Bainbridge Island, Wash., honors hometown hero Sgt. Julia Bringloe
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — Army Sgt. Julia Bringloe dangled from a cable below a hovering helicopter, bullets flying around her, and hoisted 11 wounded soldiers to safety.
She also directed her medevac team's UH-60 Black Hawk onto a roof to rescue three others, and recovered the body of a dead translator. Once back on board, she quickly shifted to treating injuries. For those feats, the Bainbridge Island native became the seventh woman to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross.
More than 80 people jammed the Commodore Options School commons Sunday to honor the 39-year-old and hear Mayor Debbi Lester proclaim Oct. 21, 2012, as "Julia Bringloe Day."
"That was nothing short of remarkable," Lester said after Bainbridge resident Gary Sakuma, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, read a citation describing Bringloe's actions. "… To the young people here, this is your role model."
Bringloe, who received the honor in May and also was named the 2012 USO Army Woman of the Year, was joined by father Tom Bringloe and brother Jack, of Bainbridge, and mother Annie Bringloe of Yakima.
Bringloe's actions came during Operation Hammerdown, an effort to wipe out insurgent training camps near the Pech River Valley in mountainous eastern Afghanistan in June 2011. It turned into a big firefight with many casualties. Bringloe was the only flight medic in the valley because the other helicopter was hit and had hydraulic problems.
"It's a great honor for everybody to come out and not just recognize me but our military," said Bringloe, who left a carpentry career five years ago to join the Army and pursue her "dream job."
She said she's so focused she doesn't even realize the danger.
"My job is to get patients up as fast as I can," said Bringloe, who received a standing ovation Sunday. "A lot of times I don't even know I'm being shot at."
Medevac helicopters aren't supposed to be attacked, but …
"We're one of the most high-value targets in Afghanistan," Bringloe said. "Unfortunately, the enemy doesn't play fair."
Bringloe's team rescued about 450 soldiers during her year in Afghanistan, she said.
The sergeant just finished a paramedic course in Texas and is returning to Fort Drum, N.Y. Annie Bringloe said her daughter was "feisty" and "always marching to her own drum" while growing up on Bainbridge, where she completed her sophomore year at Bainbridge High School before attending boarding school in Hawaii.
"She was an age-group swim team star and would give it everything she had, just like she does with her job," Annie Bringloe said.
"She didn't expect to be a hero. She was always looking to just do her job, and she feels a little uncomfortable being fussed over."
Bringloe will deploy again in a few months.
"I'm proud and scared," Annie Bringloe said. "She's going back to Afghanistan in February. I will be scared and be praying every single day that she's gone."
The Distinguished Flying Cross is for "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight" and only is ranked below the Medal of Honor, Silver Star and Legion of Merit.