Photo: Jay Sauceda for The Daily
When Army Sgt. Julia Bringloe received the Distinguished Flying Cross during a Manhattan ceremony last week it wasn’t for any one particular thing that she had done.Bringloe, 39, received the honour for dozens of courageous acts performed during a 60-hour mission where she and her medevac crew rescued 14 wounded soldiers.
Photo: Jay Sauceda for The Daily
Erik German from The Daily talked to Bringloe and her helicopter crew about Operation Hammerdown and the nearly three days they spent flying into, hovering above, and dropping in, to extreme danger and live combat.
Operation Hammerdown launched as an effort to wipe out insurgent training camps near the Pech River Valley in Afghanistan. It turned into one big, long firefight that absorbed all the lifesaving resources the Army could provide.
Almost immediately U.S. troops began suffering casualties and Bringloe’s UH-60 Black Hawk was called in to rescue downed troops. With her crew’s sister ship taken out of action early, Bringloe and three person crew became the only medevac chopper in the area — responsible for rescuing every badly wounded soldier — and there were a lot of them.
On the first day while flying in the thin, sparing air at 10,000 feet, her chopper’s blades desperate to find purchase and provide lift, Bringloe was lowered more than 15-stories to the ground.
On the rocky soil, she hauled a wounded soldier from his stretcher and hooked him to her cable for the ride 150 feet back up into the chopper, which was still desperately clawing for purchase in the rarefied air.
As the hoist pulled them up, the cable swung Bringloe and her patient straight into a nearby tree where she swung her body around to protect his, breaking her leg.
“In some of the write-ups I’ve seen you would think my leg was dangling off of (my torso),” Bringloe told Paul Ghiringhelli at the Fort Drum paper. “But really it was just a small fracture.”
Back at base when Bringloe brought the wounded to the infirmary, one of her pilots, Chief Warrant Officer Erik Sabiston noticed her leg, and asked her if she needed to quit.
Bringloe said it wasn’t an option. “I was the only medic in the valley and it was a huge mission,” she told The Daily.
And a very different mission than she faced just four years before when she was still a Hawaiian carpenter doing her best to raise her son and get along with her ex. But that life was likely far from her mind on June 25, 2011 when she clambered back into the Black Hawk and flew straight back into the fray.
Back where she’d broken her leg, Bringloe was dropped down again to rescue a fallen Afghan translator who needed to be lifted out before troops in the structure below could move on.
Pilot Sabiston slipped the Black Hack into a hover that locked him eye-to-eye with enemy insurgents on a ridgeline about 70 feet from the house below. The site was a frenzy of gunfire.
“As soon as she hit the ground she was in a no-lie, real-deal firefight,” Sabiston said.
A nearby Apache gunship pilot radioed Bringloe’s crew, “Medevac, you guys are crazy.”
Helping her strap the dead translator to the line while she stayed behind, soldiers on the ground had to remind Bringloe to duck. “Somehow I think I’m impervious to bullets or something,” she said.
With the translator’s body safely aboard the Black Hawk above, Bringloe latched herself to the now vacant cable. The insurgents on the ridgeline promptly concentrated their fire on her dangling form.
The high velocity rounds streamed past her as she rose, and sounded like “a kind of whistling” she later explained. Troops below radioed to Sabiston above, “They’re shooting at your medic! Get out of here!”
Unable to alter his position or risk dragging Bringloe into another tree, Sabiston had to remain hovering for a full 15 seconds while half-a-dozen insurgents pounded round after round at Bringloe on the rising cable.
Breaking out the only weapon available, co-pilot CWO Ken Brodhead chambered a round in a nearby M4 and began firing from his window.
Though she doesn’t know how much it helped, Bringloe said “I thought it was pretty funny though. I love that guy.”
Sgt. Julia Bringloe joins only six other women to have received the Distinguished Flying Cross, including Amelia Earhart. The Flying Cross recognises “extraordinary achievement for an aerial flight.”
The award was struck in 1927 and has since been bestowed upon Charles Lindbergh, George H.W. Bush, and Admiral Richard Byrd among others.
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