Monday, April 23, 2018

"They do it in the movies, you know!"

I remember a time in the O'Club Bar at Holloman, a wing aircrew meeting had just broken up and the squadron was "forming up" for the usual Friday evening festivities.  The meeting had featured a speaker, I no longer remember his name, although he like many others in my squadron was a Veteran of the SouthEast Asia Special Olympics-Route Pack 6 division. The speaker had told us a story of a mission which was extremely harrowing, and kept the young 'uns like myself on the edge of our seats.  

So, as I said, we were forming up for festivities and I happened to be sitting at a table with my IP and Mentor, Ed Rasimus.  If you've read his books, and you should, you know that Ed had two separate tours in SEA, one as a Thud Pilot and one as a Weasel Pilot.  Yes, he went to Route Pack 6 a "few" times.  

I happened to mention that I thought the story told by the speaker was extraordinary and worthy of "The Medal".  Ras, in his usual sardonic fashion, said "Really?"  Then went on to say that the speaker had received the Air Force Cross for the mission.  Not knowing much about (well anything, really) the Air Force Cross award requirements, I asked him to explain.

Ras said, and I quote, "An Air Force Cross is awarded for actions that would entitle the recipient to a Medal of Honor if the citation had been better written or the political situation was different."

That stuck with me, and as I met and read about other AFC recipients throughout my career, I learned that there is quite a bit of truth in both sections of his quote.

Which, finally, brings me to the subject of the post.
Source

TSgt Timothy Wilkinson was a pararescueman assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope AFB North Carolina.  While assigned there, he had participated in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.  However the events we are going to talk about occurred on Oct 3rd and 4th 1993.

Just for the record Billy Jeff was the Pres.

This source has a fairly lengthy analysis of the events leading up to what would become immortalized in a movie entitled "Blackhawk Down".  Interesting reading, if a bit dry.

In any case, when the fecal matter impacted the air moving device and the Blackhawk, call sign Super 61 was shot down, TSgt Wilkinson and his team were aboard a second Blackhawk, Super 68.  They along with a Ranger team fast roped down to the crash site to conduct Combat Search and Rescue.  As they hit the ground, an RPG hit Super 68 causing it to exit the area and barely make it back to base.   A third Blackhawk was enroute to provide support but also was hit by an RPG and crashed a mile or so south.

Solidly committed to the situation, TSgt Wilkinson and team began extricating the wounded and dead from Super 61 which was exposed in the open.  Moving them away from the helicopter and to a limited shelter, they returned several times to strip kevlar panels off the aircraft to improve their position.  

Once "shelter", such as it was, was provided, TSgt Wilkinson and the Team Lead MSgt Fales (who was badly wounded in the leg) began performing triage on the wounded, while simultaneously providing fire support for other members of the team, frequently sheltering the wounded with their bodies.  

This went on until dawn the next day.  During that period, water, ammunition and medical supplies ran dangerously low.  Also during that period, TSgt Wilkinson, broke from cover, running across the square, about 45 meters, to other friendly positions, to bring or get supplies as needed to continue the battle.  Each time he did, he would yell, "Cover me". Later, upon considering the little cover the embattled Rangers could provide, he sheepishly said "They do it in the movies, you know."

For a more detailed telling of the story, Air Force Magazine had a pretty good article from their June '94 edition.  I recommend reading it.

Given that the US pulled out of Somalia, shortly there after and that Medal of Honors were awarded to the pilots of Super 64 who were killed while trying to prevent the capture of one of their crewmembers, I think TSgt Wilkinson's Air Force Cross award falls into Ras's second category.  The politics were not right.  IMHO,  YMMV.

When presented with the Air Force Cross, TSgt Wilkinson had this to say:
"We feel it's necessary to put things in perspective.  Today, you have honored us, and we are humbly grateful.  I say humbly grateful because, though we are privileged to enjoy the honors you have bestowed upon us for our efforts, one must be humbled by the sacrifices of our comrades who are no longer with us--our fallen teammates-- who have given the fullest measure.  There is no greater love than for one man to give his life or another.  We would ask, as you have honored us today, remember our fallen teammates, and when you remember these events of today and of 3-4 October, that you remember them, their families, and their loved ones."

That's a class act!

So, in compliance with his request.

Operators of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
MSG Gary Ivan Gordon Medal of Honor
SFC Randy Shughart  Medal of Honor
SSG Daniel D. Busch
SFC Earl Robert Fillmore, Jr
MSG Timothy "Griz" Lynn Martin
SFC Matthew Loren Rierson

Soldiers of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
CPL James "Jamie" E. Smith
SPC James M. Cavaco
SGT James Casey Joyce
CPL Richard "Alphabet" W. Kowalewski, Jr.
SGT Dominick M. Pilla
SGT Lorenzo M. Ruiz

Pilots and Crew of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment
SSG William "Wild Bill" David Cleveland, Jr.
SSG Thomas "Tommie" J. Field
CW4 Raymond "Ironman" Alex Frank
CW3 Clifton "Elvis" P. Wolcott
CW3 Donovan "Bull" Lee Briley

Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division
SGT Cornell Lemont Houston, Sr.
PFC James Henry Martin, Jr.


