The soldiers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) first became widely known to the general public with the release of the movie Black Hawk Down, which told the tale of the Battle of Mogadishu in October 1993. Several of the pilots and air crews from that unit were major characters in the story, including Michael Durant, who was captured and held by the Somali militia. The men of the 160th SOAR are still on the job, of course, and on 22 February 20 members of its 3rd Battalion were awarded an array of decorations for their actions during 2010 and 2011 tours of duty in Afghanistan. (Several of the awardees, now back in Afghanistan once more, participated remotely in the ceremony that was held at Hunter Army Airfield outside Savannah, Georgia.)
The majority of the awards—13—were earned in a single mission on 14 September 2011. Details of that mission are sketchy because of the secrecy surrounding the operations of the 160th SOAR. However, what is known is that it was a casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) mission during the day performed in a very active region with a large confirmed insurgent presence. A U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician accompanying a special operations team had been badly injured by an antipersonnel IED that he stepped on just at sunrise.
The aircrews that responded had just stood down from nighttime duty but were preparing to lift two minutes later. Exactly what transpired in the course of the rescue is known to relatively few, but some assumptions—particularly the likelihood that this was a “hot” extraction—can be made based on the results. Most importantly, the EOD tech survived. For their actions, seven aircrew members were awarded the Silver Star; another six received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Silver Star recipients were MAJ Robert Beale, CW4 Douglas Englen, CW2 Ryan Grant, CW2 Brian Tallent, SSG David Parkhurst, SSG Jeremy Thibodeaux, and CPL Nicholas Arzamendi. Awarded the DFC were SSG Wilfred Browne, SGT Bobby Buchanan, SGT Aaron Green, SGT Christopher Harmon, SGT Andrew Hayes, and SGT Bryan Johnson.
Another seven soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 160th SOAR were awarded Air Medal with “V” devices for their actions on three other missions. Those took place on 24 July 2010, 2 September 2010, and 7 June 2011. The awardees were CPT Sean Karrels, CW4 Sean Redmond, CW4 Kyle Smith, SSG Joseph Fernandez, SSG Kenneth Martin, and SGT Daniel Flinn. SSG David Parkhurt was also awarded the Air Medal for one of these missions in addition to his Silver Star for the 14 September CASEVAC. Finally, SGT Jonathan Nichols received a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in action on 29 September 2011.
As the drawdown in Afghanistan proceeds apace, the events taking place there receive less and less attention in the conventional media. Because the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly, awards such as these are often announced well after the fact. But the medals earned by these deserving men in the course of rescuing a comrade are a reminder that thousands of our service members are still going in harm’s way every day. Just because it isn’t news doesn’t mean it’s not happening.