Guns and Gear

A Story Of Valor: When A Chopper Goes Down Brave Men Respond

Harold Hutchison Freelance Writer
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When a valor award is earned, the actions that have lead to that award usually come in the wake of a very bad situation. While in many cases, like that of Justin LeHew, the valor is from a combat zone. But danger doesn’t go away when the enemy is not around. Consider the events of May 3, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Kala Gush, as related from two citations for the Soldier’s Medal, and releases from the Department of Defense and Stars and Stripes magazine.

A Russian-built Mi-17 “Hip” transport helicopter, operated by a crew of contractors, had been taking off with a load of ammunition, including high-explosive mortar rounds. However, a problem with the tail rotor caused it to try to make FOB Kala Gush instead. It crashed, scattering its cargo of 120mm mortar rounds across the helicopter pad. Fuel tanks ruptured, adding more danger to the mix as the flammable liquid leaked from the totaled chopper. If the fuel caught fire, the mortar rounds could cook off, sending deadly fragments over 225 feet away.

Some, though, acted instantly, disregarding the danger from the spilled fuel and the scattered rounds. Navy Hospitalman Corpsman Second Class Roy D. Jaquez and Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven R. Doty both acted immediately when Staff Sergeant Erika Villiard sounded the alarm after seeing the Hip go down. Jaquez, who was in the aid station, paused only to grab his aid bag before heading to the scene. Doty, who had been in the Civil Air Patrol prior to entering the Air Force, reached the scene and found a huge challenge.

The crew of the chopper was still alive, but the Hip had tilted to one side. Worse, the engines were still running – and the rotor blades were turning. Despite being exposed to the danger, he helped create an opening. Jaquez also arrived on the scene, and after telling other personnel to stay back from the scene, he helped remove the Hip’s windshield to evacuate the crew, using his bare hands.

The running engines and spinning rotor blade still posed danger to the rescuers. After Doty helped remove two of the crew, he then made his way to the cockpit. Relying on what he had picked up during student pilot training, Doty began to try to shut down the engines, even taking out a knife to cut wires. At one point, he completely entered the wrecked helicopter’s cockpit to accomplish that goal.

As Doty fought to turn the helicopter off, Jaquez was trying to evacuate the third crewman, who was so badly injured that he couldn’t get out. After the windshield had been removed, Jaquez and an officer moved the critically injured crewman onto a Gator vehicle. Once the last crewman was removed from the crashed helicopter, an officer, 1st. Lt. Joseph Wingard, had Doty leave the helicopter. According to a Navy release, the successful rescue effort had taken all of three minutes.

Even after leaving the scene, Doty was still trying to figure out how to turn the helicopter off. According to a report by Airman Magazine, he called his father, a former Air Force chopper pilot, to try to find a way to stop the engines.

Ultimately, the commanding officer of the provincial reconstruction team, Navy Captain Raymond J. Benedict put Jaquez and Doty, along with two other servicemen. The paperwork, though, got lost.

“There’d be a turnover of personnel, or the Army unit that was there left and another came in, and then the fact that he was an Airman deployed with Army who was led by Navy officers contributed to the decoration being lost in the system,” Doty’s father, Timothy Doty, said. “I talked to my son several times and told him, ‘It looks like it fell through the cracks and you’re not going to get it.’ His comment was, ‘I didn’t do it for the recognition. I did it because that’s what I do.’”

In 2014, two years and two months after Jaquez received the Soldier’s Medal for his part in the rescue, Doty’s heroism was recognized when he, too, received the Soldier’s Medal, thanks in part to efforts by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).

Harold Hutchison