Six Soldiers belonging to C Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division received the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony held, Nov. 28, at McAuliffe Hall, the division headquarters.
Staff Sgt. Beau Corder, Staff Sgt. Richard Weaver, Staff Sgt. Engel Becker, Sgt. Damon Seals, Spc. Christopher White and Pfc. Ryan Brisson were recognized by Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff, for their heroic actions following a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crash, Jan. 31, on Fort Campbell.
“I’m very humbled to be a part of this,” said Milley. “I’ve been in the Army for 40 years and I’ve only seen a few Soldier’s Medals. It’s a very rare thing. What you (Soldiers) did took tremendous courage; you knew it was very likely you would be hurt yourself, but you did it anyway. You make anyone who has been associated with the 101st enormously proud.”
The aircraft, flown by four crew members from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st ABN DIV (AASLT), crashed into a forest on the installation shortly after takeoff. According to eyewitness accounts, the location of the crash, and the fact that the aircraft suffered major fuselage damage and was inverted, created a complex scene.
“The way it landed upside down in the ravine made it very difficult to access the crew. It also began to catch fire very quickly,” said 1st Sgt. Adolfo Dominguez, C Troop, 1st Sqdn., 32nd Cav. Regt. senior enlisted leader. “The whole experience opened our eyes that these emergencies can happen. But it was amazing to see the Soldiers’ mentality of ‘I will do anything I have to do’ in order to save these pilots lives.”
A post-crash fire soon engulfed the aircraft wreckage in heavy smoke and flames. The responding Soldiers used water, fire extinguishers and soil to control the fire, allowing them to remove and treat three of the injured crewmembers. They then performed multiple immediate and inventive actions to remove the fourth trapped crew chief, ultimately freeing him from the still-burning wreckage. All of their actions were taken with full understanding of the significant risk to their own safety, and contributed directly to saving the lives of their fellow Soldiers that day.
“What this unit did, from the time the incident happened, was pure agility and pure instinct,” said Lt. Col. Adisa King, 1st Sqdn., 32nd Cav. Regt. commander. “It is what they do on a daily basis. When you know that your brother is down, nothing is going to stop you. We talk about leaving no Soldier behind, and they proved that. It didn’t matter what it took to get that crew and those pilots out, these Soldiers were going to do it.”
The Soldiers recognized were happy to receive this notable commendation, but at the time of the incident it was the furthest thing from their mind.
“At first, none of us really thought about it. We were just happy that everyone survived,” said Corder. “We were just doing our job, we wanted to save them.”
Although six individual Soldiers received the medal, the entire unit responded to the crash. Some commented that they were just a member of a great team.
“I’m happy to be receiving it, but it was a combined effort of everybody,” said White. “I don’t think I’m any more special than anyone else that was out there.”
In attendance at the ceremony were friends, families and fellow Soldiers of the awardees. But one individual had an extremely close connection to the incident. Spc. Grant Long, 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st CAB crew chief, was on-board the helicopter and injured in the incident. In a touching moment, Milley invited Long to help him pin the medals on the Soldiers who saved his life.
Memories of heroes
More details about each of the six Soldier’s Medal recipients, including reflections about their response to the crash follows:
Staff Sgt. Beau Corder of Memphis, Tennessee, now assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st BCT, displayed unparalleled fearlessness and heroics when he, with complete disregard for his own safety and in the face of life-threatening danger, climbed onto a crashed UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to dislodge a trapped crew chief, ultimately saving his life.
Corder displayed immense gallantry by sprinting to the crash site. Without hesitation he moved into intense flames, severe smoke, and violent explosions to help rescue the fourth and final crewman whose foot was pinned in between the collapsed engine and aircraft paneling.
“I was helping move one of the crew members out, and I looked back into the aircraft and realized that the fourth Soldier was actually stuck underneath the body of the aircraft,” said Corder. “His leg was lodged underneath the engine or transmission.”
Making the situation worse, the trapped Soldier’s position was directly adjacent to the fire, which was expanding with each passing minute. While only inches away from the flames and smoke, Corder braved the danger and crawled into the wreckage, put out the fire that was beginning to burn the crewman’s feet, and made multiple inventive and immediate attempts to pull him to safety.
“At first I tried to cut off his boots, but we saw that was going to take too long. We tried pushing on the body of the bird, that’s when the first explosion went off,” said Corder. “We kept pulling on his equipment, and used a truck to try and pull the engine off his legs. I could feel the fire getting closer, it was the hottest I’ve ever been.”
With the heat and smoke beginning to take its toll on other rescuers, Corder displayed his most heroic act by climbing on the aircraft and jumping on the paneling. While conducting this valorous act, a second explosion blew Corder off the aircraft where he immediately got back on his feet and on the aircraft to continue. After repeated attempts, Corder’s efforts broke the paneling free, creating enough space for others to pull the trapped crewman out of the wreckage.
Staff Sgt. Richard Weaver of Indianapolis, Indiana, now assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, displayed crucially quick reactions and agile leadership when, with complete disregard for his own safety, and in the face of life threatening danger, he sprinted to a crashed UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. Weaver led the first four responders in rescue efforts, and was personally responsible for successfully tying together ropes to attach to and pull out one of the trapped crew chiefs, ultimately saving the lives of three Soldiers.
As one of the first three Soldiers on the scene, and without hesitation, Weaver moved into intense flames, severe smoke, and violent explosions, to help rescue the crew. He immediately took control of the initial rescue efforts and treatment of three crew members. He then assisted others in multiple attempts to remove the trapped crew chief.
