Soldier's Medal Awarded to Airman for Heroism


On May 3, 2010 Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Doty was the first to rush to the scene of a crashed helicopter in Northeastern Afghanistan and helped to rescue its three crewmen.

For his bravery and heroism, Doty was awarded The Soldier's Medal in a ceremony Friday at the Defense Information School.

The Soldier's Medal is an individual decoration of the Army awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army, distinguishes himself or herself by a heroic act not involving conflict with an enemy.

Doty is a master instructor in the Visual Communications Department at DINFOS and teaches the basic still photography course. At the time of the incident, he was a combat photographer.

In his remarks, DINFOS Commandant Col. Jeremy Martin called the ceremony a "most auspicious occasion."

"It's not every day that an Airman receives a Soldier's Medal on an Army base by a Navy captain," Martin said. "So this is a really big deal."

Doty was nominated for the award by Navy Capt. Raymond J. Benedict, who saw the crash. At the time, Benedict was commanding officer of the provincial reconstruction team at the Forward Operating Base, Kala Gush, in the Nuristan province in Afghanistan.

Benedict, who is now the commanding officer for the Center for Security Forces in Little Creek, Va., was the ceremony's guest speaker.

"We're here to witness a long overdue award to Sergeant Doty," he said.

It took almost four years. The office of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski began working late last summer to help expedite the award.

During the ceremony, Benedict recalled the crash of the helicopter, which landed on its side. It was later determined that the aircraft crashed due to mechanical failure.

The rotorhead, with broken rotor blades that had scattered, was still turning and caused the aircraft to shake. The running engines caused fuel to pool on the ground.

To make matters worse, the helicopter was carrying ammunition and high-explosive mortars rounds, which were strewn on the ground.

There was no firefighting team at the FOB.

"But that didn't stop the rescue party," Benedict said.

Within 35 seconds of the crash, Doty ran to the scene.

"Doty led the rescue effort. He was the first person to the helo," Benedict said. "He kicked in the window and climbed into the cockpit."

According to the award citation, Doty helped pull the first two crewmen out of the wreckage and then tried to shut the helicopter down while other service members pulled out the last crewman.

Doty reached several controls but couldn't turn off the engines or the rotorhead. He then climbed completely inside the wreckage to reach the throttles and fuel controls located on the helicopter's ceiling.

Soon after, 1st. Lt. Joseph Wingard, who had followed Doty to the scene, told him that all the crew had been rescued and that it wasn't safe to try to shut down the aircraft.

Doty exited the helicopter, then grabbed his camera to document the crash. 

Benedict said it took the team of service members less than three minutes to rescue the crewmen.

"Without any training, guidance or direction, they responded magnificently that day," he said.

They responded with "complete disregard for their own safety and performed at great personal risk. ... They did not hesitate a second to risk their own lives to rescue those three crew members," Benedict said.

A short video clip of the crash was played at the ceremony.

Afterward, Doty's father, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Timothy Doty, pinned The Soldier's Medal on his son's uniform.

"This is almost embarrassing to stand here as the sole individual for an action that was completed by a team," the sergeant said in his remarks. "It's an upbringing that I've had since I was a kid -- to serve others before I serve myself.

"It's a trait that the Air Force instilled in me. Really, what happened was instinctive."

Doty's wife, Thalia, was an Air Force staff sergeant on the same deployment. She witnessed the crash and her husband's rescue efforts.

"I'm very proud of him," she said after the ceremony. "It's a great accomplishment."

The couple and their young daughter are relocating in March to Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. He will serve as the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs Office.

"The military is in our blood," said Doty, whose two brothers also have served in the armed forces. "From Day 1, [we learned] it was not about us, it was about everybody else. We love our service and we love our country." 

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