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Squadron honors 7 airmen for rescues under enemy fire

Sep. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Crew members from Pedro 61; from left to right: Master Sgt. William Fritsch, Tech Sgt. Justin Wilks, Capt. Brian Dicks and Capt. Ryan Prince. Fritsch and Prince are among those receiving awards.
Crew members from Pedro 61; from left to right: Master Sgt. William Fritsch, Tech Sgt. Justin Wilks, Capt. Brian Dicks and Capt. Ryan Prince. Fritsch and Prince are among those receiving awards. (Air Force)
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Fifteen seconds. That’s how long Staff Sgt. Joshua Reid and Master Sgt. William Fritsch were on the ground to pick up four critically wounded soldiers Dec. 10 near Sperwan Ghar, Afghanistan. Getting the soldiers to a hospital was crucial — but so was avoiding enemy small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

Flight engineers Reid and Fritsch received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor at a ceremony today at the 55th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., for their roles in the combat rescue. Also honored, with the Air Medal with Valor, were aerial gunner Staff Sgt. Jason St John and pilots 1st Lt. Patrick Mount and Capt. Ryan Prince.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Reid said. “I didn’t feel that we would be given anything extra for just doing our jobs.”

The members of the 55th RQS at Kandahar Airfieldhad just worked a full 12-hour shift when they received a call to rescue the wounded Regional Command South soldiers about 40 miles away. Their flight, Pedro 61 and 62, carried four aircrew members, plus three pararescue jumpers and medics from the 48th RQS on each HH-60G helicopter.

“The lead medics were on the Pedro 62 flight, so they spun down into the area first,” said Fritsch, who was on Pedro 61.

Upon landing, Reid, on Pedro 62, and Fritsch said they were not aware they were being engaged by small arms fire.

Once the PJs hit the ground, they had to engage the enemy.

Once Pedro 61 was back in the air, Fritsch spotted an insurgent readying a rocket-propelled grenade about 75 meters away. He engaged by shooting almost 200 rounds of .50 caliber fire.

“It had missed us,” he said. “That was just luck.”

Fritsch saw a second insurgent readying an RPG and immediately warned his crew. As the grenade exploded near his aircraft, he again returned fire.

Reid did the same from Pedro 62.

With 25 coalition soldiers on the ground, Pedro 61 and 62 placed themselves in a blocking position between the enemy and friendly forces, allowing two Army OH-58 attack helicopters to mark and destroy the enemy’s position.

“Any [mission] could turn into something like this in any given moment,” Fritsch said.

Reid and Fritsch said the mission was executed properly and safely due to their training.

“As chaotic as everything was, it all went very smooth,” Reid said.

The ceremony also honored Capt. John Larson and Senior Airman Joshua Brown from the 55th RQS for a seven-hour rescue mission on Aug. 4, 2012, near Bagram Airfield. Their mission was to rescue seven critically wounded troops when they were engaged by direct enemy fire. Both received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.

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