Earning two Purple Hearts is not enough to
scare Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja to continually put his personal safety
at out of continuing to save lives.
Pantoja, a flight medic
with 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, received
the Medic of the Year from the Dustoff Association during an award
ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, March 28, 2015.
“It was very
humbling to receive the award,” said Pantoja. “It was an honor
because I was competing with more than 1,300 other flight medics for
the award. It was also very surprising because I didn't know my
command nominated me for the flight medic award.”
Pentoja was told he won the award he thought they were referring to
the Army Aviation Association of America Flight Medic of the Year he
won in 2013.
“But, to my extreme surprise, they told me I won
this award for 2014.”
Pantoja has accomplished many feats
throughout his years as a flight medic, but said he could not do it
without the outstanding pilots, crew chiefs and ground crews that he
works with on a daily basis.
“During the Colorado floods, our
aircrews rescued more than 1,280 people and 250 pets,” said Pantoja.
“None of that would have been possible without the pilots being able
to hold the aircraft steady for me to hoist down to help the
stranded. None of that would have been possible without the crew
chief assisting the pilots and helping me assist the evacuees. I
can't do my job without them — it's a team effort.”
Swartz, Pantoja's former commander, said his reputation preceded him
from prior commands and that he has outstanding qualities well
deserving of the awards that he has received.
“I heard that
he was coming to us from his previous command and was told that we
were lucky to get him,” said Swartz. “He has proven that 10 times
over. He has many attributes that make him deserving of the award
and an awesome addition to our MedEvac flight crews such as
humility, compassion, servant leadership, attention to detail,
dedication, mission focus and a ‘no matter what, never quit'
A close friend and fellow crewmember, Sgt. 1st
Class Keith Bart, brigade aviation maintenance noncommissioned
officer, 4th CAB, said Pantoja is a great flight medic and
crewmember because he is a genuinely good person with a great work
ethic and a personality that makes him a perfect NCO, crewmember and
“I have known Pantoja for a little over two years,”
said Bart. “We really haven't flown together much since the week of
the floods. He is one of the few medics that I would trust to help
me preflight an aircraft because of his knowledge and experience.”
Bart said Pantoja is deserving of the award, and he is a
beneficial asset to anyone he works with.
deserves the ... Flight Medic of the Year,” said Bart. “He probably
deserves it a 100 times over for the things he's done. He was
extremely beneficial to me as my section sergeant when I was his
platoon sergeant. We always made a perfect team, whether flying or
as a leadership team.”
Pantoja said that the Dustoff
Association members are former MedEvac aircrew members and was
humbled to hear about their longtime camaraderie.
that stuck out the most was about a crew chief and flight medic that
promised to stay in touch after their service in the military,” said
Pantoja. “They not only stayed in touch for more than 50 years, but
also managed to track down the aircraft they flew on together during
Vietnam. It dawned on me at that time [that] I want to be these guys
when my career is done.”
Pantoja wants to make a tradition
out of winning the flight medic of the year award for his peers and
“I tell my Soldiers the importance of trying to
be the best at what they do and working with fellow crew members to
create a strong team bond,” said Pantoja. “This, in turn, will bring
rewards better than any award they could ever receive.”
By U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathan Thibault
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