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Posted: 7/21/2008 6:52:26 AM EDT
‘Neither of us expected to get out ... alive’
Pilot earns Distinguished Service Cross after fighting off surprise attack

By Sean D. Naylor - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jul 20, 2008 11:47:16 EDT

In the clear skies north of Baghdad, a single word — “Mayday!” — turned a special operations mission on its head, diverting some of America’s most elite forces from their mission to kill or capture a known terrorist to a desperate fight for their lives, pinned down, outnumbered and outgunned.

In the brutal hours that followed that Mayday transmission on Nov. 27, 2006, Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Cooper of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment — the “Night Stalkers” — would earn a Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions to relieve his beleaguered colleagues, while an Air Force F-16 pilot would lose his life.

Cooper received his award — the highest ever for a Night Stalker — from Adm. Eric Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, July 11 at the 160th’s home post of Fort Campbell, Ky.

In the early afternoon of Nov. 27, 2006, Cooper was the pilot in command of an AH-6 Little Bird attack helicopter, flying lead pilot in a flight of six helicopters: two AH-6s, two MH-6 troop-carrying Little Birds and two MH-60 Black Hawks, also with special ops ground troops aboard. Their mission was to kill or capture a “foreign fighter facilitator,” according to a summary of the action released by the 160th.

The weather was perfect — “Clear, blue and 22,” in aviator-speak. But as the six helicopters flew between “logger” sites about 50 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, Cooper’s wingman suddenly transmitted “Mayday!”

An insurgent had hit the aircraft with a rocket-propelled grenade, but no one had realized that at first because it didn’t explode. “I looked out the window there and saw that he didn’t have a tail rotor, and if you know anything about helicopters, that’s an important piece,” Cooper said in a July 10 interview.

Cooper’s wingman had to land the aircraft quickly, while simultaneously keeping its speed up so that the wind would keep the helicopter straight. Fortunately, the landscape below was mostly flat, open desert.

“He did an excellent job of doing a running landing in the desert, where he hit the desert floor at about 60 miles per hour,” Cooper said. “The pilots had only superficial injuries, but certainly that event changed the center of gravity of the mission that day.”

The four troop-carrying helicopters landed beside the crippled helicopter immediately. The special operators jumped off, checked on the pilots of the crashed aircraft and then set up a perimeter.

The Black Hawks quickly evacuated the pilots of the stricken aircraft, leaving 18 to 20 ground troops, plus the two MH-6s and their four pilots. Cooper declined to identify which unit the troops came from, beyond calling them “friendly special operations forces,” but the 160th forms part of the Joint Special Operations Command task force in Iraq, where it typically flies special operators from Delta Force, Naval Special Warfare Development Group and the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Cooper and his co-pilot stayed airborne for several minutes to make sure the position was safe, then, seeing no enemy forces, he landed.

After about 40 minutes, several trucks with anti-aircraft machine guns approached their location. Unsure whether these belonged to Iraqi police, a local militia or enemy fighters, the senior ground force non-commissioned officer asked Cooper to get airborne and check them out. The question was answered when the gun trucks opened fire on the small special ops force.

Cooper took off and quickly realized the full extent of the threat: there were six to eight gun trucks mounted with double-barreled ZPU-2 14.5mm anti-aircraft machine guns about 1,400 to 1,600 meters away. Each gun truck was crewed by four or five men, “so there were probably about 40 fighters out there,” he said.

Meanwhile, another two trucks had appeared and disgorged at least 20 enemy fighters. They occupied a house about 800 meters from the grounded helicopter and took the U.S. force under fire with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, RPK machine guns and AK-series assault rifles.

The U.S. troops were armed with infantry weapons that could reach the enemy fighters in the house, but not those in the gun trucks.

To make matters worse, the desert offered no cover to escape the gun trucks’ murderous fire. “It was flat like a tabletop, so we really had no defilade to get to,” Cooper said. “The ground forces were pinned down immediately … It was kind of a one-sided deal.”

As soon as Cooper was aloft, the enemy fighters directed all their fire to his aircraft. “That’s OK — until you get hit — because if they’re shooting at me, they’re not shooting at the ground forces,” he said.

Cooper and his co-pilot, a chief warrant officer 4 whom he declined to name because he’s still flying combat missions, were the only friendly force capable of attacking the gun trucks, which they did, using their two six-barreled 7.62mm miniguns that fire about 3,000 rounds per minute and a pair of 2.75-inch rocket pods loaded with a mixture of flechette, high explosive and smoke rounds. “We tried to put as much fire as we could on the gun trucks and on the fighters at the house,” Cooper said.

