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'Like flying through hell'
Buffalo News ^ | 5/1/2004 | CHARITY VOGEL

Posted on 05/01/2004 10:29:54 AM PDT by The Mayor

FOCUS: HEROISM IN IRAQ
'Like flying through hell'

The pilot of a military helicopter, an Amherst native, tells of terror and triumph in the heroic rescue of two wounded soldiers in Iraq

By CHARITY VOGEL
News Staff Reporter
5/1/2004

Maj. Steven R. White, left, on flying into danger: "You train forever for the Super Bowl, so when the Super Bowl comes up, you don't want to sit on the bench."

  Click to view larger picture

Maj. Steven R. White, first row, second from right, piloted a Pave Hawk helicopter through a blinding sandstorm into a volatile area near Baghdad to rescue two badly injured soldiers.

That April evening, like many nights in Iraq last year during the height of the ground war, was pitch dark and unpredictable.

Just south of Baghdad, a group of American soldiers - special operations forces - were ambushed. Surrounded by Iraqi fighters, they were trapped. Gunshots and explosions rang out all around them from the blackened city streets.

Worse yet, 10 of the ambushed men were wounded - two of them badly.

That's when, 150 miles away in the desert, Maj. Steven R. White - a helicopter pilot known to his friends as "Whitey" - got the call.

White scrambled into his helicopter, Jolly 24, a Pave Hawk - like the Black Hawk copters made famous by the movie "Black Hawk Down," but modified to run high-tech rescue missions and handle in-flight refueling.

What happened over the next few hours was amazing in two respects:

First, that White, a 1980 graduate of Amherst High School, was able to bring the two badly wounded men to safety - saving their lives by his daring actions.

And second, that he made it home himself.

For what happened the night of April 7, 2003, White and his crew will be honored with the prestigious Rescue Mission of the Year Award at a ceremony tonight in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. The award is presented annually by the Jolly Green Association, an organization of retired pilots and rescue personnel affiliated with the U.S. Air Force.

The award is considered a high honor among Air Force pilots and crews.

"It's bravery," said Lee T. Massey, an officer of the Jolly Greens, describing the actions of White and his crew. "This carries on our rescue motto: "These things we do so others may live.' "

White, 42, who has family members living in Western New York, offers a humbler take on his role in saving the wounded soldiers after a dangerous mission.

"You train forever for the Super Bowl," he said, "so when the Super Bowl comes up, you don't want to sit on the bench."

Part 1: Into the darkness

What may have been the most dangerous part of the mission happened shortly after takeoff.

White, flight commander of Jolly 24, and his partner in a nearby Pave Hawk - Antonio D. Cunha, commander of Jolly 23 - had lifted off for the 11/2-hour flight from Tallil Air Base to the spot along Highway 1 in south Baghdad where the wounded Americans were located.

About 20 minutes into the trip, they encountered a nightmare: a vicious sandstorm.

Imagine riding in a car and suddenly a truckload of fine sand is poured over your windshield. Or imagine the sandstorm scene in "The Mummy."

That's what it was like, White recalled - only more frightening, because the lives of the two crews were on the line.

"It's the big churning mess of goo," he said. "You're just losing your bearings."

The two Pave Hawks were flying about 100 feet off the ground. White knew that trying to fly above the sandstorm probably would not work - earlier, he had tried rising as high as 8,000 feet to escape a sand cloud, unsuccessfully.

Inside the cockpit of White's Pave Hawk, the churning sand created a dark brown-colored atmosphere. The roar of the motors drowned out the roar of the sand hitting the metal of the copter and the windshield's glass.

"There was a little bit of extra stress going on," White said wryly. "It's the seat cushion factor - afterward, you're pulling the seat cushion out of your backside."

Then something even worse happened.

In the darkness, White and Cunha lost sight of one another, and lost electronic contact. That situation - called "lost wingman" - can be very dangerous because the two aircraft could become separated for good, or could even collide in midair.

Talking over the radio, after 15 minutes of tense communication, the two pilots managed to reunite.

They headed for Baghdad, where the city lights and burning oil fires gave them something to orient themselves by. Their vertigo, caused by the whirling sandstorm, ebbed. The sandstorm itself dropped off.

"You get your mind caged up again," said White, referring to what happens when a pilot finally sees a horizon line.

Part 2: Running out of time

As they approached southern Baghdad, the Jollys were joined by A-10s, big Warthog jets that help guide and protect more vulnerable rescue aircraft in dangerous situations.

White and Cunha piloted their helicopters through the smoky oil fires and around power lines. Street battles were taking place all over the area, so the two copters landed in a squared-off plot of grass formed by a bunch of American tanks.

