U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Michael Zanders logged nearly 800 hours of combat flight in Iraq, but none were like those on 15 April 2006.
On that day, Zanders received a call for help from a nearby combat outpost and quickly took off in one of two Kiowa Warrior helicopters from Forward Operating Base Mosul. On approach, gunfire and explosions forced the choppers to fly near to the ground, but they were able to say hello to the jihadis with a few rockets and 50-caliber rounds.
The Kiowa helicopter opposite Zanders took heavy fire, however, and was forced to retreat and assess damage. Soon, the insurgents were threatening to overrun the landing zone and Zanders took quick action, landing next to the downed crew and allowing them to grab hold of his helicopter's weapons struts while he took off for safety -- 80 knots back to FOB Mosul. The flight with an extra crew hanging on was challenging to say the least and was later confirmed to be the first ever attempt at such a rescue.
As soon as he evacuated the crew at the base and refueled, he headed back out to provide security as the downed helicopter was recovered. For his heroism, Zanders was awarded the Bronze Star.
(This account was originally published in the May 2, 2008 Digest.)