NASHVILLE, Tn. – General James McConville, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, presented two Soldiers from Company C, 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) the Silver Star for heroic actions in support of U.S. Army forces in Afghanistan, July 12, 2018, during a ceremony at the Army Aviation Association of America Summit 2019 in Nashville, April 16.
McConville, a former 101st Abn. Div. (Air Assault) commander, pinned the medals on Sgt. Armando Yanez and Sgt. Emmanuel Bynum following his keynote address at the summit, an annual gathering of the Army aviation community.
“I began this morning reflecting on our greatest generation and the heroes we have from World War II; I see the passing of the baton from that generation to the young generation of today,” said McConville. “Every generation has its heroes, and today’s generation is no different.”
The recipients displayed valor and heroism while coming under hostile fire while serving as part of the aeromedical evacuation crew of DUSTOFF 24, HH-60 Hospital Helicopter, according to the citation. Bynum and Yanez refused to leave a wounded Soldier on the battlefield, completely disregarding their own safety.
While performing an aeromedical evacuation, the DUSTOFF crew expected one urgent care patient and the possibility of enemy combatants in the area. As they landed, the crew received small-arms fire. Bynum provided security for the aircraft, while Yanez exited and retrieved the patient. As Yanez returned with the patient, a group of Soldiers provided additional security while the crewmembers loaded the patient onto the aircraft.
“The flight was my third or fourth mission with the medevac crew,” said Bynum. “The training I received helped me to be situationally aware of the surroundings of the landing zone.”
After the aircraft lifted off, Bynum witnessed one of the Soldiers take fire and drop to the ground. Masking the HH-60 with an adjacent building, the pilot successfully landed the aircraft onto a non-standard landing zone while the co-pilot managed radio communications and the aircraft systems. Then, the crewmembers loaded a second patient onto the aircraft.
“During the mission, I was absent minded; because of the training we’ve done before and while deployed, instinct just kicked in,” explained Bynum.
Gunfire had damaged both hydraulic system modules, which began leaking fluid. The aircraft needed to land as soon as possible; but given both patient’s critical conditions and no available safe landing zone, the crew decided to continue the flight and get the wounded to a proper care facility.
For their actions, Yanez and Bynum first received the Distinguished Flying Cross in January. However, Maj. Gen. Randy A. George, U.S. National Security Element – Afghanistan and 4th Infantry Division commander, recommended to Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan and Resolute Support commander, that he upgrade their awards to the Silver Star.
“I wish things would have turned out differently; with Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz surviving,” Yanez said. “I really want to say to his family and to the U.S. Army Rangers, I appreciate everything they do; those guys are heroes and warriors.”
The Silver Star is the third highest award exclusively for combat valor, the fifth in the precedence of military awards to the Medal of Honor and the highest award for combat valor not unique to any specific branch, foreign allies and civilians for “gallantry in action” in support of combat missions of the U.S. Army.