“By then flames had really begun to engulf the aircraft, and everyone was getting worried that we wouldn’t get the Soldier out,” said Weaver. “It was very intense at that point.”
Ultimately, Weaver was directly responsible for tying together personal safety lines that would end up enabling the rescue team to pull the crew chief free. Throughout the entire rescue process, Weaver, along with one other noncommissioned officer, was directly responsible for controlling the area facing direct and dangerous conditions.
Staff Sgt. Engel Becker of Miami, Florida, displayed heroic leadership, unparalleled composure under stress, and vital ingenuity. With complete disregard for his own safety, and in the face of life-threatening danger, he orchestrated rescue efforts for the crew of a crashed UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. He personally maneuvered in and out of the most dangerous areas multiple times to position vital equipment, ultimately saving the life of a trapped crew chief.
Becker displayed immense gallantry by sprinting toward the crash site to begin command and control of the rescue operations. As he saw other Soldiers running to the crash site, he first moved to the road and ensured the medics and ambulance were located in the best spot. Without hesitation, Becker then ran into the crash site full of intense flames, severe smoke, and violent explosions, to help rescue the crew. After personally removing three crew members and ensuring their safe transport to a waiting ambulance, he joined the efforts to remove the fourth trapped Soldier. Throughout the entire process, he was critical to developing courses of action and controlling the rescue operation, often times monitoring his own men, ensuring they were pulled away to recover from smoke inhalation.
Sgt. Damon Seals of Sparta, Tennessee, displayed immediate heroic actions when, with complete disregard for his own safety, in the face of life threatening danger, he sprinted to a crashed UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, immediately pulling crew members from the wreckage, ultimately saving the lives of at least two Soldiers.
“We heard a loud pop and saw the Blackhawk falling, and we immediately began running toward the scene,” said Seals. “We came over a berm and saw the helicopter flipped over and the fire had already started.”
As one of the first three Soldiers on the scene and without hesitation, Seals moved into intense flames, severe smoke, and violent explosions, to help rescue the crew. He and two other Soldiers safely treated two injured members of the flight crew and moved them away from the dangerous scene.
“From my point of view I remember the fire was extremely hot,” he said. “It was scary to see how hot it was and how close the fourth guy was. I didn’t realize just how dangerous this was until the first explosion, which knocked me to the ground.”
While more Soldiers arrived to help rescue the final trapped crew chief, Seals and one other Soldier, moved to the right side crew chief, who was already outside the wreckage, and carried him 50 meters to the ambulance. Seals also played a vital role in controlling the scene and ensuring safety of all Soldiers as multiple rescue vehicles moved in and around the crash site. He personally contributed to the rescue and recovery efforts longer than nearly every other Soldier.
Spc. Christopher White of Harmony, Pennsylvania, displayed quick and courageous actions when he, with complete disregard for his own safety and in the face of life-threatening danger, sprinted to a crashed UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. As one of the first three Soldiers on the scene, he pulled out and moved three of the crewmen from intense flames, severe smoke, and violent explosions, ultimately saving their lives.
“All of a sudden we heard a loud crashing noise, I looked up to see the Blackhawk falling upside-down into the woods,” said White. “I ran down into the ravine and pulled the first crew member up and out of the wreckage. After that, I helped [Brisson] cut the seatbelt off another crew member who was trapped and hanging upside down.”
After assisting the first three crewmen, White joined efforts to free the fourth and trapped crew chief. During this time, he realized the increasing danger to the injured crewmen still near the crash site. He and another Soldier moved them to safety. Throughout the rescue efforts, White braved the immediate danger of explosions, symptoms of smoke inhalation and heat from the fire, without ever needing to remove himself to recover.
“The flames were the last thing on my mind, the whole time I just thought that these were my brothers in the bird and we needed to get them out,” said White.
Pfc. Ryan Brisson of Waterford, New York, displayed exceptionally courageous initiative when he, without orders or guidance and complete disregard for his own safety in the face of life threatening danger, cut free two crewmen from a crashed UH-60 Blackhawk and crawled into the wreckage to help dislodge one of those crewmen who was trapped, ultimately saving his life.
Only seconds behind the first Soldiers on the scene and without hesitation, Brisson moved into intense flames, severe smoke, and violent explosions to help rescue the crew. First, he moved to the right side pilot who was in obvious pain and stuck upside down with his harness still on. Brisson immediately pulled his own knife out, cut the pilot’s harness, and with the assistance of others, pulled him from the aircraft.
“When I first got there, I saw a couple Soldiers hanging upside-down, they were still strapped in,” said Brisson. “I used my Gerber to cut his belt, and he fell down from the seat.”
While braving increasingly dangerous conditions, Brisson quickly moved to the left side crew chief, who, was stuck in his harness, and also cut him free. This crew chief dropped to the ground but was not completely free because his foot was pinned between the collapsed engine and aircraft paneling, only inches from the expanding fire. During this initial attempt to recover the crew chief, Brisson was mere feet from the flames and had been breathing in heavy smoke.
“The second Soldier was also trapped, and I could see the flames were nearing his back,” he said. “I just acted on instinct, when I saw he was in pain. I wasn’t thinking about how dangerous it was, I just thought if it was me I hope they would help get me out. I have a brother in the Army and I hope someone would help him out in a situation like that.”
He then joined the group effort to free the fourth trapped crew chief, showing extreme bravery by crawling into the burning wreckage to try and cut the boots off of the crew chief. Brisson aided in the rescue efforts longer than any other Soldier on the scene.