On Oct. 8, 2013, five U.S. Air Force advisors were travelling in a two-ship formation of Afghan Mi-17
helicopters as part of a troop movement mission in Uruzgan Province. After assisting their Afghan
counterparts in completing a successful dropoff, the five Airmen — Capt. Jeremy Powell, Staff Sgt.
Christopher Rector, (then) Staff Sgt. Mark Cornett, (then) Staff Sgt. Benjamin Jacobs and Tech. Sgt.
James Juniper— began their ascent out of the mountainous bowl surrounding the Gizab Valley.
Following a brief stop to refuel and load the next unit of Afghan commandos, the crew learned of
a critical patient requiring immediate medical evacuation and immediately responded. As they
approached the landing zone, multiple gunshots rang out from the right side of the second aircraft
in the formation as insurgents attempted to ambush the low-altitude helicopters. Cornett and Jacobs
quickly identified the source of the gunfire and initiated evasive maneuvers while engaging the
insurgents with their M-4 rifles.
As soon as he heard gunfire, Powell took control of the aircraft and aggressively turned away from the
threat. Simultaneously, Cornett and Jacobs returned fire when a second group of insurgents began
shooting. After hearing rounds impacting the helicopter the two advisors called a break away from
the new threat and saw that Juniper had been severely wounded while manning the right-side M240
machinegun and was now lying unconscious on the floor of the aircraft’s cabin. Jacobs and Cornett
scrambled through a crowded cabin to the aid of their fallen wingman. Discovering that an insurgent’s
round had passed through Juniper’s neck, the two Airmen quickly applied direct pressure to the entry
and exit wounds.
As Powell began a left bank away from additional small arms fire, he saw an insurgent launch a rocketpropelled
grenade and rapidly tightened his turn, narrowly avoiding impact. Despite an extremely
hostile environment and continual exposure to enemy fire, the advisors’ aircraft remained overhead
long enough to provide their wingmen the cover they needed to evacuate critically-wounded Afghans.
During the formation’s exit from the valley, Powell and Rector witnessed the plume from a second
RPG and quickly maneuvered the formation away from the threat. Rector then assisted Cornett and
Jacobs in removing Juniper’s body armor and administering aid to stop the loss of blood. The crew
then quickly transported Juniper to the nearest coalition base, 80 miles away. Unfortunately, due to
retrograde operations, no medical vehicles were available, which prompted Jacobs and Cornett to
commandeer a truck and rush their injured crewmember to medical assistance.
The actions of Powell, Jacobs, Cornett and Rector saved the lives of Juniper and several wounded
Afghans. For their courageous action each team member was submitted for the Distinguished Flying
Cross with Valor.