An Aviation Captains Career Course student received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic efforts while in Afghanistan.
Capt. Jeffrey B. Meinders, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment at Fort Stewart, Ga., received the award during a short ceremony at Fort Rucker's Adams Hall April 4.
Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, presented the award and said Meinders showed an unexpected humility in accepting his award.
"The highlight of anything I do as an officer and leader in the Army is to promote people and give people awards," Crutchfield said. "When (Meinders) asked me to give him the award, he didn't come in and start talking about all the great things he'd done. I had to ask him what he did, and when I did, he kind of put his head down almost like he was ashamed to tell me. I know he wasn't ashamed, I know he was proud, but he epitomizes what selfless service means."
Meinders, an AH-64D Apache pilot, distinguished himself in Afghanistan when he was called to provide cover fire for an operations post in Margah, East Paktika, Afghanistan, that was being overrun by insurgents, according to the citation.
Meinders and his crew rushed to the aircraft and immediately departed to provide close combat attack support to the ground forces on-site.
As the Air Weapons Team arrived overhead, it observed the OP erupting under a constant barrage of indirect fire, and a vast array of tracer fire arcing across the sky. Instead of remaining at altitude and out of small arms range, Meinders and his crewmember descended in order to positively identify the armed insurgents who had overtaken the observation post and secured a tactical advantage over the central OP.
With the ground force commander pinned down under heavy machine gun and RPG fire, Meinders quickly grasped the vulnerability of the friendly position and began engaging the insurgent targets.
Both the AWT and ground forces observed large secondary explosions, indicating the heavily armed nature of the attackers. Despite the success of the initial engagement, multiple squads of enemy combatants continued to advance on the friendly position, indicative of the enemy's resolve and determination to overtake the COP.
Over the next six hours, Meinders and his crew remained overhead, providing continuous fire support to the ground troops despite the persistent enemy fire.
Meinders' display of precision fires while acting as the pilot in command, managing medical evacuations and emergency combat resupply missions on an active battlefield is evidence of his superior airmanship, according to the award citation. His courage under fire was also demonstrated when he conducted single ship refuel operations in order to maintain a constant presence on the battlefield.
Disregarding the imminent threat to his helicopter, Meinders sent his wingman away to refuel while he remained on station, providing constant support to the ground force commander.
Meinders said it was an intense experience, but he could only focus on what needed to be done.
"There was a lot of incoming fire, but mostly you just think of protecting your wingman and the people on the ground," he said. "Once they're safe, you can always just fly home."
Meinders' sister, Kelly, his fiancÃ©e, Courtney Ricci, and several members of his former unit made the trip to Fort Rucker to see the award presentation. Meinders said it was a heart-warming show of support from his friends and Family.
"It was awesome to have their support," he said. "Some of them drove six to seven hours just to be here."