Four Nebraska Army National Guard aviators, one an Elgin native, assigned to a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crew were honored May 20, when they were presented with the Air Medal with “Valor” device for the bravery they displayed while rescuing a wounded U.S. Special Forces Soldier on Feb. 9, 2017, near Sangin, Afghanistan in the Helmund Province.
Honored were Chief Warrant Officer 3 William Score (pilot) of Elgin, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Hector Lima-Bermudez (pilot), Staff Sgt. Matthew Hawke (helicopter crew chief) and Sgt. Jared Cornell (flight medic).
The four Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers are members of the Guard’s Lincoln-based Company G, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion that returned in April from a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Standing before families, friends and a formation of fellow Soldiers, the four Guard aviators were presented with the blue and gold medals by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. Also attending the ceremony were Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska adjutant general, and Col. John Cyrulik, commander of the U.S. Army’s “Task Force Nightmare” which served as the unit’s higher headquarters during its deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
“They exemplify the best spirit and standings of the United State Army,” said Ricketts during the award ceremony at the Nebraska National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters in Lincoln. “They worked together as a team and their cohesion, effort, determination is something you only see in the military… that willingness to sacrifice for each other.”
The medal presentation goes back to Feb. 9 when the four Nebraska soldiers were dispatched to evacuate a wounded Special Forces Soldier. Approaching the landing zone, which was still receiving heavy enemy fire – including machine guns and mortars – and difficult to approach due to a number of nearby obstacles, the four Guard aviators were able to rescue the patient. Following the mission, it was discovered that the aircraft had received at least one round of fire that had penetrated the back window of the helicopter and passed within inches of the crew members.
“The crew could’ve, quite frankly, made the decision that there was too much risk to the helicopter,” said Cyrulik in describing the situation the Nebraska soldiers faced that day.
He added, “Without hesitation, so that others might live, the crew swept in at low altitude and at high speed, surrounded by dust and chaos and explosions, and landed in broad daylight in an area that would only fit one aircraft.”
“There’s a moment where we’re all measured as Soldiers and this was their moment, this was their measure,” Cyrulik said. Ultimately, after days of treatment, the soldier lived and was reunited with his family “and lived to fight another day.”
Following the ceremony, Hawke said there was never any question what the crew should do. “We were there to do a job,” he said. “One of our comrades was down so we had to take care of him.”