A pair of soldiers who risked their lives to save another during a medical evacuation for a 75th Ranger Regiment unit in Afghanistan last summer received the Silver Star on Tuesday, according to an Army release.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, a career aviator, presented Sgt. Armando Yanez and Sgt. Emmanuel Bynum with their awards at the Army Aviation Association of America Summit in Nashville, Tenn., the release said.
“During the mission, I was absent minded; because of the training we’ve done before and while deployed, instinct just kicked in,” Bynum said.
It was July 12 and the two were part of an HH-60 Black Hawk medevac crew assigned to C Company, 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
They came under small arms fire as the helo descended to exfiltrate a wounded soldier, according to the release. Bynum guarded the helicopter while Yanez hopped out to get the soldier.
As they lifted off, Bynum said, he saw one of the soldiers on the ground crumple from a gunshot wound.
Refusing to leave him behind, the pilot used a building to shield the aircraft from further fire, then dropped down to an ad-hoc landing zone to retrieve the second casualty.
“The training I received helped me to be situationally aware of the surroundings of the landing zone,” Bynum said.
The Black Hawk was leaking hydraulic fluid from gunfire damage, according to the release, creating a dangerous situation for landing that got worse the longer they waited to set the helicopter down again. But the crew decided to get the wounded to a hospital as quickly as possible.
The second wounded soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, did not survive, Yanez said.
“I really want to say to his family and to the U.S. Army Rangers, I appreciate everything they do; those guys are heroes and warriors," he added.
Bynum and Yanez originally received the Distinguished Flying Cross in January, but Maj. Gen. Randy George, U.S. National Security Element - Afghanistan commander, recommended them for an upgrade.
“I began this morning reflecting on our greatest generation and the heroes we have from World War II; I see the passing of the baton from that generation to the young generation of today,” said McConville. “Every generation has its heroes, and today’s generation is no different.”