FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Two soldiers with Fort Campbell's 101st Combat Aviation Brigade were honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross on Wednesday.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Woodward and Capt. Lindsay Gordon were awarded the cross for their actions while flying an AH-64 Apache helicopter during an early December mission in Afghanistan. The cross is awarded to soldiers who distinguish themselves with "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight," according to the Department of Defense.
Throughout the night of Dec. 5, a Ranger regiment was engaged in a firefight with enemy troops near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After about 5 a.m., the ground force commander called for an immediate extraction after they learned of a larger enemy group approaching. Located in a deep river valley, the troops were not in a good position to defend themselves.
Woodward and Gordon, flying along with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, guided their aircraft directly between the U.S. troops and the enemy forces as the extraction got underway.
"Upon landing to the (extraction zone), the (Rangers) immediately received fire from all directions, including their take-off direction," said Lt. Col. Jeffery Bragg, commander of the 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. "With rounds impacting within a few feet ahead of the lead assault helicopter, Capt. Gordon and CW2 Woodward deliberately placed their aircraft in a position to distract and draw fire from the assault helicopters while they completed the exfiltration of the rangers."
The whole place "lit up," Bragg said. Enemy fire was originating from more than five to seven points in the area. Woodward and Gordon's actions helped save dozens of lives.
"All of a sudden, we see hundreds of tracers come our direction toward the ground force, so we had to react instinctively at that point," Gordon said. "...Our job out there is to keep the ground force and aircraft safe and luckily we were able to do that."
Bragg read the following from the ground commander's report during Wednesday's ceremony: "I assessed that the valley contained a much larger force than my own and if we did not exfiltrate when we did, we would have received a significant amount of casualties since we were not in a position to defend ourselves in the bottom of a river valley, surrounded by heavy machine guns and overwhelming enemy presence. In my 20 years of service, I've never been pulled from a more dire situation."
"This man is a future 75th Ranger Regiment commander, and if he said it was dire, you damn sure bet it was," Bragg said.
As part of the 101st CAB, Gordon's and Woodward's mission is to do just what they did during the extraction — help to protect the ground and aerial forces. While Wednesday's ceremony was a time to honor their heroism in the air, Gordon and Woodward said they felt "humbled" by the recognition.
"It's just the instinct, how we train, how we fight that kicked in at that point," Woodward said. "It's part of the job, what we're trained to do and, sometimes, it just happens to be that it's real world and not just training anymore."
Their commander, Col. Craig Alia, praised the two for their courage during the ceremony.
"Fear is a natural reaction, it's a reaction everybody faces," Alia said. "Courage is a decision. Courage is a decision to put yourselves in harm's way. Courage is a decision to put the welfare of others ahead of yourself. ... It's the decisions you make when you're afraid that define courage."