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Strategic Management Annex

Kirtland Airman receives Flying Cross medal

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Master Sgt. Gregory Gibbs, 512th Rescue Squadron operations superintendent, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal during a Jan. 13 ceremony at Kirtland.

Ranked as the highest military aviation award, Gibbs received the medal for distinguishing himself as a HH-60 Pave Hawk aerial gunner in a high-risk rescue mission of three Army personnel in the south Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2011. 

During a high-risk reconnaissance mission near the Pakistani border, U.S. Army soldiers from the Elite Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division were dropped in an area covered in landmines, immediately suffering casualties.  

Under great stress and risk to life, Gibbs and his team were dispatched in HH-60 Pave Hawk “Pedro 55” to extract the wounded soldiers from an active mine field while still under a no movement order issued by the ground force commander.

“Greg’s quick thinking and laser focus assessments were very critical during this extraction and recovery,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, Air Education and Training Command commander. “Greg’s character and selfless service are an example to us all by being willing to put his own life on the line ‘so that others may live.’”

During the mission, crew members of the Pedro 55 determined they would have to accept the enormous risk of executing a hoist-recovery with zero power margins directly over five remote trigger improvised explosive devices. 

On the final extraction while operating at its maximum abilities, the aircraft lost power and began to descend rapidly.

Responding immediately, Gibbs provided pilots with exact positioning and altitude calls, allowing the pilots to fly backwards down the valley and avoid impacting the minefield by only two feet.

As the aircraft recovered, Gibbs continued to build crew situational awareness, recommending returning to Kandahar on emergency fuel when reserves ran low, giving the patients the only odds at survival.

Returning to Kandahar with only five minutes of fuel remaining, Gibbs’ quick split-second decision-making skills saved not only the three soldiers trapped, but the crew flying Pedro 55.

“It gives me a huge sense of pride to be able to have aerial gunners, as well as enlisted, recognized for something like this,” Gibbs said. “This is just one of several things that people in my community have done so it feels good to tell the rescue story.”

During his speech, Gibbs not only attributed the success of the mission to his teammates, but to basic fundamentals that he learned while in training on Kirtland.

“We train here at Kirtland from day one on multi-tasking and critical thinking,” said Gibbs “Holding our rescue Airmen to a very high standard through non-stop training makes situations, like the one I was in, more manageable.”

Gibbs plans to continue taking all the knowledge that he has acquired to not only help educate the Airmen training at the 512th RQS, but to help them understand the true meaning in the pararescue motto, “These things we do, so that others may live.”

The 512th is assigned to the 58th Special Operations Wing.