21 June 2010

California DUSTOFF Guardsmen honored with Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross

From left to right, Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Gifford, Staff Sgt. Emmett Spraktes, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brandon Erdmann and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott St. Aubin pose for a group photograph after an award ceremony at Mather Airfield in Sacramento, Calif., June 13, 2010. During the ceremony, Spraktes was awarded the Silver Star Medal while Gifford, Erdmann and St. Aubin received the Distinguished Flying Cross with V Device for heroic actions in Afghanistan while assigned to the California National Guard’s Company C, 1-168th General Support Aviation Battalion. (Photo by Sgt. First Class Jesse Flagg, California National Guard)

California Guardsmen honored with Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross
By Brandon Honig, California National Guard

SACRAMENTO, Calif., (6/15/10) -- Hovering 70 feet over a battle zone, about to be lowered to the ground on a cable dangling from his helicopter, medic Staff Sgt. Emmett Spraktes drummed up the necessary courage by picturing the parents of the injured Soldiers below.

“We’re up there, and we know we can’t land and there’s a risk, but I imagine looking into the eyes of a [Soldier’s] parent and saying, ‘I can’t do this,’” Spraktes recalled. "How could I talk to the mother or father of one these boys and say, 'I was just too afraid to go’?"

Moments later, when the cable stopped moving only partway to the ground — making Spraktes a sitting target above the battlefield — it was his own children who came to mind.

“When I was hanging, I thought I would never get out of there. I was convinced this would be the end of me,” he said. “'This is all my children are going to know of me — everything we've had up to this time.’”

He called up to Crew Chief Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Gifford: “Tell my children I love them.”

“You love me?” came the confused response.

“Not you, you idiot!” Spraktes yelled. “My kids!” The men shared a momentary laugh amid the gunfire, and then the cable started moving again.

Spraktes reached the ground intact with explosions and gun bursts echoing all around him and went to work on the three injured patients as his UH-60 Black Hawk crew flew to safety. This was only the beginning.

After tending to the most severely injured patient, Spraktes called for the Black Hawk to return to his location to pick up the injured Soldier and fly him to a nearby base.

The Black Hawk delivered the patient then returned and picked up two more injured Soldiers — again leaving Spraktes behind to care for and defend the Soldiers on the ground.

"By the grace of God, we were not hit," said co-pilot Chief Warrant Officer Scott St. Aubin. "I have no idea how you miss a giant Black Hawk helicopter. It was really surreal."

After dropping off patients for the second time, the Black Hawk returned to find that Spraktes was treating two Soldiers for dehydration. He again deferred his place on the aircraft to the injured Soldiers and sent the Black Hawk on its way, this time telling the crew he would stay on the ground and return to base on foot.

Spraktes’ crew would hear nothing of it, though, and returned to the dangerous location for a sixth time to perform yet another combat hoist extraction, finally bringing Spraktes to safety.

“I told the pilots I wasn’t leaving him,” Gifford said. “I was just doing my job and trying to get our guys out. [Medical evacuation] is a very dangerous job — there’s always somebody trying to shoot you down and stop you from what you’re trying to do.”

What a story. Much more about these heroes at the link.

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