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Fort Drum aviation soldiers honored for rescue in Afghanistan

FORT DRUM, N.Y. — The quick reaction of a Medevac team from post last May in Afghanistan saved the life of a Special Forces soldier shot in the back, the team risking enemy fire in broad daylight to fly him to a nearby hospital.

“Absolutely selfless service,” said Col. David J. Francis, commander of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The four soldiers involved in that rescue — Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kenneth G. Brodhead, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Melinda M. Walden, Staff Sgt. Kristen M. Halsey and Sgt. Ryan Blomquist — received the Air Medal for Valor on Thursday. The four are in the brigade’s Charlie Company, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion.

The crew sprang into action about 6:30 a.m. May 28, as ground forces fought in the Alasay Valley of the country’s Kapisa Province. The previous evening, American and Afghan forces had few problems attacking the area, described by Col. Francis as a Taliban hotbed. That morning, however, insurgent attacks intensified, at which point the Special Forces soldier was critically wounded by automatic weapon fire.

The crew instantly set out for the soldier, about 10 minutes away, but initially were delayed from entering the valley because of heavy fighting.

Given a window to land from other supporting aircraft, Chief Warrant Officer Brodhead slowed the helicopter down to a small field with a sharp J-turn, as weapons fired around them.

“You could just hear it,” said Chief Warrant Officer Walden, who aided in the helicopter’s flight.

On the ground, Sgt. Halsey moved to the injured soldier about 15 meters away, hearing the fire as she moved, while Sgt. Blomquist provided security.

“You get very focused; you get very numb. Everything’s very quiet with focus that you need to get that patient in,” Sgt. Halsey said.

Getting to the wounded soldier, she directed other soldiers to carry him to the helicopter. With the wounded soldier aboard, the helicopter quickly cleared the scene. In total, the crew was on the ground for about 45 seconds.

“It goes so quick you don’t even realize it,” Sgt. Blomquist said. “It’s all muscle memory, instinct for us.”

Provided medical care en route to the hospital at Bagram Airfield, the soldier survived his wounds.

Col. Francis said the actions of the four saved the soldier’s life. He noted that when the four got back, they turned in their battle-damaged helicopter for repairs and readied another helicopter for later calls.

“They did this because they knew we still had soldiers in harm’s way in a dangerous place, and that those soldiers needed them to be ready to do it again,” Col. Francis said.

After the ceremony, the three soldiers spoke modestly, crediting their training and saying other Medevac teams would have reacted similarly.

“It’s much more fulfilling, just the fact that he’s going to be able to have dinner with his wife tonight, and see his kids tonight,” Sgt. Blomquist said.

Chief Warrant Officer Brodhead left shortly after the end of the ceremony, without talking to assembled media. The valor award presented Wednesday is not the first honor of his soon-to-finish 27-year Army career. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his flying during a Medevac operation in June 2011, an operation later recounted in Newsweek magazine.
 

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