Aerial gunner Airman receives Distinguished Flying Cross with valor
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Tite, 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron aerial gunner, poses next to an M2 .50 caliber machinegun on a HH-60 Pave Hawk April 4, 2012 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Tite was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for engaging the enemy during a six-hour-long sortie which resulted in the life-saving rescue of two soldiers and recovery of another from the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes/Released)
by Senior Airman Jack Sanders
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
7/12/2012 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Staff Sgt. Justin Tite, 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron aerial gunner, received the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross with valor here, July 9.
Maj. Gen. Bill Hyatt, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander, presented the decoration to Tite during a ceremony with friends, family and members of the Nellis rescue community present.
On April 23, 2011, Tite was an aerial gunner aboard the lead HH-60 helicopter in a two-aircraft flight, call sign Pedro 83.
His flight was tasked to rescue two downed Army aircraft crewmembers in enemy territory about 25 miles east of Bagram, Afghanistan. Tite's crew reached the crash site as dawn was breaking, and conducted the first pararescue team's insertion.
Just after inserting a second pararescue team, the flight's second helicopter, Pedro 84, was engaged by enemy fire that injured a crewmember and damaged the aircraft. Pedro 84 was forced to return to base.
Tite covered their egress and supported ground teams with close-air-support as they became pinned down by intensifying enemy fire. On one pass, Tite spotted enemy units attacking his teams. He returned fire, suppressing them and killing at least one insurgent. He continued as Pedro 84 returned to the fight and recovery attempts resumed.
Upon Pedro 84's return, its crew attempted to hoist out one of the downed crewmembers again. However, the helicopter immediately drew heavy fire, forcing them to shear their rescue harness to clear the hail of rounds coming at them. Simultaneously, Pedro 83 took fire, taking enough damage to also force them to return to base for a spare aircraft.
During this round trip, Army ground troops in the area joined the engagement. Moments after powering up the spare, Pedro 83 received the call that one of the ground troops had been severely injured and also needed medivac.
Pedro 83 returned to battle and began a hover extraction of the original downed crewmember and the additional casualty. In close range of enemy ground fire, Tite's aircraft was severely damaged again, but Tite continued to battle despite multiple aircraft emergencies.
Tite engaged an entrenched enemy, who came as close as 100 meters, through four additional exchanges of intense fire as the recovery continued.
Ultimately, Tite's actions during the six-hour-long sortie resulted in the life-saving rescue of two Soldiers and the recovery of another from the field of battle.
"In all honesty, I'm just humbled to get this," Tite said. "Just to be put into that category is honestly just amazing, to say the least. I don't take this award necessarily [because] of just what I've done. I think it's more or less for the [rescue] community itself. There are people out there right now doing the same exact missions day in and day out - doing the 24 hour operations in Afghanistan. So, I think this award goes out to everyone in our community."
The Distinguished Flying Cross was established in the Air Corps Act by Congress on July 2, 1926. According to the law's text, award is for any person, while serving in any capacity with the Air Corps of the Army of the United States, including the National Guard and the Organized Reserves, or with the United States Navy, since the 6th day of April 1917, has distinguished, or who, after the approval of this Act, distinguishes himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.
Tite said he has been thinking of and talking to one of his crewmembers who was injured on the flight.
"Having one of your own get injured on a mission like that - it really hits home," Tite said. "It was something we had to adjust to - fight on the fly. We'd never had an individual, on one of my own missions at least, get hurt during the actual extraction of another individual. Once it actually hits home, it's just a little bit different."
Technical Sgt. Jim Davis was the flight engineer on the Pedro 84 flight who was shot during the mission. Tite said Davis was hit in the leg just after the rescue team was deployed and Davis had brought the hoist up.
"He's a mentor to a lot of us. I don't believe he's able to fly any more, but he's in good spirits and I know he's very grateful -- he loves the mission that we do. I know - it sucks the way that it went down, but he's still a great part of our culture and our heritage of the mission that we do. He's a good guy and he'll always be a part of our community, one way or another."
Tite said the rescue community will always be around to help others even if it means risking themselves.
"[To the] people who don't understand that there are people who go out there and do this, I would just like to say that I think that the combat search and rescue community is a great career field to join," Tite said. "I couldn't be happier in another field than I am with the rescue community."
"The motto for the rescue community is 'that others may live' and I think that every individual in the rescue community truly lives by that motto," he said.