With valor: Seven members of PAVE country honored
By Jamie Haig, 16th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 06, 2006
HURLBURT FLD, Fla. -- Seven members of the 20th Special Operations Squadron were decorated Dec. 16 for their heroic actions in Fallujah, Iraq.
Capt. Matthew Berry, Master Sgt. Randy Kensey, Tech. Sgt. Byron Allen, and Staff Sgts. James Bowling and Christopher Dalton were all presented with the Distinguished Flying
Cross with Valor for their efforts during a resupply mission April 12, 2004.
Master Sgt. Robert Colannino and Staff Sgt. Jesse Lee were presented the Bronze Star with Valor for their actions on the same mission.
Two crewmembers, Capt. Steven Edwards, now at the 14th Weapons School, and Airman 1st Class Casey Mabry, were also cited for valor during this engagement, but were unable to attend the ceremony. Tech. Sgt. Christian MacKenzie, who was wounded during the mission, assisted Col. Mark Alsid, 16th Operations Group commander, in handing out the medals.
On the night of April 12, the crew flew two MH-53J PAVE LOW helicopters in formation to resupply troops in contact with enemy forces. They couldn’t land on their first approach.
As the second ship exited the area, a rocket propelled grenade exploded in the nose of the aircraft. The RPG blasted through the windshield, wounding the pilot, copilot and flight engineer. The blast severed communications lines, destroying the instrument panel and automatic flight controls. The gaping hole rendered the aircraft nearly uncontrollable.
Despite his injuries, a severely-damaged aircraft, blacked-out conditions and unfamiliar terrain, Captain Edwards, with the aid of Sergeants Kensey and Colannino, managed to crash land the aircraft in the hostile enemy territory.
Upon landing, Sergeants Kensey and Lee secured the damaged helicopter, directed Army special forces Soldiers in establishing a defensive perimeter, and returned to evacuate the crew, weapons and classified materials.
Sergeant Colannino mov-ed the seriously-injured flight engineer out of the damaged cockpit and administered first aid. Then he removed the injured pilots from the cockpit.
The damaged systems didn’t allow for a normal shut down of the engines. However, in pitch-black surroundings, under direct enemy fire, Sergeant Colannino’s knowledge of the aircraft system allowed him to find the correct wires and disengage the system.
After the second ship was struck by the RPG, the crew of the first MH-53J took immediate, evasive action avoiding a possible mid-air collision. While under fire from enemy forces, Sergeant Allen and Airman Mabry spotted enemy concentrations and returned accurate fire, while Sergeant Dalton dispensed flares.
Using the navigation guidance system, Sergeant Bowling quickly located the downed aircraft. Captain Berry then passed along the coordinates to the crew of an AC-130 that engaged enemy forces.
While flying to the damaged aircraft, Sergeant Dalton talked Captain Berry through the approach, landing 200 feet away from the crash site. Sergeant Allen set up a defensive perimeter and provided cover for three Soldiers to evacuate the crew from the helicopter.
With all downed crewmembers aboard and initiating a take off, the helicopter again took fire from enemy forces, prompting Sergeant Allen and Airman Mabry to suppress the barrage, allowing the crew to safely fly out of harm’s way.
“These warriors define ‘cool under pressure’,” said Lt. Col. Scott Howell, 20th SOS commander.
When faced with a difficult situation under enemy fire, they fell back on their training and focused on their mission.”