Air Force F-16s were on station to provide close air support, but from their high altitude they were unable to discern the friendly and enemy forces, Cooper said. “We realized quickly that we were the only fire support that we were going to get that day,” he added.

Flying anywhere from 5 to 50 feet off the ground, Cooper could feel his helicopter shuddering and hear the metal-on-metal sounds as enemy rounds struck the aircraft as it flew in again and again, firing at the insurgent positions.

He could also hear the enemy’s near misses. “When that round goes past the cockpit it sounds like the snap of someone’s fingers — a pop,” he said. “That day, it sounded more like popcorn.”

But as the minutes ticked by, Cooper and his wingman could tell they were gaining an edge. “The rate of [enemy] fire had diminished, so we knew we had hit either the guns or the crews of probably at least two of those trucks,” he said.

Even as he tried to kill them, Cooper was impressed with his enemies’ resilience. “They were not fleeing, they were hanging right in there,” he said. “They were disciplined fighters.”

After 12 to 15 minutes, Cooper was running low on ammunition, and landed back beside the crashed aircraft. He and his co-pilot stared at each other wide-eyed.

“Neither of us really expected to get out of this fight alive,” Cooper said.

He paid tribute to the four MH-6 pilots on the ground, who all later received Bronze Stars with “V” devices. “Those guys were off-loading unstable rockets off of the downed aircraft and loading them into my aircraft when I landed,” he said. “That’s not a recommended procedure in the book, [and] they were doing that all the time under fire and in plain view of the enemy.”

After no more than five minutes, Cooper and his copilot took off again. “We weren’t ordered to go back up,” he said. “I’m a gun pilot, and my duty is to support the ground forces.”

After another 15 minutes of fighting against a hail of insurgent fire, Cooper was running out of fuel and ammo and had to put down again. “I was going through ammunition at a fairly rapid clip,” he said.

The MH-6 pilots used a Leatherman tool to remove the crashed Little Bird’s auxiliary fuel tank and use it to refuel Cooper’s aircraft.

Then Cooper took off yet again, this time spending half an hour in the air. He got as close as 800 meters from the gun trucks and 200 from the house. “I was flying as erratically as I could to throw off the aim of the gunners,” he said.

Cooper and his wingman were slowly turning the tide of the battle. Most of the insurgents who had occupied the house a couple of hours before were now dead. Half of the gun trucks were out of action, with many insurgents killed and wounded in and around them.

No longer able to cope with the withering fire that the AH-6 was delivering, the surviving insurgents began to retreat. Then tragedy struck. Maj. Troy Gilbert, an F-16 pilot providing close-air support for the mission, was finally able to identify the moving enemy vehicles and was placing effective fire on them when his aircraft crashed about four or five miles away from the downed helicopter. He was killed. Gilbert was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” device.

The actions of Cooper, 48, and his wingman were later credited with preventing further loss of friendly forces.

Cooper was “ordered off the battlefield” after he landed for the fourth time. “We were out of gas and out of bullets and they needed to get a new team of AH[-6]s in there,” he said.

The new team arrived, but the battle was over. The special operators remained on the ground until nightfall, when a downed aircraft recovery team flew in to extract the crashed helicopter and the troops.

“By the time I got that aircraft back to base I was pretty well spent,” Cooper said.

According to a summary of Cooper’s actions released by the 160th, “his aggressive actions, complete disregard for his personal safety and extreme courage under fire resulted in him single-handedly repelling the enemy attack … If not for CW5 Cooper’s actions, the ground force would have become decisively engaged and would certainly have taken heavy casualties.”

But Cooper is humble when discussing his role.

“I just happened to be the guy there that day,” he said. “Any one of the Night Stalkers that’s in this formation would have done the same thing I did.”

www.armytimes.com/news/2008/07/army_dsc_072008/
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 6:58:01 AM EDT
Brass balls. I bet you can hear 'em clanking from a mile away.

Well done!
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:03:18 AM EDT
DSCs for the army are hard to come by.
Especially unwounded.

What happened to the AF pilot?
They didn't say he was shot down.
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:03:39 AM EDT
wow
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:09:21 AM EDT

Originally Posted By FatMan:
Brass balls. I bet you can hear 'em clanking from a mile away.

