Guardsman honored for Afghanistan rescue

Crew members awarded Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor last week in California
2010-06-20T23:40:00Z Guardsman honored for Afghanistan rescueJEREMY PELZER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 20, 2010 11:40 pm  • 

CHEYENNE — Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brandon Erdmann was at Forward Operating Base Bostick in northern Afghanistan when his medevac crew got the call.

A squad of Army infantry was pinned down in the steep Watapur Valley by several dozen well-armed enemy fighters. At least two soldiers were injured.

On that July day in 2009, Erdmann, a Laramie resident, piloted his Black Hawk helicopter to the firing zone six times, shuttling wounded soldiers and supplies back and forth under constant, heavy fire.

When the team’s medic had to be left behind during the fifth return to base and radioed in that he would walk back with the rest of the infantry squad, Erdmann and his fellow crew members decided to go back anyway to pick him up.

For their efforts, Erdmann and the two other Black Hawk crew members, Staff Sgt. Thomas Gifford and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott St. Aubin, were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor last week in a ceremony in California.

Staff Sgt. Emmett Spraktes, the medic who repeatedly lowered himself from the helicopter to the infantry squad, was awarded the Silver Star.

Erdmann, a 39-year-old Wyoming National Guard member, was humble about receiving America’s oldest military aviation award.

“I appreciate the recognition, but I still don’t think this is anything that any of the other crews wouldn’t have done,” he said.

Though Erdmann has also served in Iraq and Bosnia — “and all kinds of wonderful places,” he said, chuckling — he’d never come under more intense fire than on that sweltering July day. But any fear he had soon turned to anger, then determination.

“The initial fear goes away fairly quickly,” he said. “I think more than anything, I was in a way, almost angry and perturbed that I was being shot at, these infantry guys were being shot at — which kind of perhaps galvanized my resolve to complete this mission.”

Growing up in Cheyenne, Erdmann said, he always wanted to fly. And at 17, he got his chance, joining the Wyoming National Guard.

Given the Wyoming Guard’s limited size, the only job available that would get Erdmann in a pilot’s seat was as part of a medical evacuation team. But Erdmann said that suits him just fine.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’d want to do anything else in Army aviation,” he said. You derive a certain overwhelming sense of satisfaction from doing the medevac job. I think it’s the humanitarian aspect of it. I enjoy helping people.”

For now, Erdmann’s back in Wyoming working as a standardization instructor pilot at the National Guard’s aviation support facility in Cheyenne.

Married with three children, he’s preparing for another redeployment back to Afghanistan in January.

“It’s pretty much just another deployment,” he said.

Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at (307) 632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com

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