Yokota Airman featured in Portraits in Courage
YOKOTA AIR BASE, JAPAN -- One of Yokota's very own was recently featured in the latest volume of Portraits in Courage, a collection of twelve stories highlighting Airmen and their deeds. Staff Sgt. Christopher Rector, 459th Airlift Squadron flight engineer, was part of a five-man team that was honored during an official ceremony held in Arlington, Va., Feb. 4, 2015.
On Oct. 8, 2013, five U.S. Air Force advisors were travelling in a two-ship formation of Afghan Mi-17 helicopters as part of a troop movement mission in Uruzgan Province. After assisting their Afghan counterparts in completing a successful dropoff, the five Airmen -- Capt. Jeremy Powell, Staff Sgt.Christopher Rector, (then) Staff Sgt. Mark Cornett, (then) Staff Sgt. Benjamin Jacobs and Tech. Sgt. James Juniper-- began their ascent out of the mountainous bowl surrounding the Gizab Valley.Following a brief stop to refuel and load the next unit of Afghan commandos, the crew learned of a critical patient requiring immediate medical evacuation and immediately responded. As they approached the landing zone, multiple gunshots rang out from the right side of the second aircraft in the formation as insurgents attempted to ambush the low-altitude helicopters. Cornett and Jacobs quickly identified the source of the gunfire and initiated evasive maneuvers while engaging the insurgents with their M-4 rifles.
As soon as he heard gunfire, Powell took control of the aircraft and aggressively turned away from the threat. Simultaneously, Cornett and Jacobs returned fire when a second group of insurgents began shooting. After hearing rounds impacting the helicopter the two advisors called a break away from the new threat and saw that Juniper had been severely wounded while manning the right-side M240 machinegun and was now lying unconscious on the floor of the aircraft's cabin. Jacobs and Cornett scrambled through a crowded cabin to the aid of their fallen wingman. Discovering that an insurgent's round had passed through Juniper's neck, the two Airmen quickly applied direct pressure to the entry and exit wounds.
As Powell began a left bank away from additional small arms fire, he saw an insurgent launch a rocket propelled grenade and rapidly tightened his turn, narrowly avoiding impact. Despite an extremely hostile environment and continual exposure to enemy fire, the advisors' aircraft remained overhead long enough to provide their wingmen the cover they needed to evacuate critically-wounded Afghans. During the formation's exit from the valley, Powell and Rector witnessed the plume from a second RPG and quickly maneuvered the formation away from the threat. Rector then assisted Cornett and Jacobs in removing Juniper's body armor and administering aid to stop the loss of blood. The crew then quickly transported Juniper to the nearest coalition base, 80 miles away. Unfortunately, due to retrograde operations, no medical vehicles were available, which prompted Jacobs and Cornett to commandeer a truck and rush their injured crewmember to medical assistance.
The actions of Powell, Jacobs, Cornett and Rector saved the lives of Juniper and several wounded Afghans. For their courageous action each team member was submitted for the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.
To learn more about the Airmen featured in Portraits in Courage go here.
(Story courtesy of Defense Media Activity)
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