The men and women of our military perform brave acts every day. Fighting a war can make heroes, but it can also bring tragedy. And one of the hardest things for a soldier to do is keep fighting, even when he or she's experienced a devastating loss.
The soldiers of the Third Infantry Division's Second Battalion, Third Aviation Regiment were dealt one of the toughest blows in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On April 2, they lost six soldiers in one day when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed. But through it all, soldiers like Sgt. Roger Gunnels carried on for their country and the memory of their friends and fellow soldiers.
"We were the major lift support for the US Army in their efforts over there," Sgt. Gunnels said. "We transport troops, equipment, special operations individuals. Anything that needs to be moved, we can move it."
That includes military commanders. Sgt. Gunnels was the crew chief for the Second Battalion, Third Aviation Regiment's command control missions. Their job was keeping their Blackhawk in the air, making sure Col. Curtis Potts, commander of the Third ID's aviation brigade, had a clear view of the battlefield. A special radio system allows him to stay in touch with his troops.
"The Brigade Commander sits in the very back, he's got a headset, a helmet and he's got a map and everything back there so he can go over what he needs to go over," explained Sgt. Gunnels. "He tells the operator what frequency he needs to be on and they dial it up and he tells the commanders on the ground what he needs to have done."
Flying any aircraft during a war is always a dangerous mission, but carrying a commanding officer during battle adds even more challenges. "Any time you've got a high-ranking individual in the back of the aircraft, you've got to be extra careful," Sgt. Gunnels said. "You've got to pay close attention to what's going on because, you know, if the hostiles know that or have the least inclination, they're going to want to fire at you."
Sgt. Gunnels would fly more than 50 missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, actions that would later earn him the Air Medal with Valor. "It's the most prestigious medal I've ever gotten," he said. "I felt very proud of what I accomplished. You really don't--when you're over there--you don't really think about it until you get back home."
But Sgt. Gunnels says he would gladly trade that honor to erase the most heart-wrenching experience of the war. On April 2, his company commander, Captain James Adamouski, along with five other soldiers from 2-3 Aviation died when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed in central Iraq. "I would give back every medal I've ever gotten and so would everyone else in the battalion, if we could have them back," he said. "It's the hardest thing I've ever been through, to lose six at one time."
Even though he and the men and women of the Third ID still grieve for them, he knows they died honorably. "They died serving their nation and it's good to remember that."
The Third Infantry Division will hold a special memorial for those six soldiers on April 2, marking one year since that deadly crash.