"That's kind of dangerous stuff," White said. "(But) we knew where we were supposed to be going. We got lucky - no holes in the aircraft."

Once they were down, paramedics rushed to help the wounded soldiers. The two most badly wounded men were loaded onto the Jollys. The other eight men were stabilized, but they were well enough to wait for on-the-ground rescuers the next day.

The wounded soldiers were flown to an airfield 75 miles southwest of Baghdad, where they were loaded onto a C-130 and removed to safety.

Meanwhile, the Jollys took off again, headed back to Tallil Air Base, but they were down to 10 minutes' worth of fuel - for a one-hour flight. That's where another big challenge of the mission came in. The two helicopters linked up with a C-130 in midair to refuel - a couple of hundred feet above the desert sand - so that they could make it back to base safely.

"To take off into the black unknown with minimum gas, that was scary," White said.

The two crews landed safely at Tallil and finally, after a 2 a.m. debriefing, were done for the day. But they were back up in the air, returning to the danger zone to rescue the pilot of a Warthog, the next morning by 7.

"The older you get, the harder it is to do these kinds of things," White said. "You see the reality."

Steve White and his brother Jeff are both in the Air Force. A third brother, the youngest, Craig, lives in Angola.

The flying Whites

After Amherst High School, the Whites - Jeff, 44, graduated two years ahead of Steve in 1978 - went to college and then joined the military.

Jeff White, a helicopter pilot who served in Panama, Operation Desert Storm, Haiti and Iraq, is now a lieutenant colonel based in Florida.

He said he's proud of his brother, just as he's proud of other brave pilots he has known.

"It was like flying through hell," Jeff White said. "He's humble because he doesn't think he did anything different from what anybody else would do. But I was very proud of him."

Steve White, also based in Florida but at a different air base, graduated in 1986 from Rochester Institute of Technology and then joined the Marines. After 10 years as a helicopter pilot in the Marines, he lost his position in that service during a reduction of the forces in 1996. He switched to the Air Force, which is where he has been ever since.

Steve White will attend the ceremony tonight with his wife, Susan, and his son, Collin, 7.

"The squadron will get a plaque, and we'll hang it on the wall," White said in his characteristic laid-back manner. "It's an honor to get your name on that."


e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com




TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; News/Current Events; US: New York
KEYWORDS: amherst; bravery; helicopter; heroism; iraq; militaryhelicopter; newyork; pilots; rescue
Thankyou goes out to Charity Vogel for this Great article


1 posted on 05/01/2004 10:29:54 AM PDT by The Mayor
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To: BfloGuy; Bob Eimiller; bc2; bauerle; brownie; birdsman; Bonneville; commish; crosdaddy; ...
We should invite Charity to our next meeting.
She is a great writer for the News

I am going to e-mail her this thread!

2 posted on 05/01/2004 10:32:03 AM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: ST.LOUIE1; Aquamarine; Billie; dansangel; dutchess; Mama_Bear; FreeTheHostages; .45MAN; Aeronaut; ..
Ping
3 posted on 05/01/2004 10:32:51 AM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: Darksheare; snippy_about_it; SAMWolf; Professional Engineer; bentfeather; radu; PhilDragoo; ...
Foxhole ping
4 posted on 05/01/2004 10:39:07 AM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub; Diva Betsy Ross; Kathy in Alaska; Lovergirl; Brad's Gramma; ...
Canteen Ping!
5 posted on 05/01/2004 10:40:55 AM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: The Mayor
These stories are incredible.
6 posted on 05/01/2004 10:44:18 AM PDT by McGavin999 (If Kerry can't deal with the "Republican Attack Machine" how is he going to deal with Al Qaeda)
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To: The Mayor
Cool.

Sure beats my job.

7 posted on 05/01/2004 10:46:35 AM PDT by fso301
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To: The Mayor
Wonderful story Mayor. Thanks for the ping.
8 posted on 05/01/2004 10:48:25 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: The Mayor
Thanks for the ping Mayor. Rotary-wing aircraft bump
9 posted on 05/01/2004 11:03:39 AM PDT by SAMWolf (War is God's way of teaching us geography)
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To: The Mayor
bump. Thanks so much for the post....
10 posted on 05/01/2004 11:04:00 AM PDT by eureka! (Note to Terry McAuliffe- Thanks for the early primaries!!!!!!)
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To: The Mayor
Good afternoon Mayor. Thank you for this story. Such fabulous warriors we have. Exciting and gripping story. WOW!! HEROES!!
11 posted on 05/01/2004 11:18:30 AM PDT by Soaring Feather (~The Dragon Flies' Lair~ Poetry and Prose~)
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To: The Mayor; ladtx
God bless our heroes.I salute those who put themselves in harm's way to save another.
12 posted on 05/01/2004 11:22:34 AM PDT by MEG33 (John Kerry's been AWOL for two decades on issues of National Security!)
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To: Tijeras_Slim; FireTrack; Pukin Dog; citabria; B Knotts; kilowhskey; cyphergirl; Wright is right!; ..

