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.”
When 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.”
Maj. Seth 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' attitude.”
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 friend.
“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.
“He absolutely 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.
“One story 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 subordinates.
“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
Provided through DVIDS
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