Aviator Presented Award by his Father


FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Retired Capt. Gary F. Ossinger received two Distinguished Flying Crosses during his tour as an aviator in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He pinned the prestigious award onto the uniform of his son during a ceremony July 16 at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.

"It's kind of becoming a family tradition," said the elder Ossinger, a former OH-6 Cayuse helicopter pilot with 22 years of service, who earned his awards for heroic actions taken when his aircraft was shot down and for extracting a Soldier from a vulnerable location.

His son, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gary S. Ossinger, earned his award for his brave actions under fire May 25, 2011, in eastern Afghanistan, as the pilot in command and air mission commander of a flight of two CH-47 Chinooks.

According to the award citation, the mission involved transporting troops to the Do Ab Valley to conduct reconnaissance of the area. Ossinger, his crew, and his sister ship descended toward the landing zone deep inside the steep canyon walls of the valley and dropped off the reconnaissance Soldiers. Despite it being the middle of spring, the temperature was already more than 100 degrees.

"On this particular day in a remote area of Afghanistan, we received reports that this city center was about to be overrun by insurgents," said Col. Pedro G. Almeida, then 10th CAB commander. "About 60 U.S. and Afghan Soldiers were transported to the area without issue. But soon after, these Soldiers started to receive fire."

Shortly after his aircraft departed, the landing zone erupted with enemy mortar, machine-gun and small-arms fire in an ambush by an estimated 200 to 400 Taliban members.

"Now these 60 Soldiers were in a precarious situation," Almeida said. "They were in a narrow valley, and no one was coming in from any roads. We knew we had to reinforce those 60 Soldiers who were pinned down."

Ossinger and his team received the mission to bring reinforcements and supplies to the ongoing battle, and they launched into deteriorating weather conditions.

En route, Ossinger's aircraft began to receive accurate, effective small-arms fire from both sides and from the mountains above them.

"(He) and his crew courageously flew into that buzz saw," Almeida added.

Due to the highly constrictive terrain of the valley, Ossinger's ability to maneuver was extremely limited.

He soon realized his communication systems and global positioning system were disabled, and the crew was now unable to communicate to other aircraft and with each other.

Despite being unable to talk to his crew, Ossinger made the decision to continue to the landing zone. Under heavy fire, the aircraft touched down and the reinforcements disembarked.

But as the helicopters departed, ominous weather and darkness began to engulf the valley. Still unable to communicate with each other or the other ship, the crew soon was forced to land in an unsecure area due to decreasing visibility.

Additionally, mechanical issues became evident due to battle damage. Through the superior skill and efforts of Ossinger and his crew, they were able to overcome these challenges and safely return to Bagram Airfield.

"They got shot at and lost communications," Almeida said. "They had to land in the middle of nowhere. He kept an extremely level head. If we hadn't reinforced them, we don't know what might have happened to those 60 on the ground."

This was not the first time Ossinger, a former Ranger, had taken fire. But he said it was the closest he had come to being shot down.

"I'm honored to receive this award, but I feel like I don't want another," Ossinger said stoically.Ossinger has deployed three times with 10th CAB. He served with 2nd Ranger Battalion from 1991-1999 and deployed to support Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti in 1994.

When asked why he decided to become a pilot after having been a Ranger for eight years, a wry smile slowly surfaced on Ossinger's face.

"I don't know. I guess because my dad was a pilot," he said. "And rucksacks are heavy."

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