Selfless service, bravery in the face of extreme opposition, courage under fire, all these words can be used to describe Chief Warrant Officer-3 Michael Leipold, an AH-64D Apache helicopter maintenance test pilot for Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, who was recently awarded the Air Medal with V device for valor for his actions on Oct. 4.
While Leipold’s actions in battle were quite remarkable, his story in the military begins much earlier than the events of that decisive day in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
His story started in 1993 when as a self-described “young punk with very little ambition,” Leipold enlisted into the Army as a tank crewman.
Leipold explained how while growing up, the one constant for him was his involvement in sports and the team environment, and that the team mindedness of the Army was what originally attracted him to the service.
“I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than myself,” he said.
After meeting with success within the enlisted ranks for almost nine years, Leipold eventually decided to pursue a career in aviation, he said.
“There was a lot of different reasons (I made the change), one was that the Apache is the premier attack aircraft of the world, there is nothing that really comes close to it, and I’ve always been intrigued by flight as well,” Leipold said.
While flying is a large part of Leipold’s life, there is a lot more to him explained Chief Warrant Officer-4 James Merideth, the company standardization pilot.
“He’s not just a great pilot, he’s very much a family man and a devout Christian,” Merideth said.
Merideth went on to describe how Leipold has been married for a number of years, and has five wonderful kids. He also detailed how education was an important factor in Leipold’s life, whether it is military education, or the completion of his bachelor’s degree in biblical studies.
Besides these successes he has had in life, Leipold has had many accomplishments in his career prior to the actions that led to his most recent award. He deployed to Iraq three times, completed his first tour in Afghanistan and received numerous awards to include an Air Medal with V device for valor previous to this one, Leipold said.
When asked about the mission, Leipold was hesitant to speak too much on the subject due to its sensitive nature, as it was in support of special operations forces, yet he had no problem explaining the importance of his job on the battlefield.
“What we do is close air support for the ground trooper. When contact is made, everybody else runs away from it, but we run to it, because someone needs us. That’s basically what we do,” Leipold said. “We know we’re going into an area that’s not going to be friendly, but we know there are good guys on the ground, and we make our money by making sure they come home.”
“The job satisfaction you get from helping someone on the ground, who really needs it is unparalleled in my opinion,” Leipold said.
“If you talk to any Apache pilot across the board, you’ll get the same thing, it’s all about the ground guys,” Leipold added.
As far as the specific actions that Leipold was awarded for, his award describes a day where as air mission commander and pilot-in-command, Leipold and his team successfully engaged and destroyed more than 20 enemy fighting positions, all while taking extreme amounts of enemy fire, in order to ensure that U.S. and British Special Operations Forces could safely and successfully infiltrate and occupy the area the next day.
Leipold himself said that when they flew into the area the enemy fired from about 15 heavy machinegun positions, and at any one time 16 or 17 rocket propelled grenades were flying through the air.
Merideth also shed a little light on the mission.
“Some of our guys had already flew in to check out the area the night before ... (Leipold) knew the sheer amount of enemy firepower he would have to fly into ... he knew he was going to go put himself, his life, his aircraft in danger ... and he didn’t even bat an eye at it. (Leipold) said ‘absolutely, yea, put me in,’” Meredith said.