Bravery comes in many forms, but combat is where it shines brightest. On June 27, Captain (ret.) Christopher C. Palumbo received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the nation’s second-highest award for valor under fire, for saving the lives of a Special Forces team in Afghanistan in 2005.
The then-Chief Warrant Officer Third Class (CWO-3) Palumbo used his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as a shield to protect the team from withering Taliban fire. Initially, Captain Palumbo had received the Silver Star—the nation’s third-highest award for valor—but under the current policy of re-examining military awards, the Army decided to upgrade it to a DSC.
The award citation states that “Chief Warrant Officer Three Palumbo inserted the Special Forces team to neutralize the threat. The soldiers were successful, but they didn’t realize that most of the insurgents were embedded in the caves. Two of the ground troops were hit and when the Apaches [AH-64 choppers that were flying as combat escort on that day] had to leave to refuel, the Black Hawks were left to provide support and protection for their comrades on the ground.”
Captain Palumbo was a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, 12th Aviation Brigade, Combined Joint Task Force 76.
During the award ceremony, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Beale, Captain Palumbo’s platoon commander during the action, gave an inspiring account of the event: “While flying figure-eight patterns, low-level, in a valley between the insurgents and the wounded Americans, Chris’ aircraft started taking heavy enemy fire. The crew chiefs took aim, shooting straight down at the insurgents attempting to maneuver on the wounded Americans. The crew members in the back of the Black Hawk neutralized one target after another, all while taking rounds to the aircraft.”
All in all, Palumbo’s Black Hawk helicopter received more than 50 hits during the action, resulting in considerable damage in the fuel compartment that led to a leakage. Despite the serious damage, Captain Palumbo first flew to a hospital so his wounded crew chief could receive medical attention.
“The events of that fateful day permanently impacted me and the soldiers of our platoon. For the first time in my short military career, I had witnessed extraordinary heroism and courage by otherwise ordinary men. The actions of all of the men on that early April morning embodied the Warrior Ethos. Chris and his crew showed us that day what warriors are made of. I am proud to have served with them and am honored to call them my friends,” added Lt. Col. Beale.
General James McConville, the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, presented the award to Captain Palumbo in a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Hall, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
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