Well done!


No doubt!
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:17:26 AM EDT

Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:21:15 AM EDT
NSDQ - Night Stalkers Don't Quit
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:22:07 AM EDT
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:24:51 AM EDT
I'll add him to the list of guys for whom I'd like to buy a beer.

What is a "V" device?
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:29:34 AM EDT
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:34:55 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 7/21/2008 7:36:34 AM EDT by M-60]

Originally Posted By kap_x:
I'll add him to the list of guys for whom I'd like to buy a beer.

What is a "V" device?


Award earned for Valor.

From Wiki...




Criteria
The Valor device denotes those individuals who were awarded a decoration in recognition of valorous act performed during direct combat with an enemy force. It may also denote an accomplishment of a heroic nature in direct support of operations against an enemy force. Generally, the Valor device is for specific heroic acts during or supporting direct combat with the enemy. The award must also be personally recommended by a superior and is not an automatic decoration or upgrade.

An example of medals which are authorized the Valor device are the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, Commendation Medals, the Air Medal, Achievement Medal, and certain unit awards. Awards which are bestowed for valor, such as the Medal of Honor and Silver Star are never awarded with the Valor device since valor is indicated by the award itself.

The Valor device is awarded as a single, one-time decoration only. A service member may not receive several Valor devices on the same decoration.





Army Aviation is teh Roxors!


-Mark.

Link Posted: 7/21/2008 7:38:50 AM EDT
Excellent story.

I too would like to know what the hell happened to the F-16.
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:20:00 AM EDT
Wow, Interesting story.
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:26:36 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 7/21/2008 9:42:19 AM EDT by Chairborne]

Originally Posted By Sylvan:
DSCs for the army are hard to come by.
Especially unwounded.

What happened to the AF pilot?
They didn't say he was shot down.


He got target fixation, strafed his target at an unrecoverable speed/angle and crashed into the ground.

Story here:



F-16 accident report released

4/2/2007 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFNEWS) -- Air Force officials recently completed an investigation of the F-16C Fighting Falcon accident 20 miles northwest of Baghdad Nov. 27, which resulted in the death of the pilot, Maj. Troy Gilbert.

The official cause of the accident was Major Gilbert's "channelized attention manifested by his desire to maintain a constant visual positive identification of targeted enemy vehicles and subsequent target fixation on these vehicles while they were traveling at a high rate of speed," said the report. These two factors, when combined, caused Major Gilbert "to begin, and then press his attack below a recoverable altitude."

In a telephonic press conference April 2, Brig. Gen. David L. Goldfein, commander of the 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and president of the accident investigation board, said Major Gilbert was fully qualified, fully focused and well rested prior to taking part in his final sortie.

The sortie began as a non-traditional intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, or NTISR mission, where pilots use targeting pods and visual means to find, track and potentially target threats to coalition ground troops.

At that point, Major Gilbert found the situation turning from "benign" to "very intense" in a matter of minutes, General Goldfein said.

According to the accident investigation board report released April 2 by Air Combat Command, Major Gilbert led a flight of two F-16s in an aerial combat mission near Taji, Iraq. On the ground, insurgents were unleashing truck-mounted heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortars to attack Coalition troops. In addition, a downed Army helicopter crew was in danger of being overrun.

Major Gilbert quickly transitioned his peacetime training to his wartime environment. "I found no fault with his adjustment of the mission plan," General Goldfein said.

The report said Major Gilbert engaged the insurgents, launching a strafing attack against enemy vehicles, striking a truck with the F-16's 20-millimeter Gatling gun.

Major Gilbert then conducted a second strafing pass from an extremely low altitude that was not recoverable, impacting the ground. He died immediately on impact. Operating in a dynamic and stressful environment, Major Gilbert's motivation to succeed saved the lives of the helicopter crew and other Coalition ground forces, said General Goldfein said.

"(Fighter pilots) train to a very strict standard in peacetime in terms of how we execute various attacks, and then we adjust from that point when we get into combat in order to accomplish the mission," he said. "(Major Gilbert) was operating in a very dynamic environment and responding to the requirement to maintain 100 percent positive identification on a very, very difficult target to acquire."

According to a vignette in the Air Force's Portraits in Courage, Major Gilbert, a 12-year Air Force veteran, had already completed 21 combat sorties in the F-16 supporting ground forces under enemy fire. On one mission, he found and identified anti-Iraqi forces, then passed critical targeting information to Coalition forces, who attacked and eliminated the threat. In another time-sensitive mission, he destroyed 10 insurgents concealed in a palm grove with the pinpoint delivery of a laser-guided weapon.

