FORT EUSTIS, Va. - U.S. Army 1st Sgt. William Howard, Hotel
Company, 1st Battalion, 222nd Aviation Regiment first sergeant,
earned the prestigious Soldier's Medal for his participation in a rescue
effort July 3, 2014, in the aftermath of a rocket attack on the
Joint Air Facility at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan.
Howard and fellow Soldiers rushed to evacuate Afghan soldiers
trapped inside a prayer room set ablaze by the attack, braving
noxious smoke, flames and fumes on several trips into the burning
hangar to successfully retrieve all personnel.
Regulation 600-8-22 outlines the criteria for awarding the Soldier's
Medal as performance that “has involved personal hazard or danger
and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving
conflict with an armed enemy.” It is the highest honor a Soldier can
receive for an act of valor in a non-combat situation.
U.S. Army Col. Don Fallin, Special Mission Wing, Special Operations Join Task Force commander, left, awards 1st Sgt. William Howard, Hotel Company, 1st Battalion, 222nd Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade first sergeant, a Soldier's Medal at Fort Eustis, Va., April 3, 2015. During Howard's sixth deployment, he helped save the lives of five Afghan soldiers after a rocket attack locked them inside of their prayer room in a hangar which had caught fire. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly Nagle)
During a routine patrol of the airport, Howard heard the
sound of rockets overhead, one of which flew over the
airport, landing within the JAF occupied by MI-17
helicopters and PC-12 fixed-wing airplanes for the Afghan
Special Mission Wing and striking an MI-17 fuel tank,
resulting in an explosion.
Fearing the safety of
those inside the hangar, Howard quickly entered a vehicle
and sped toward the attack site. Upon arrival, he confirmed
the second floor of the building was clear, but heard
shouting from fellow Soldiers, indicating personnel trapped
on the first floor.
As Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kevin Huggins and Chief
Warrant Officer 3 Robert Moran called on Howard for help and
Larry Hottot, he heard shouting and banging from a nearby
door, behind which was a prayer room for Afghan soldiers.
“The doors were locked from [both sides] and warped
from the heat,” said Howard. “We started using anything and
everything we could to pry open those doors before someone
brought us a heavy duty pry-bar.”
Once the doors were
opened, two soldiers emerged under their own power followed
by a cloud of smoke and heat, but three others remained
“We just went in there without
thinking,” said Howard. “We needed to get them all out no
As the small recovery team retrieved
the remaining soldiers inside the room, one of the injured
began repeating “one more, one more, one more.” Despite
being unable to immediately confirm if any personnel
remained in the burning hangar, the Soldiers returned inside
to look for survivors.
“Once we realized there was no
one else in the room, the smoke started to get to us and we
started to get turned around in the maze-like hangar,” said
Howard. “I was pretty much crawling on the ground at this
point, looking, reaching, hoping for a way out. I looked up
and saw a beam of light, and shouted to my partners that I
am going to go toward the light.”
The light was from
the open hangar doors in which the team needed to reach to
escape. While attempting to reach the doors through the mire
of smoke and flames, a nearby fuel tank exploded, nearly
injuring the rescuers. Despite the chaos of the engulfed
hangar, the Soldiers managed to successfully escape, only to
learn the building had not been entirely cleared.
Even after their harrowing rescue efforts, the four of them
returned without hesitation into the building to search for
additional persons, fortunately finding the building empty
and everyone safely accounted for.
Only when the
smoke had cleared and everyone had been examined by medical
personnel did the gravity of the situation sink in for
“I could hardly even remember what happened;
it was all sort of a blur,” he said. “Once everything
settled I was on a sort of high, one that is difficult to
explain. I didn't go into that building thinking about
myself; I went in there thinking I needed to save these
Howard said he believed it was his
responsibility as a senior noncommissioned officer to save
the lives of those trapped inside the building.
“Those stuck inside were my responsibility and as the senior
enlisted, [I had] to do what the commander had charged me
with: to take care of everyone, to include [those on] the
Afghan side,” said Howard.
Colonel Don Fallin,
Special Mission Wing commander, commended Howard's sense of
responsibility and leadership in his remarks during the
medal presentation ceremony.
“This is an important
day for this great noncommissioned officer,” said Fallin.
“While deployed together, I could always rely on him, I knew
he was there. It was an honor to serve alongside him, [as]
he did so many great things for out unit.”
said he was humbled by the honor, and upheld his actions as
necessary in the line of duty.
“I didn't do any of
that for a medal; it wasn't about that for me,” he said.
“The memory of those guys, before and after, is more of
reward then anything I can receive. I did it for them, not
for anybody else.”
(Editor's Note: U.S. Air Force
Staff Sgt. Jason J. Brown contributed to this report.)
By U.S. Army SSgt. Jason Brown and USAF Senior Airman Kimberly Nagle
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