Six Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) were honored at Hunter Army Airfield for their actions during the battalion's recent deployments to Afghanistan, Feb. 17.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shannon Blitchington, a pilot with 3/160th SOAR, received the Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal awarded to a member of the United States Armed Forces who distinguishes himself in support of operations by "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight."
Chief Warrant Officer Blitchington received the medal for his actions during combat in Afghanistan in late 2008 in which he was lead pilot of a MH-47G Chinook that flew into a firefight between U.S. and enemy forces and evacuated a wounded American Soldier.
"They were conducting operations on the ground and they received a significant enemy contact," he said. "One of the Soldiers on the ground was injured in an on-going battle. We flew over the target area, and due to the fact that it was on the side of an 8,000 foot hill, we elected to do a hoist to get the Soldier out as quickly as possible."
"The guys on the ground provided great support for us keeping the enemy back... the guys overhead provided good support."
Using the joint air/ground support and a good flight medic, the team was able to safely hoist the injuried Warrior to safety in the chopper and cared for him to the closest rear area for medical care.He said the Soldier who was injured that day survived. Chief Warrant Officer Blitchington, who said he has deployed more than 20 times, also received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor for his actions in 2008.
The commander of the Night Stalkers confirmed the rarity of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
"In our battalion, during this current 10-year conflict period, we have just two Distinguished Flying Crosses," said Lt. Col. Kirk Keepers. "And I'm confident that most of my fully-missioned qualified crews, they're Distinguished Flying Cross crews. And put in the right situation, they would perform to the level to receive that award."
During the ceremony five other Night Stalkers were honored: Chief Warrant Officer 4 Stephen Ryznic received the Meritorious Service Medal and Joint Service Commendation Medal; Chief Warrant Officer 4 Charles Gardner was awarded the Air Medal with Valor; and three Soldiers received the Purple Heart Medal - Sgt. 1st Class Julian Philadelphia, Sgt. Brandon C. Reynolds and Sgt. Shawn Stewart.
Soldiers of the 3/160th SOAR have been actively and continuously engaged in combat operations since October 2001. According to Lt. Col. Keepers, more than 100 Night Stalkers are currently deployed in support of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.
"We consider ourselves a pretty lucky group," Chief Warrant Officer Blitchington said of the Night Stalkers. "We get to work with a pretty select ground force; we get to have some pretty high-tech, very good equipment. We feel like we've probably got the best aviation job in the world. We get to go out and support our ground force nightly and get those guys in on the ground and back out. We feel pretty lucky to get to do that."
Article by Jennifer Hartwig, Hunter Army Airfield Public Affairs