Army staff sergeant set to receive Medal of Honor
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 13, 2013 1:50 AM
335th Fighter Squadron then-Capt. Mike Polidor, right, and 1st Lt. Aaron Dove, center, stand at attention during their Distinguished Flying Cross ceremony in April 2010. They received the award for valor for their response to Combat Observation Post Keating when it was being overrun by insurgents in 2009. Also pictured is their squadron commander, Lt. Col. Chris Anthony.
When President Barack Obama hangs the Medal of Honor around the neck of a former Army staff sergeant next month, he might not mention that the fact that Clinton Romesha will be present to receive the nation's highest award for combat valor is due, in large part, to a 4th Fighter Wing F-15E pilot and weapon systems officer -- that it took a heroic air campaign that resulted in the crew receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross to save the lives of that young soldier and other members of his unit Oct. 3, 2009.
The following is the account of what transpired that day given by then-Capt. Mike Polidor and 1st Lt. Aaron Dove moments after they received the DFC in April 2010.
It should have been a successful ambush -- some 300 insurgents surrounding a small Coalition outpost tucked deep inside one of the many valleys scattered across Afghanistan.
But when a troops-in-contact call reached the cockpit of a Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Strike Eagle parked on the Bagram Airfield runway, the odds quickly changed.
"Normally, when they tell you, 'Go somewhere right now,' they say, 'Go to this place ... contact this controller on this frequency, this air space.'
They give you a lot of these other details," said Polidor, the 335th Fighter Squadron pilot on the receiving end of that call. "We didn't get any of that. It was, 'Combat Observation Post Keating is being overrun. You need to go there right now.' ... So we took off and just pointed in that general direction."
Less than 10 minutes later, Polidor and Dove engaged in what would be a seven-hour assault on those who had infiltrated the wire.
And for their leadership role in an air power campaign that included five other 4th Fighter Wing Strike Eagles, two AH-64 Apache helicopters, four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, a B-1 bomber and numerous unmanned aircraft -- an effort that resulted in 31,500 pounds of ordnance employed and 72 lives saved -- the crew was awarded the DFC.
Polidor and Dove had just gone through their routine pre-flight maintenance check and were preparing for a typical sortie -- which, in Afghanistan, could mean anything from responding to troops-in-contact calls to escorting convoys -- when they were told to launch.
But it wasn't until moments later, when they approached Kamdesh Valley, that the severity of the situation set in.
"Looking outside, the whole valley ... was full of smoke," Dove said. "You could just see a couple Apaches down there ... and basically, anything left standing was on fire. ... It was pretty chaotic."
And the two 335th Strike Eagles already at the scene were running low on fuel.
Polidor and Dove knew they couldn't waste any time -- that lives were at stake.
"All three radios, they were all going absolutely crazy," Polidor said.
"People were just yelling and screaming, 'We need weapons now.'"
And even though both the captain and his WSO would say any 335th crew would have done the same, when they, moments later, took charge of the support effort, the officers helped ensure the majority of those ambushed at COP Keating saw another day.
They made contact with the two Apaches to get a better feel for what was happening on the ground -- the locations of both the friendly and enemy forces; where to drop bombs and make strafing runs.
And then, along with the other aircraft that joined the counter-insurgency effort, they engaged.
"We were there until nightfall," Polidor said. "We were the ones who had the most information about what was going on ... and I guess, by default, we kind of took over. ... It was pandemonium. It was by far, absolutely the most intense (combat sortie I have ever flown)."
According to the official Medal of Honor citation, while Polidor and Dove were executing their mission, Romesha moved, uncovered and under intense enemy fire, to fend off the attack.
He destroyed enemy machine guns and, during his assault on the insurgents was wounded by shrapnel -- but continued to fight.
For his heroic actions, the young man will be awarded the MOH Feb. 11 at the White House.
But his presence at that ceremony was no guarantee.
It took his "extraordinary efforts" and "heroic actions" -- and a little help from the skies -- to make it through one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.