Heroes 2006: ‘I’m just dangling there’
June 14, 2006
As the medical evacuation helicopter sped to the ridge where two wounded Special Operations Forces troops waited, the flight crew heard ominous sounds over the radio.
“The whole aircraft’s quiet, and one of the pilots is like, ‘I think that’s gunfire,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Makonen Campbell. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah. I think it is gunfire.’”
It was April 11, 2005. Taliban insurgents had ambushed Afghan forces on a high mountain pass near Khost in an attempt to assassinate a former Afghan military commander. U.S. SOF troops came to the aid of the Afghans, and two of the U.S. troops — Paul, an Army master sergeant, and Brad, an Air Force tech sergeant, identified by their first names only for security reasons — were wounded in the fighting.
Campbell — then a staff sergeant with the 159th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), based in Wiesbaden, Germany — was serving as flight medic on the helicopter that was assigned to evacuate Paul and Brad.
When the helicopter got to the scene, crewmembers realized that they would not be able to land on the ridge. They would have to use a hoist.
As Campbell was lowered for the roughly 150-foot descent, his radio was smashed against the side of the aircraft. Now he would have to rely on hand signals to communicate with the soldier controlling the hoist.
Campbell continued his ride down, but the hoist stopped.
“So I’m just dangling there,” said the 30-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. “I’ve got my 9 mil (9 mm pistol). I’ve got my M-4 (carbine). I’m ready to return fire, but it got to a point where I was like, ‘OK, I’m just here. If they want to shoot me down, they’re going to shoot me down.’ At that point, I was like, ‘All right, I’m about to eat the big one on this one.’”
He started to give frantic hand signals to put him on the ground. Campbell finally reached the ground close to the wounded and was met by an Afghan Special Forces soldier. Campbell noticed dust being kicked up near his feet.
“There’s rounds actually coming by at my feet,” he said.
Campbell hit the deck and made his way to Paul, who was shot in the groin and in both legs, and Brad, who was shot in the ankle but was returning fire from the cover of a small rock.
Campbell quickly attended to the critically injured Paul and secured him in a rescue stretcher that was lowered from the helicopter.
Next was Brad. Campbell got him in the stretcher and gave a thumbs-up to the crew chief in the helicopter. Campbell thought he would have time to gather up his gear before riding up with Brad. Campbell turned around, saw the sked was going up and jumped for it.
“It looked like some straight ‘M:I III’ stuff, some ‘Matrix’ stuff,” Campbell said of his leap. “Didn’t think it would take it up so fast.”
The wounded were treated on the way back to Forward Operating Base Salerno. When the helicopter landed, Paul and Brad were taken to the emergency room. Paul had lost four pints of blood into his gut but survived. Brad also made it out alive.
U.S. and Afghan forces were credited with killing 12 insurgents. Another Black Hawk that was involved in the mission had more than 50 bullet holes in it. The pilot of that aircraft was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.
“It was a normal mission to us,” Campbell said. “Next thing you know, we had the whole SF Group coming up to the hospital, wanting to talk to us, congratulate us, thank us — however you want to look at it — for going out there to get them. It was like, ‘That’s our job. That’s what we do.’”
For his actions during the 45-minute mission, Campbell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Dec. 2 in Wiesbaden.
Sgt. 1st Class
Makonen CampbellUnit:159th Medical Company (Air Ambulance)Medals: Distinguished Flying CrossEarned: April 11, 2005, near Khost, Afghanistan
More profiles from the 2006 edition of this Stars and Stripes special section:
Capt. Marlon JamesSpc. Kurt-Alexander KaahuiPetty Officer 3rd Class Robert MaldonadoCapt. Chad T. MartinMaj. Lauralee McGunagle and Maj. Kathryn Van AukenChief Warrant Officer 3 Brian MucciStaff Sgt. Timothy Nein, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and Spc. Jason MikeStaff Sgt. Jason PepperPetty Officer 2nd Class Juan RubioMaster Sgt. Suran SarStaff Sgt. Anthony ViggianiStaff Sgt. Matt Blaskowski and Staff Sgt. Christopher Choay1st Lt. Stephen BoadaSgt. Keith CamardoSgt. 1st Class Makonen CampbellCol. James Coffman Jr.Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan DementerCapt. Steven Victor EngbergPetty Officer 3rd Class Clayton GarciaLance Cpl. Ben GonzalezSgt. Justin HormannLt. Cmdr. Richard JadickVisit Heroes 2006 for more