FORT HOOD — A pair of Fort Hood soldiers with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade were awarded medals Wednesday for heroism while on aerial combat duty in Syria.
Maj. Gen. Paul T. Calvert, 1st Cavalry Division commander, presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steve O. Crandall and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jude C. Okpala at the 7th Squadron, 17th Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Cavalry Regiment hangar.
Boise, Idaho, native Crandall, and Okpala, from Chicago, were presented the award for their actions in preventing several U.S. positions from being overrun by ISIS on Feb. 7, 2018, while engaged in aerial combat flying the AH-64 Apache attack helicopters in support of Special Operations Joint Task Force during the “Battle of Conoco Oilfield” east of Dayr az-Zawr, in Syria.
“This is an award that is so uncommon you’re likely to meet less than a handful who’ve earned the honor in your career,” said Col. Lance Van Zandt, the commander of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade. “Steve, what you’ve accomplished in a career is nothing short of remarkable.” Van Zandt said.
Van Zandt said Crandall’s leadership alongside Jude transcends beyond this squadron.
“Because of this team’s actions, moving well within the range of enemy artillery and (air defense artillery) in 19 separate engagements, countless enemy positions were destroyed, and American lives were saved,” Van Zandt said.
Crandall said receiving the award was a little bit humbling.
“I work with such great dudes and the bravery they displayed while we were there, I feel deserves just as much attention as this,” Crandall said. “So, it’s a little bit humbling getting this award knowing that they did just as brave things.”
Okpala said the award was a culminating appreciation for the hard work and dedication of all the soldiers that were involved with the mission.
“I did not feel like this was a personal award per say, I feel like it’s more of a unit acknowledgment,” Okpala said. “We knew for a fact that there were Americans on the ground and we wanted to make sure they got back home safe.”
The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguishes himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The extraordinary achievement must have resulted in an accomplishment as exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from his comrades or from other persons in similar circumstances.