Major Gilbert, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor, deployed in September 2006 from Luke AFB, Ariz., to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Balad Air Base, Iraq. He was assigned as the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group chief of standardization and evaluation. On the day of the accident, he was flying with the 524th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

The aircraft was assigned to the 524th EFS deployed from Cannon AFB, N.M. The aircraft was destroyed on impact.

For more information, contact the Air Combat Command Public Affairs office at (757) 764-5007 or e-mail accpa.operations@langley.af.mil.




www.af.mil/news/story_print.asp?id=123047164
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:33:35 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Ahiodsohi:
Excellent story.

I too would like to know what the hell happened to the F-16.


Maj. Troy Gilbert
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:34:25 AM EDT
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:35:55 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Chairborne:

Originally Posted By Sylvan:
DSCs for the army are hard to come by.
Especially unwounded.

What happened to the AF pilot?
They didn't say he was shot down.


He got target fixation, strafed his target at an unrecoverable speed/angle and crashed into the ground.

That is a bummer.
Except for the A-10, you gotta wonder whether CAS is a neglected art in the age of JDAMs.
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:36:16 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Chairborne:

Originally Posted By Sylvan:
DSCs for the army are hard to come by.
Especially unwounded.

What happened to the AF pilot?
They didn't say he was shot down.


He got target fixation, strafed his target at an unrecoverable speed/angle and crashed into the ground.


Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:42:20 AM EDT

Originally Posted By swede1986:

Originally Posted By Chairborne:

Originally Posted By Sylvan:
DSCs for the army are hard to come by.
Especially unwounded.

What happened to the AF pilot?
They didn't say he was shot down.


He got target fixation, strafed his target at an unrecoverable speed/angle and crashed into the ground.




Sounds to me like the AF failed him - poor training.

Too many geeks behind computers telling the generals that Air Warfare will be always done by guided bombs and computers.

When a man - not a computer - was needed to provide support, he did his damndest, but lacked the experience with his aircraft.

Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:45:08 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Bohr_Adam:

Originally Posted By swede1986:

Originally Posted By Chairborne:

Originally Posted By Sylvan:
DSCs for the army are hard to come by.
Especially unwounded.

What happened to the AF pilot?
They didn't say he was shot down.


He got target fixation, strafed his target at an unrecoverable speed/angle and crashed into the ground.




Sounds to me like the AF failed him - poor training.

Too many geeks behind computers telling the generals that Air Warfare will be always done by guided bombs and computers.

When a man - not a computer - was needed to provide support, he did his damndest, but lacked the experience with his aircraft.



Strafing with a couple hundred rounds of ammo and a cannon designed strictly for air to air use is a bad idea no matter how much training you have. The F-16 has never been good at the CAS mission, and if we had enough A-10s to go around we wouldn't have to try to pound a square peg in the round hole. Unfortunately the substandard tool is all that was available that day, and he died trying to make the best use of it.
Link Posted: 7/21/2008 9:52:09 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Chairborne:

Originally Posted By Bohr_Adam:

Originally Posted By swede1986:

Originally Posted By Chairborne:

Originally Posted By Sylvan:
DSCs for the army are hard to come by.
Especially unwounded.

What happened to the AF pilot?
They didn't say he was shot down.


He got target fixation, strafed his target at an unrecoverable speed/angle and crashed into the ground.




Sounds to me like the AF failed him - poor training.

Too many geeks behind computers telling the generals that Air Warfare will be always done by guided bombs and computers.

When a man - not a computer - was needed to provide support, he did his damndest, but lacked the experience with his aircraft.



Strafing with a couple hundred rounds of ammo and a cannon designed strictly for air to air use is a bad idea no matter how much training you have. The F-16 has never been good at the CAS mission, and if we had enough A-10s to go around we wouldn't have to try to pound a square peg in the round hole. Unfortunately the substandard tool is all that was available that day, and he died trying to make the best use of it.


The F16 was the air force's answer for CAS - everything would be automated and whiz bang - laser guided, cluster bombs, etc. The A10 was relegated to the Guard for a while and supposedly obsolete.

You can bet your ass that the F15 and F22 pilots have the exact limits of their aircraft in a dogfight built into their subconscious.
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