13 posted on 05/01/2004 11:36:13 AM PDT by Aeronaut (The proper response to gay marriage is laughter.)
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To: The Mayor
"It's bravery," said Lee T. Massey, an officer of the Jolly Greens, describing the actions of White and his crew. "This carries on our rescue motto: "These things we do so others may live.' "

Indeed! May God bless them.

Thanks for posting this article, Mayor

14 posted on 05/01/2004 11:38:18 AM PDT by Victoria Delsoul (Kerry says he doesn't own an SUV- the SUV in his driveway is a figment of our collective imagination)
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To: Aeronaut
Thanks Aeronaut!
15 posted on 05/01/2004 11:39:15 AM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: McGavin999; fso301; snippy_about_it; SAMWolf; eureka!; bentfeather; MEG33; Victoria Delsoul
Thanks for the bumps..
16 posted on 05/01/2004 11:43:11 AM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: The Mayor
Bumped and kept for later reading.
17 posted on 05/01/2004 12:05:17 PM PDT by Lakeside
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To: The Mayor

18 posted on 05/01/2004 12:24:03 PM PDT by SAMWolf (War is God's way of teaching us geography)
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To: The Mayor
Mayor... Lets double our numbers next time. Maybe we should pick a Freeper candidate for Quinn's seat... get a REAL conservative on congress from WNY.
19 posted on 05/01/2004 12:28:44 PM PDT by Bob Eimiller (Kerry, Kennedy, Pelosi, Leahy, Kucinich, Durbin Pro Abort Catholics Excommunication?)
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To: The Mayor
BUMP
20 posted on 05/01/2004 12:33:28 PM PDT by Professional Engineer (Welcome to the Free Republic ~ You can logout any time you like, but you can't ever leave.)
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To: The Mayor
I flew the C-130 re-fuelers over there, not the one in this story. I do know all the guys in this story. There is a whole other story about the HC130 that refueled them too.
21 posted on 05/01/2004 12:41:53 PM PDT by Veloxherc (remove)
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To: Professional Engineer

22 posted on 05/01/2004 12:45:33 PM PDT by Veloxherc (remove)
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To: Veloxherc

23 posted on 05/01/2004 12:47:02 PM PDT by Veloxherc (remove)
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To: Veloxherc
I was wondering... are those visible orange objects that are sitting on the back of the ramp pumpkins ?

Anyone know where this a/c is hangered (permanent party location) based on the PD designator on the vertical fin?
24 posted on 05/01/2004 12:59:59 PM PDT by railsplitter (with extreme prejudice- destroy the enemy... foreign and domestic)
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To: railsplitter
I can answer all. First the orange things are what is call a MA1 kit. It is simply two 7 man life rafts tied with line together with 3 other bundles that hold survival equipment. This MA1 kit must be rigged up and ready to be deployed into the water when helicopter air refueling happens over water. If you look closely at the pic there is water out there, and part of that refueling track is over water. The HC-130 is at Patrick AFB in Florida now. PD on the tail is for Portland, OR. At the time the pic was taken it was on loan to Fl from PD. It now has FL on the tail.
25 posted on 05/01/2004 1:11:59 PM PDT by Veloxherc (remove)
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marker bump
26 posted on 05/01/2004 1:39:06 PM PDT by GretchenM
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To: fso301
Sure beats my job.

Hey, the Air Force is credibly reported to be hiring... or course, rescue is a bear to get into, and not everyone can be a pilot.

Not that you have to be in the military to be a good American or anything. But all the people in the service, in the good jobs and the crummy ones, were once on the outside looking in. It's not a bad way to spend a few years, but take care you don't get hooked!

d.o.l.

Criminal Number 18F

27 posted on 05/01/2004 3:53:21 PM PDT by Criminal Number 18F
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To: The Mayor
BTT
28 posted on 05/01/2004 4:47:29 PM PDT by Veloxherc (remove)
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To: Veloxherc
Thanks for the great pics and bumps..

29 posted on 05/01/2004 5:03:21 PM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: SAMWolf
War is God's way of teaching us geography

you got some great ones Sam..

