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Soldiers prepare to fire a volley during a 21-gun salute to Staff Sgt. Heath N. Craig, a member of the 159th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), who died June 21 in Afghanistan during a mission to rescue two 10th Mountain Division soldiers who had been injured in combat.

Soldiers prepare to fire a volley during a 21-gun salute to Staff Sgt. Heath N. Craig, a member of the 159th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), who died June 21 in Afghanistan during a mission to rescue two 10th Mountain Division soldiers who had been injured in combat. (Matt Millham / S&S)

As a combat medic, Staff Sgt. Heathe N. Craig understood that, sometimes, saving people means risking your own life.

Sometimes, the risk doesn’t pay off.

Craig, a member of the 159th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) based in Wiesbaden, Germany, and another soldier died the night of June 21 during a rescue mission near Naray, Afghanistan.

The night started off peacefully enough.

Craig had just gotten done chatting with his wife and playing peek-a-boo with his 1-year-old daughter, Leona, over a Web camera when the call came. Three 10th Mountain Division soldiers were critically wounded in a firefight near Naray.

“He always had missions that came up,” Craig’s wife, Judy Craig, said. “And that’s what happened. A mission came up, and he was ready.” The couple also have a 4-year-old son, Jonas.

Craig’s dustoff crew had been called to rescue the wounded. By the time Craig and his air ambulance arrived at the pickup point, one of the soldiers already was dead.

It was past dark at takeoff, and the terrain where they were headed made it impossible for the Black Hawk rescue helicopter to land.

That meant Craig would have to be lowered into the combat zone by a hoist. It was one of his least favorite things to do, said Capt. Angela Wagner, the rear detachment commander for the 159th Medical Company.

The battlefield still wasn’t secure, but Craig plunged in anyway. He secured the first soldier and got him safely into the hovering ambulance. That troop would make it out of Afghanistan alive.

But as Craig and the second patient were being lifted in the helicopter, the hoist malfunctioned.

“On the second try, I lost him,” Sgt. James Ramey, the helicopter’s crew chief, said in a letter that was read at Craig’s memorial ceremony Thursday.

Craig and the soldier he was rescuing, Pfc. Brian J. Bradbury, both died. Craig grew up in Virginia. Bradbury was from Saint Joseph, Mo.

“He gave his life saving another,” Wagner said.

Sgt. Krendra Jackson, one of Craig’s close friends, couldn’t keep herself from crying as she talked about her fallen comrade during the memorial service at Wiesbaden Army Airfield’s chapel.

She told how Craig, even after back surgery, would work tirelessly, laboring beyond his body’s limits, afraid that he might come off as a slacker. Jackson remembers telling him to take it easy. “He would look at me with those blue eyes and say, ‘My name’s not worthless.’”

Few in attendance could hold back their tears as Jackson recounted her friendship with Craig. “Judy, you once told us we acted like brother and sister. He was my brother,” she said. “He was our brother.”

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