TSgt Wilkinson's Citation:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Technical Sergeant Timothy A. Wilkinson for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a 24th Special Tactics Squadron Pararescueman in the vicinity of the Olympic Hotel, Mogadishu, Somalia, from 3 October 1993 to 4 October 1993. During that period, in response to an incident in which a United States helicopter had been shot down by a rocket propelled grenade, Sergeant Wilkinson conducted a fast rope insertion into the crash site and came under extremely heavy enemy fire from three directions. In the initial rescue effort, he repeatedly exposed himself to intense small arms fire and grenades to clear debris, provide emergency medical treatment to the survivors, and extract dead and wounded members of the crew from the wreckage. On his own initiative, Sergeant Wilkinson broke cover on three separate occasions to locate and provide emergency medical treatment to three Ranger casualties. In doing so, he ignored all concern for his personal safety to cross a 45 meter-wide open area blanketed with intense fire from small arms, and rocket propelled grenades. Sergeant Wilkinson’s medical skills and uncommon valor saved the lives of multiple gravely wounded American soldiers in the longest sustained fire fight involving United States combat forces in over 20 years. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant Wilkinson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Sources
http://valor.defense.gov/Recipients/Air-Force-Air-Force-Cross-Recipients/
http://www.afhra.af.mil/Portals/16/documents/Airmen-at-War/Haulman-USAFSomalia1992-1995.pdf?ver=2016-08-22-131410-337
http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=225
http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1994/June%201994/0694heroes.aspx
http://static.dma.mil/usaf/70/featuredHeros/MSgtTimothyAWilkinson.html
https://www.pararescue.com/awards/timothy-a-wilkinson-air-force-cross
http://wildbillrants.blogspot.com/2009/03/air-force-hero-msgt-timothy-wilkinson.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mogadishu_(1993)


40 comments:

  1. Time flies.... almost a quarter century ago already. TSgt Wilkinson is indeed a humble warrior. The less said about politicians involved the more likely my blood pressure will remain normal....thanks for posting these sources, they expand on Bowden's book.

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    Replies
    1. Time does, indeed, fly. Agree, about politicians, both in general and the ones specifically involved with this operation.

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  2. A harrowing battle, good men lost for little purpose. Yet they did their duty, eyes to the front, fighting like lions.

    Well done TSgt Wilkinson, like you, we remember the ones we lost and their families.

    Thanks for this Juvat, 'tis well we remember.

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    Replies
    1. "...good men lost for little purpose"

      Interesting. I was at CINCPAC at the time. There was discussion going on of who should be in charge of the operation and PACOM was considered as the edge of it's AOR is the eastern shoreline of Africa. Africa itself was not assigned to any CINC. Humanitarian missions, as this one started out, was all the rage as the threat from the commies was deemed to be non-existent and the "Peace Dividend" was there for plunder.
      As such, my team spent time prepping for possible deployment to assist 3 MEF had they gotten the mission. Unfortunately/Fortunately, that did not happen. However, even with that prep, I had no idea there were AF guys involved in the incident. Hence this post.

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  3. A story that should be told, and retold. Brave men who should serve as an exemplar to those who still serve. Too often it is forgotten by the decision makers that the choices they make will have far reaching effects on those who have to carry out their policies.

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    Replies
    1. In Billy Jeff's case, he didn't give a tinker's dam about the effect his choices had on the little people. Only that they enriched him (his wife is of the same ilk).

      No, I don't like or respect them, why do you ask? ;-)

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  4. Debbie Reynolds (doorkeeper)April 23, 2018 at 7:14 AM

    Thank you for this. I remember being absolutely furious when the movie came out, having read the book, that they made up stupid shit for the movie and left out such true heroism as this.

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    1. My pleasure. Having read both reports linked in the post as well as the other sources cited below, I can safely say there was enough heroism going around to have filled several movies. But....Hollywood's gotta Hollywood.

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  5. WOW! Thank you for making known to me these fine Americans.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  6. Could you possibly be saying that a dead MOH is more politically appropriate than a live one? Gee....

    I've also heard that the MOH seems to be awarded posthumously to those that if they lived, would have been reprimanded for not following orders or some other piddly bull scat.

    And what would you expect from a politician who got on national tv and crowed about how we were listening in on Osama's cell calls, gutted the humint side of the CIA, empowered the State Department to become even more corrupt, and just screwed us and interns all. What do you expect when 'the people' elect a man because he played a saxophone (poorly) on Saturday Night Live?

    No, don't understand your misgivings, about the stain of Arkansas and the distinguished first hag, at all. (I remember after Bush I lost, about a year later the newspapers all had stories about how the news portrayed Bush I in a negative light 90% of the time while portraying BJ in a positive light 90% of the time. No bias was shown, right. Nothing was ignored, right. Kinda like those college transcripts of the great bungler....)