Nice pic of the chopper


30 posted on 05/01/2004 5:05:47 PM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: Bob Eimiller
I think that would be a great idea.
You live in his district, I live in slaughters.... : (

I emailed this to Charity and invited her to our next meeting.
I hope she comes.... !
31 posted on 05/01/2004 5:07:46 PM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: Veloxherc
I would love to hear those stories.

Did you hear that the 914th is going back.
They are the refuelers from Niagara Falls AFB.
The are headed to Turkey.
32 posted on 05/01/2004 5:09:34 PM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: The Mayor
Thanks. Like the Apache graphic!
33 posted on 05/01/2004 5:36:21 PM PDT by SAMWolf (War is God's way of teaching us geography)
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To: Veloxherc
Thank you for the concise reply... extra credit for the follow up question about a/c's home base that you answered. I was stumped, been away from the business too long (1982-1992)

Herc's... had the pleasure of crossing the USA and the Atlantic in the back of one of these birds. Flung myself out the back and sides of them on hundreds of occasions at an exhilarating altitude of 12500' AGL... :0)

Rigged heavy air drop loads/packages and LAPES out of the beloved Hercs...

Aircrews affectionately referred to the mighty Hercs as trash haulers. I guess that meant we were the trash. Hell, we started calling them trash haulers too. I think it was partially a case of self deprecating humor, as the fast mover jockeys seemed to look down their noses at these 'air slugs', so the Herc crews cheerfully adopted the slur/rhetoric as their own and stole the fighter crew's thunder. On one occasion, blasted out of a C-141 at the lovely altitude of 17000' AGL and 180 knots IAS...YEEHAW! Now that's surfing at it's finest. :0)
34 posted on 05/01/2004 6:03:10 PM PDT by railsplitter (with extreme prejudice- destroy the enemy... foreign and domestic)
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To: The Mayor
Thanks for posting this. I read this stuff and 1. I'm glad I'm a older female who's never had to show courage this way; 2. I'm so proud of all the brave young men and women in this country who do have great courage and strength; 3. I read this sort of thing and wonder where these people get their "right stuff" from? Unbelievable!!
35 posted on 05/01/2004 6:06:10 PM PDT by Maria S ("And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm."George W. Bush 1/20/01)
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To: The Mayor
Maj. Steven R. White, left, on flying into danger: "You train forever for the Super Bowl, so when the Super Bowl comes up, you don't want to sit on the bench."

Spoken like a true warrior!!!
36 posted on 05/01/2004 6:06:19 PM PDT by railsplitter (with extreme prejudice- destroy the enemy... foreign and domestic)
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To: Maria S
I read this sort of thing and wonder where these people get their "right stuff" from? Unbelievable!!

I think you grow into it, I was't a Patriot till I joined the Army right after Vietnam.
Then you see the real purpose of why you are there, and what your job is.
We swear to Protect and Defend this Great Country from all enemies.
When you realize that it is your responsibility and no one elses, you have to take it seriously and will do your best to do it.

Some excel, like these guys, they have what it takes to face evil head on. I know most of our strength comes from God! and a good soldier knows it!

Yea I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me....

If God is on our side, we can't lose.

37 posted on 05/01/2004 6:17:07 PM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: The Mayor
Way to go Whitey!
38 posted on 05/01/2004 6:37:34 PM PDT by dennisw (GD is against Amalek for all generations)
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To: Kudsman
since your back you must see this.

39 posted on 05/01/2004 8:50:25 PM PDT by The Mayor (Don't let tragedy steal your trust in God.)
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To: The Mayor
Great story of yet another one of our many heroes.

"There was a little bit of extra stress going on,"

I'd say that qualifies as a humble understatement. Major White bump!

40 posted on 05/01/2004 9:04:00 PM PDT by Kudsman
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To: Criminal Number 18F
Actually the USAF has planes to kick 18,000 people out. I know, I know it sound crazy but its the truth. Of course its all above my pay grade, but if it was up to me we would hire 18,000 more. I do not know what the leadership is thinking, but I talk to all my friends who are through out the Air Force and they all say the same thing, we need more people.
41 posted on 05/08/2004 6:43:08 PM PDT by Veloxherc (To go up pull back, to go down pull back all the way.)
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To: Criminal Number 18F
By the way I am already hooked. I do have a great job, a pilot. Even with spending a hell of a lot of my time in the desert, I am still hooked.
42 posted on 05/08/2004 6:47:44 PM PDT by Veloxherc (To go up pull back, to go down pull back all the way.)
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