Today we dedicate ourselves, in honor of these gentlemen. Friends of our friend Alex Howell. Here is the story behind the men:
My team along with a team from Arizona were deployed as the Air Forces elite rescue career field, the PJs. Our configuration for missions normally would entail 2 Blackhawk helicopters, which each one had 2x pilots, 2x 50cal gunners on either side, along with us, 2-3 PJs in the back. Our call sign was Pedro and we along with the crew of Pedro 66 and Pedro 67 were tasked with around the clock MEDEVAC coverage. They were staged out of Bastion Air Base in the Helmand province or Afghanistan while my team was 30min away in the east in Kandahar. The mission was to insert oneself in the mist of an extremely hostile environment to extract a wounded American soldier/marine. I’m not sure if you remember, but 2010 was when President Obama sent an additional 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan in hopes that the “surge”, as they called it, would help bring the war to an end. Well, unfortunately it did help speed things up in a way that none of us would have realized before.
The war became the most intense during June, July and August of 2010. We were putting ourselves in the direct line of fire countless times to pull out and treat wounded men. We were working 7days a week 12hr days and often we were flying into a battle two to three times a day. The crew of Pedro 66 and Pedro 67 at this point had already seen their fair share of combat and getting a call around 1pm for a wounded Marine in the field who had been shot was no big deal.
The only information they had was that there was one marine, he had been shot, and that there were enemy in the area (which was pretty good compared to when we had got word that we were to fly into a hot LZ or in layman’s terms, a landing zone that had bullets flying).
The plan was to have Pedro 66 insert the PJs while Pedro 67 stayed overhead to cover air support. The crews did what they normally did and flew in low, at approximately 50-75ft above the ground to avoid detection. As they neared the LZ, radio contact told them that all was secure and they were cleared for landing. Pedro 66 was going to land the aircraft, the PJs were going to jump off, grab the marine and run back to the aircraft to be quick in getting him back to the main base. All was normal until they were about 100ft from where they were to land when an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) was fired from a concealed location and took out their tail rotor…
The aircraft went into a violent uncontrolled spin and came crashing down in flames.
After the aircraft crashed, the ground force surrounded the Blackhawk and provided security from enemy insurgents. The 2nd Blackhawk, ignoring the fact that its counterpart had just been shot down, rushed in and landed, offloading its PJs to run over and pull the potentially wounded out. But as the PJs would discover:
The three men (PJs) in the one picture I gave you: Flo, Joel and Ben, were killed instantly upon impact when the cabin the were in collapsed.
The gunner on the right side of the aircraft, Smitty, was also killed upon impact.
The lead pilot up front, Wiz, survived the initial impact however suffered major brain damage. He was eventually sent to Germany for intensive care but ultimately was brain dead beyond recovery and life support dependent. The family, being flown out by the military to be by his bedside, had to make the tough decision to take Wiz off life support and was there as he died shortly afterwards.
The only two survivors were the co-pilot and the gunner on the left side of the aircraft. The co-pilot, Tony, also suffered major brain damage but was able to make a some-what recovery and is permanently altered and has the mentation of a 10 year old to this day. Tony has to be taken care of by his wife 24/7. The gunner on the left was the only one who made a recovery back to a normal life; however he, Aggie, suffered a back injury along with that when they impacted, hydraulic fuel leaked on his body and legs and he was caught on fire. A nearby marine was thankfully there close by and put out the fire, but not before Aggie suffered major burn to his body and both his legs, so much so that he had to have one of his legs amputated the following year and is left with a debilitating limp.
I knew all these men very well and can tell you that they were all good men. The aircrew flying the blackhawks was actually the crew that inserted me and my team for the first part of my deployment that year until they were transferred out west a week earlier.
People call those who endured a hard event a hero but I saw what a true hero is. A true hero is someone who doesn’t just go through one event, but keeps putting themselves up in danger for the saving of another… time and time again. The crew of Pedro 66, along with all of us that deployment, kept going in, kept getting shot at and that wouldn’t stop us. We lived and, unfortunately at times, died under the phrase that governed our life, “that others may live”.
Tomorrow, the workout is a small part that we will do to honor those that were willing and had to cash in on risking their lives for someone else. These were outstanding men, men with families and children. Regardless of political, religious, or worldly views, war affects everyone.
Workout of the Day
500m run forward
500m run backward
5 Rounds for time:
20 Back Squats 225/185
20 Atomic Push Up
6 Max distance Broadjumps
“That others may live”
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10 Bar touching Sit ups
10 Push ups
20 Ball twists
10 Back Ext
30 sec o/h static holds
Repost April 28th
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