Kiowa pilot awarded two Air Medals
More than 300 soldiers gathered at the Evergreen Theater on JBLM to honor Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Whitmus of the 4-6 Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, who was awarded two Air Medals by the 7th Infantry Division commanding general, Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, Nov. 8 for valorous service while deployed to Afghanistan.
Whitmus was honored for his support in the destruction of enemy forces while repeatedly sustaining fire over the course of six hours. His team conducted multiple attacks while taking sustained enemy fire and completed the mission with no coalition losses.
On two separate occasions, Whitmus was engaged by an enemy with superior fields of fire. His actions and disregard for his own personal safety saved the lives of several U.S. ground forces.
"I don't think I have ever felt fear in a combat situation," Whitmus said. "The fear comes in afterwards. It's when you take a breath and the adrenaline stops pumping."
The loss of a fellow soldier and friend just days prior was a strong motivation to do whatever was necessary to ensure that his fellow soldiers went home, said Whitmus.
"April 23, 2011, one of our aircraft was shot down early in the morning and in the event of the shoot down we had a large enemy force begin to gather," said Whitmus. "One of the pilots was dead on the scene and the other sustained multiple injuries. The crash site turned into a severe fire fight."
The aircraft went down in a valley occupied by coalition forces. Troops supporting aircraft recovery operations on the ground soon began receiving sporadic enemy contact. Whitmus engaged in two battles that lasted several hours, in which his aircraft was attacked with rocket propelled grenades, machine guns and small arms fire. During the battle, Whitmus provided fire suppression from his helicopter for ground forces, allowing them to be safely recovered.
"Our measure for mission accomplishment isn't based on the number of hours we flew, or how many rounds we shot, or the gallons of gas we burned, it's all about how effective we are at being able to support the ground forces," said Lt. Col. Brian Watkins, 4-6 Attack Reconnaissance Squadron commander. "They were not only supporting our troops, but also our allies."
On a separate occasion in July 2011, while providing reconnaissance for reported sniper fire, Whitmus' aircraft was shot from below with what he believed were AK-47 rounds. One round missed Whitmus by inches, striking the aircraft's rotary blade.
"We knew we were hit, but the ground forces were still in contact so we stayed on station for another 45 minutes. We continued to suppress the area multiple times, taking a lot of fire before breaking station," Whitmus said.
"Whitmus is definitely a hero," said Watkins. "He knowingly would go out and put himself in harm's way and know whenever they got called to the valley somebody was being shot at. They only time they were moved over to that particular valley that was if someone was in contact (with the enemy). They went every time they were called."
The Air Medal honors Whitmus for his expert aviation skill and heroic efforts, but Whitmus said, for him the award is more about honoring the memory of a good friend.
Article by Sgt. Adrianna Barnes, Army.mil