Two Airmen were given the Airman’s Medal during a ceremony at Fairchild Air Force Base on April 8 for rescuing three Airmen injured in a 2013 helicopter crash.
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Maj. Matthew Arnold, the 336th Training Group chief of standards and evaluations, and Tech. Sgt. Dean Criswell, the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron NCO in charge of rescue operations, were participating in a routine training exercise in Okinawa, Japan, when an HH-60G Pave Hawk went down.
Both descended from the helicopter they were in to the flaming crash site. The fire had spread quickly, causing live rounds of ammunition to shoot off in all directions. The two managed to navigate the harsh surroundings to find their fellow Airmen.
“Everyone’s skills came together when it really mattered, including the pilot and the flight engineers; we all worked seamlessly together,” Arnold said.
When they arrived on scene, Criswell performed a perimeter search for members of the crew. After the first member was found, Arnold recovered him and began to treat the crew member’s wounds. Criswell continued to search for the other crew members and found two pilots who were both injured; one was unable to walk, requiring Criswell’s assistance to move. Criswell escorted both men to a hovering helicopter. Once in the helicopter, Criswell administered medical aid.
“We happened to be the ones put on the ground closest to the danger,” Criswell said, “but there are many unsung heroes to include many of the agencies we work with, the firefighters, the pilots, maintainers; anything we needed for the rescue was there.”
Arnold returned to the area twice, helping the two pilots and filling the overhead command and control role while looking for the final crew member, Tech. Sgt. Mark Smith, who did not survive the crash.
“Mark Smith was a good friend whose loss was greatly felt. Every time we look at this medal we will think of him,” Arnold said. “It is bittersweet because we saved three but lost one.”
The Airman’s Medal is the highest award that an Airman can receive for heroic acts in a non-combat situation.