Special ops aviator earns top American Legion valor award

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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (USASOC News Service, April 29, 2004) — Courage and selfless service while under fire in Iraq earned a 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) pilot the 2003 American Legion Aviator’s Valor Award.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Weddington, a helicopter pilot assigned to the 160th SOAR’s Special Operations Aviation Training Company here, will receive the award during a May 8 ceremony at Fort Hamilton, N.Y.

Weddington was nominated for the award for his heroic actions on June 11-12, 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Weddington was serving as an AH-6J Little Bird flight lead pilot, delivering precision aerial fires on three targets, when his aircraft began taking a high volume of enemy fire, ranging from machine guns to rocket propelled grenades.

“We knew how many people were going to be there, and we knew their capabilities,” Weddington said. “We expected a pretty heavy volume of fire.”

As they came under fire, Weddington’s team immediately broke off the planned targets and engaged enemy forces who were directly to the flank of the helicopters.

“We came in to shoot at our first target, and took fire almost immediately at our two o’clock,” Weddington said. “My only recourse was to kick the pedal over there to affect an engagement. My wing man made an engagement on the same target area (covering my break) and we made three successive passes to neutralize this threat.”

“(Weddington) destroyed the enemy and denied them the ability to influence the helicopter assault force,” according a written narrative.

The successful counterattack allowed Soldiers to be placed on the ground safely.

Weddington credits all the success of the mission to the extensive training conducted by the 160th.

“Because we have the assets available to train as hard as we do, there is no doubt about it, we put down fire much faster than other units. Intense live situational training exercises that we conduct during numerous training events allow situations (such as this) to be more instinctive. We do realistic training,” Weddington stressed. “In fact, this entire mission was an exact template of how we train.”

After being relieved on station, Weddington led his team to a remote desert location where his crew refueled, rearmed, and returned to the fight in less than 30 minutes. He continued providing reconnaissance and responding to calls for fire by ground forces. His crew repeated this rotation for more than four hours, conducting Forward Arming and Refueling Point operations at two separate locations, always ensuring the ground forces had available close air support.

“In our world, in the fire support role, we always have to be available for the ground force commander in case he needs fire support,” Weddington said. “We are always the first to arrive at an objective and we remain on station until the last ground force guy is out of there.”

Weddington’s team garnered eight hours of flight time ranging from high levels of lunar illumination to total darkness, returning to their staging base in daylight. Despite the grueling hours and the constant barrage of fire, Weddington says quitting was never an option.

“We have a ‘no fail’ mission obligation,” Weddington said. “It is bred into us from selection, training and progression to an operational aviator in special operations.”

Weddington downplays the significance of his role, and does not see himself as a hero.

“In a lengthy operation like OIF, it is just another part of the daily routine for us. It is just one paragraph in an entire book of missions,” he said.

Those who nominated Weddington for the award, however, see his actions as heroic.

“(His) courage and selflessness in extreme danger, without regard for his own safety, is truly heroic,” said Col. Andrew Milani, 160th SOAR commander. “Mike’s commitment, bravery and extraordinary combat skills while engaged in intense combat action against enemy forces are unsurpassed. Few individuals have matched his dedication, professionalism and bravery.”

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Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Weddington, a helicopter pilot assigned to the 160th SOAR’s Special Operations Aviation Training Company here, will receive the 2003 American Legion Aviator’s Valor Award during a May 8 ceremony at Fort Hamilton, N.Y. (Contributed photo)
 
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