Petty Officer 1st Class Roy Jaquez had just returned from a mission, assessing a road and bridge project in eastern Afghanistan, when his comrades took note of an incoming helicopter on the horizon.
“Someone saw it coming in and said it looked like it was going to crash,” recalled Jaquez, a corpsman. “I didn’t think she knew what she was talking about and didn’t pay any attention.”
Moments later, a servicemember raced inside the tent where Jaquez was meeting with troops and yelled that the bird had crashed.
It was May 3, 2010, when the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter fell out of the sky, crashing to the ground some 300 meters outside Forward Operating Base Kala Gush, in Nuristan province, Afghanistan.
"I'm a corpsman. That's my job."
- Petty Officer 1st Class Roy Jaquez
“I didn’t even hear anything,” Jaquez said. “There were a couple of barriers, which blocked the sound. We all picked up our stuff and ran out there.”
When Jaquez arrived on the scene, the rotor blades still churned, kicking dirt into the air. Munitions were scattered around the helicopter, which lay on its side, spilling fuel. Meanwhile, three injured crewmembers were trapped inside.
It was a dangerous and potentially explosive mix, but Jaquez and other troops on the scene ignored the risks and went to work.
“I’m a corpsman. That’s my job,” Jaquez said. “The bottom window was somewhat broken, so I kicked it in the rest of the way.”
Jaquez and four others then pulled the three crewmembers to safety, according to a Navy account of the incident.
“We started working on them right away,” Jaquez said. “Everyone who was there that was medical came out of the woodwork. Everyone was lending a hand.”
Jaquez, who is assigned to the Riverine Squadron 3, part of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command in Virginia, in December received the Soldier’s Medal for valor in a noncombat situation.
Jaquez never had a chance to meet the helicopter crewmembers, who were civilian contractors, but he heard they recovered from their injuries.
Jaquez said he’s just glad he was on the FOB at the time, along with the other members of the medical team who helped out.
“I never expected to be recognized for it,” he said.