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    1. I think you'd be correct regarding posthumous MOH awards. My guess is the decision making in those circumstances is instinctive and not compatible with rational thought out decisions. And hind sight and second guessing is always 20/20.

      Hence my prayer when assuming Alert posture in Korea. "Lord, I don't feel the need to receive a Medal of Honor today. If, however, you disagree, please don't let me screw it up."

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  7. Ok AW, now I'm sure.

    Paul

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    Replies
    1. What the hell are you people talking about? What? What are you sure of? And what are you smiling about? You all are really freaking me out here...

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    2. Shh. It's best to humor them, just go along quietly, there is naught to fear.

      Well, not much...

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    3. Not the way to calm my paranoia down there, sirrah.

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    4. Yes, yes, yes. Just relax.... and swallow the red pill. There, There, There, all will be fine.

      BwaaHaaHaaHaa!

      Delete
  8. Uh, now you're sure... of what? Do I need to start running for the hills?

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    Replies
    1. I don't know Andrew.. Paul was a survival instructor. The hills may not be safe.

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    2. The hills are never safe. Allergies, really bad allergies preclude me hiding out in other-than-air conditioned splendor, except with huge amounts of antihistamines. I love the great out-doors. The great out-doors doesn't love me. :(

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    3. Especially not with Quandt of the Mountains on the prowl!

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    4. What I meant was is that now I am sure that you are the person who formerly commented as Andrew.

      PLQ

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    5. OldAFS - Why especially not, does he have dander I'm allergic to?

      PaulLQ - Whew. For a few moment there I was busy working on a survival shelter under my bed, to the total annoyance of my wife and dog. All us Andrews are One. We just exist in the same host... with a weird sense of weirdness that gets us hit at least once daily by the (very singular, but not single (back off, all y'all)) Mrs. Andrew. Especially when I'm under the bed with a hammer pounding on the slab trying to dig an escape hatch.

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    6. Please give details on survival shelter construction. This will be a graded exercise.

      Paul L. Quandt

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    7. Oh, Crap! What does he have for shelter? Two sections of parachute canopy, three risers and a roll of life savers? I constructed the president's suite at the Hilton with that in a freezing rain in the Mountains in Eastern Washington in November of 79.

      Just before I got "captured" and spent the next week in the "POW" camp.

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    8. Simple spider hole under slab, still 3' above ground water, lined with tarp, access under bed. For a start.

      Then to tunnel to 'other location' using more tarps and battens to hold tunnel wall secure.

      That will be first or 'secondary' hole.

      Primary method and hole will remain classified. Only real grader will know methods and details.

      Real grader is known under code name 'Mrs. Andrew' and real name is withheld for security reasons.

      All previous information regarding my location has been, of course, maskrova, again for security reasons.

      My name is not any derivation of Andrew. That is not my photo. Only idiots put out personal info on the webs.

      My internet is also routed through at least 4 continents and an unknown but shifting number of sub-points.

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    9. juvat:

      So, you made an 'A' frame tent? You went from the field training to the mock POW camp? If that was the case, they completely changed the program from when I was there.

      Paul

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    10. AW:

      HA! I've got you now. I'm deploying my double x secret mole detector. Prepare to be zapped by my stun/death ray.

      PLQ

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    11. Ha, fooled you. I'm tunneling in the sky! When others go down I go up, everyone goes left I go right, except when I'm confusing others...

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    12. The double x mole detector is not so easily fooled. It can track in any environment or none at all. Don't look back, I'm right behind you. BOO!

      Paul L. Quandt

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    13. Paul,
      No, there was a short break in between. Yes, ordering a large steak after a week living on a pack of lifesavers and a chipmunk was a big mistake.

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    14. When I was there, the resistance to interrogation lab ( obstacle course, " interviews " between restful periods in your own private room, and the POW camp ) was held before the students went to the field for the fun-filled camping and tour of the wondrous northeastern Washington and/or northwestern Idaho woods. I also recall that the students were given more food, including a live rabbit ( with which they were taught big game skinning ). Also trained on fire drying meat ( beef ) which they got to eat. Of course, this was during the mid to late '60s and most of them were going to SEA, if not directly after the survival school, then shortly thereafter. A different time from when you attended, juvat.

      Paul

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    15. Seems so, Paul. Although the later version was a bit more realistic scenario. You get shot down and try to evade and THEN go to the camp.

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  9. Brave men tasked with a stupid mission. Why do we keep doing this?
    Good story and remembrance for those who went before.

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  10. Thanks.
    Why do we keep doing this? Because we don't learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.

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  11. Two ships in the USNS fleet were named for Sergeants Gordon and Shughart, often I paused to read the plaques with the citations mounted in the passageways. I'm glad to read more detail of that wretched night and of the not so well known or honored heroes.

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    1. Did not know that, but am glad that is so. As it should be. I'd rather serve on the USNS Gordon than the USS LBJ, just sayin'

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  12. Don’t get me started on politics and timing for awards. Grrrr... Saw those fun and games during Vietnam more than once.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)