A CH-47F Chinook pilot assigned to the 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during a ceremony Friday for heroism during a deployment to Afghanistan.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Dechent served a 12-month combat tour in Afghanistan flying all types of combat missions. Included in these were resupply missions for Soldiers on the ground to locations like Forward Operating Base Blessing and Combat Outpost Vegas in the Korengal Valley in 2009.
COP Vegas was an isolated outpost in extremely restrictive terrain, which could only be resupplied at night due to the known threat and a previous helicopter shoot-down, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Wilson, Company B, 7th Bn., 101st Av. Rgt., pilot.
“In September 2009, the troops at FOB Blessing and COP Vegas definitely had some difficult tasks at hand, in the now infamous Korengal Valley,” said Lt. Col. Darren Gerblick, commander of 7th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt. “CW3 Dechent was commanding a two-aircraft mission, moving troops and equipment from Blessing to Vegas. On his second approach into COP Vegas, his aircraft was struck by a [rocket-propelled grenade] and pitched violently.”
Instead of Dechent focusing on himself, he quickly regained control of the aircraft and asked his crew what happened. As his crewmembers in the back of the aircraft began assessing their injuries, and the injuries of the 21 Soldiers onboard, Dechent directed his co-pilot to assess the damages to the aircraft’s system.
“The damages had to be assessed before making the decision to fly any further,” said Dechent. “The mission is to save lives at this point, and that is what I fully set out to do.”
With significant damage to the aircraft and numerous injured Soldiers onboard, Dechent made the split-second decision to attempt to fly the aircraft back to FOB Blessing, which offered medical care and enough room to land a medical evacuation helicopter if necessary.
“I just wanted to return my crew to the ground, so that they could receive adequate medical support,” said Dechent.
During the flight, the aircraft experienced flight control malfunctions, and Dechent quickly got the aircraft to the ground and conducted an emergency shutdown. After inspecting the aircraft, the crew found there was shrapnel damage to the flight control hydraulic lines.
“We are trained to assess damage if ever needed, but no one ever wants to be put in a situation where they would have to patch up their aircraft and fly it back to base,” said Dechent. “We did what was necessary for the mission and the lives onboard the aircraft, which led to success.”
After Dechent helped to treat the wounded personnel and sought additional medical personnel on the FOB, he was informed by the FOB commander to get the aircraft out of the area before daylight to avoid mortar attack.
“After approximately two hours on the FOB, the crew had patched up each other, their precious cargo and the aircraft’s hydraulic lines,” said Gerblick.
Dechent then flew the crippled aircraft an hour-and-a-half to Bagram Air Base.
“This was a truly extraordinary achievement, and his actions directly resulted in saving 21 American servicemen, who were precious cargo, as well as the multi-million dollar aircraft and its crew,” said Gerblick.