuous MEDEVAC coverage. SGT Cook successfully served as a maintenance NCO, supervising, and assisting in the completion of various 40 Hour, 120 Hour and Phase Maintenance Inspections, as well as unpredicted and unscheduled maintenance. The leadership and expertise displayed by SGT Cook is directly impacting unit mission readiness each day by maintaining a superior overall operational readiness rate of 90%.
It is with great pleasure and honor that the DUSTOFF Association recognizes these great men and women of DUSTOFF. They truly are great representatives of the entire DUSTOFF Family of Warriors of Compassion.