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562nd FTS instructor earns Purple Heart in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Robert Goetz
  • 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
A 562nd Flying Training Squadron instructor deployed to Afghanistan was talking to his fellow Airmen outside a mortar pit at the Zerok Combat Outpost last September when he instinctively reacted to a whistling sound he heard.

He dove into the mortar pit and a rocket exploded.

Captain David Golden, who had been deployed as an electronic warfare officer to Forward Operating Base Orgun-E five months earlier, said he considers himself lucky because the 107 mm rocket attack on Sept. 28, 2008, could have been much more tragic for him and the members of the mortar squad. He suffered lacerations to his forehead after shrapnel glanced off the glass of his ballistic eyewear. Others suffered more severe injuries, but eventually returned to duty.

"I realize how lucky I was that day to sustain light wounds," Captain Golden said. "The difference between being lightly wounded and being maimed or killed may be a second or an inch."

In a ceremony Sept. 1 at 4 p.m. in the base theater, Captain Golden will receive the Purple Heart medal, the long-standing honor bestowed on members of the armed forces who have been wounded or killed in the service of their country.

His instincts -- and his training -- served him well that late September day. His commander at the 562nd FTS said Captain Golden displayed courage and selflessness in a dire situation. Despite his injuries, he came to the assistance of a young Army specialist who nearly went into shock after being wounded.

"In my opinion, (Captain Golden) is a hero, but I know he will tell you his training and instinct took over and he did what any other Airman would do in the same situation," said Lt. Col. Peter Deitschel, commander, 562nd FTS. "It is incredible to think of taking shrapnel to the head and still being concerned about his fellow Soldiers. Dave administered self-aid and buddy care to those far worse off than himself, even refusing to get on the MEDEVAC helicopter so that another Soldier could get the urgent care he needed ahead of him. This epitomizes what (Captain Golden) is all about - more concerned about others' welfare than his own."

Captain Golden, who served as an instructor training combat systems officers for three years, called his deployment northeast Afghanistan "the best six months" of his Air Force career.

His service entailed leaving his FOB to maintain combat-capable vehicles and train Soldiers on the proper use of counter radio-controlled improvised explosive device electronic warfare equipment. On four occasions, enemy forces attacked convoys he was accompanying.

During one of those incidents, July 2, 2008, Captain Golden, riding in a joint explosive ordnance disposal response vehicle, temporarily replaced a gunner who had an object in his eye.

"Within three minutes, all of a sudden, boom," he said.

He and his companions in a convoy consisting of about 25 vehicles and 60 troops realized they were under attack. Captain Golden, manning an M240 machine gun, eliminated an enemy machine gunner some 100 meters away who had targeted him in the JERV's turret. An armor-piercing incendiary round missed Captain Golden by about a foot, denting the JERV's armor. Also during the ambush, Captain Golden's M240 jammed, forcing him to use an M4 carbine and an M203 grenade launcher.

"Normally, I would have been sitting nice and safe inside the JERV," Captain Golden said. "It was my first time in the turret. I had training, but no real-life experience."

The convoy safely made it back to base. Captain Golden said the ambush -- the second of the day -- could have been much worse.

"We were waving at Afghan children, and I remember a car coming right at us and an IED going off," he said. "But they missed the lead vehicle. We were very fortunate."

Captain Golden said he was also fortunate during the Sept. 28, 2008 ambush.

"Things went from laughing with my friends by the mortar pit to a loud explosion, and then I'm on the ground bleeding," he said. "It felt like I had been kicked in the head with a boot."

Captain Golden said he probably escaped more serious injury by diving for cover. His eyewear may have saved his eyesight. Shrapnel from the blast deflected off the glass into his forehead.

"Otherwise it would have gone into my left eye," he said.

Captain Golden immediately attended to the Army specialist whose arm had been peppered with shrapnel, using his emergency medical training to treat and encourage him.

"He was going into shock," he said. "He thought he was going to die."

Three other Soldiers were wounded, including one belonging to the Afghan National Army. Three of the Americans were transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center via Bagram Air Base; Captain Golden was treated for a nearly 2-inch cut on his forehead and returned to duty the very next day.

"I won the luck lotto in that one," he said. "But I stayed with the guys until they were transported to Bagram. It seemed like the right thing to do."

Captain Golden called his wife, Andrea, the night of the ambush.

"I told her I got hurt but was OK," he said. "She remembers me saying that, but then the phone went dead. When I called her back, she was calm and collected, but I didn't know what she was feeling."

About a month later, Captain Golden got to see his wife and his 6-week-old daughter, Odessa, as they greeted him at San Antonio International Airport upon arrival.

Captain Golden, whom Colonel Deitschel called "a great instructor who has been at the forefront of the combat systems officer training evolution," will make a permanent change of station to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., after the Purple Heart ceremony. There, he will be initial cadre in the new 479th Flying Training Group.
He said he is humbled to earn the medal.

"You have to balance the pride of the award with the humility of the award," he said. "It's an award you don't want to win, but I'll wear it with pride."